Monday, July 17, 2006


Here's my problem: finishing things. Not actually finishing them. But figuring what to do after I've typed "the end."

I'm not even talking so much about trying to pitch and sell them, though it must be said that I pretty much suck at that. It's figuring out what to do next. What to write. Some people have a list of projects they'd like to do. I have a writing buddy (and she knows who she is) who's just a machine - a shark - she lives to write, generally on three or four projects at once, with a whole string of projects piled up behind the ones she's working on like box cars on a very long freight train. Not me. I tend to obsess on one project, even to the extent where the original idea spawns sequels, and I just have to keep writing it till it burns itself out.

So when I finish something, it's kind of a drag, because I really don't know what to do next. After finishing my latest project, something that at times I thought was costing me way too many brain cells, I thought, well, maybe I'll try something commercial and in a clearly recognizable genre. A Hollywood murder mystery! There's a world I know. The Hollywood part, I mean. Really.

Er, well, anyway, I've made a stab at it. Got about three pages in. And I couldn't be less interested. I tell myself, I always find it rough going in the early pages. I really don't feel like doing it. I force myself to, because eventually, when I've put enough time in, the story takes shape in my head, the energy I've put into it turns the engine over and the thing starts going down the road.

But at the beginning, I'm just pushing a dead car.

I just read an interview with T. Jefferson Parker, who if you haven't heard of him is a well-known mystery/suspense author. A good writer too. Some of the stuff he said really resonated with me:
For me the starting place is some kind of internal atmosphere that I want to understand. A mood. Then, I find a character who will fit that mood and call him a hero. As soon as you give your hero a goal and impediments to the goal, you've got a story going. Most people don't realize how much of a novel is simply made up as the writer goes along. You hit at the plate. Sure, I've got an idea where I'm going. I know the general shape I want. But getting there is the novel. When I'm done, it's always different than I expected. It always surprises me a little.
So, okay. A mood. An internal atmosphere. What do I want to understand, right now?

Lately I've been writing a lot about trauma and politics. About how trauma isn't something that just goes away by the next chapter, how instead it reverberates through a person's life. As for the politics? Well, I've always been obsessed by politics, and so-called "big" issues. Which is not to say that my understanding of such things is necessarily sophisticated or informed. As an example, the first long project I ever tried to write, oh so many years ago, was about malls. I only vaguely understood the forces malls represented. I just knew that the conformity of them, the way they colonized small businesses and open spaces, really freaked me out.

Something else Parker said that was even more on the nose for me:
"I guess my main writer's block is early on, before I've started. It's figuring out what to write about."
At the moment, I don't know what's next. I've been posting a little more regularly on the blog, because it's something to do, and it's a way to take my frustration, anger and sense of being overwhelmed and made helpless by current events, and turn them into something, even if that something is only a half-assed rant. I don't think that I am that great at commentary or essay-writing or anything very analytic or academic, to be honest. There are so many great commenters out there in the blogosphere who are way more adept than I will ever be at that sort of thing (rather than naming them here, just check out my blog roll. You'll figure it out). I think instead that I have some small knack for turning isues into fiction. Of expressing dilemmas through characters. I'm not going to claim to be a genius at that either, but I know how to write dialog and compact narrative, anyway.

So here I am. I just finished a draft of a book that was about a lot of things that really piss me off (and a few things I love). Right now, it's out to a couple of places, which means I am preparing myself for the likely rejection that will follow (cynical? me?). I'll probably have a lot of business stuff to do if I'm serious about shopping this book (assuming that my easy contacts don't play out), and that in itself is a big job. But what's more important to me is figuring out what I'm going to write next. What's that mood I want to express? What's that issue that's pissing me off? What's the idea that's the grit in the oyster?

Right now, I really don't know. I'd like to think that it will come to me, eventually, but I know that waiting for inspiration is generally a form of procrastination. At some point, I'll just have to decide. Put the metaphoric gun to my head, sit down and get to work.

For now, join me in a margarita?

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