Friday, February 20, 2009

Perils of the Writing Life

A friend of mine recently commented that every reader should have the opportunity to talk to a writer personally. It could help dent the misconception that writing a book is a simple matter of sitting down at the keyboard and emerging at a designated time with novel in hand.

For instance, as a reader, my friend had never heard of Character Domination. That's where a character suddenly takes off on his own and the poor writer is left wondering just when it was that she lost control of the situation.

Note: There is a similar problem in parenting which is called Power Struggles. I used to think my experience as a mother would give me an edge in handling my characters, but my track record of late has narrowed the advantage considerably.

Then there's the Boggy Middle Blues. That happens to a writer just as he's rounding the bend toward home, and he starts to ask questions. Did I really flesh out that character in chapter three? Does that scene in chapter five come across with even a scrap of credibility? Is it time to write the dedication yet? What if the whole thing stinks, and I've just thrown away six months of my life writing what may amount to the biggest joke to hit New York?

Another problem is the Climax Clutch. Suddenly the writer is there, ready to write the end of the book and she can't. The thought of facing the typewriter makes her knees weak and she grabs any excuse she can not to write.

I water my plants. Clean toilets. Make phone calls. Talk to my children. Cook dinner. Anything, to avoid the challenge of that blank computer screen.

I'll admit that I'm afraid to end the book. My life has been totally obsessed with this story, these people, and suddenly it's going to be wrenched from me and put in the hands of a cold-hearted editor. My characters are like my family and I feel a little twinge of sadness as they go off on their own to the big city where that editor might stomp all over them. She might even want to do away with one of my babies, "Kill off Nancy, she slows the story down."

Not that I would ever do that to a writer.

All of these problems occur while stumbling through the first draft. As soon as the book is finished, it's time to rewrite ... rewrite ... and rewrite ...

Come to think of it, maybe that's the real reason I'm having such a hard time saying "the end."


Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, she loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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  1. Kill who? Arggh!

    Great bunch of chuckes. Thanks.


  2. My children's books are short and sweet, however I still have a hard time letting go at the end. With my last one, my graphic designer finally had to tell me to "put the book down and carefully back away!"

    Bobbie Hinman

  3. Made me smile. Especially at the toilet cleaning part.

    "Aren't you supposed to be writing?"
    "Have you seen this toilet?"

    Actually happened. My husband came home early for lunch. :D

  4. Enjoyed the post. You have expressed the perils of writing perfectly. I identified with everything you said.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  5. Yes, yes, yes. It makes me sad when I finish a book really quickly, because I know just how much work the author put into it. If I finish it in one night, the author has definitely done his/her job because it means I couldn't put the book down until I knew exactly how it all worked out. But, still one night compared to the months of writing, rewriting, rewriting some more, and so on--it just doesn't seem fair!

  6. Yes, but on the bright side, the book will be re-read and then it's really worth all that writing time. It's the ones you gobble up the first time around, that end up living on the bookshelf for future enjoyment.


  7. Maryann this was a great post. I never knew all of those writerly psychoses I suffered from had fascinating names like the Boggy Middle Blues. :D

    And hey, as writers, at least we can say that we have some of the cleanest homes in the world, unless we're on a writing binge!

    Jenny Bean

  8. Yes, it's hard to let go after you've been inside your characters' heads for a while, but like children, they must grow up and stand on their own.

    Morgan Mandel

  9. I just finished [yeah, right] the final chapter in my wip. It took me months of procrastinating. I'm a pantser, so I never really know how it's going to end, even in terms of 'who dun it'. I'm not really happy with the end I have, but now that it's out there, I can see what I can do to make it better.

    Endings are the hardest for me, but until this particular book each one has been at least an emotional sense of relief, either with tears or screams of hurray.

  10. Oh I'm glad I'm not the only laundry is never so up to date as when I'm nearing the end of something...especially if I don't have another something to take its place...
    Oh and Bubblespinner on Facebook...

  11. My husband is suspicious of all the time I spend on Web 2.0 'promotions' which are heavily stepped up right before something is due! It's time well spent - like cleaning toliets, though, right?


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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