The Writer’s Pinch

660 words

So here’s the scene: There’s this writer, you see? He’s there hunched over his desk, burnt out cigarette between his lips and fifteen of its cousins already stubbed out in the tray and on the desk and under the typewriter. There’s an empty bottle of whiskey rolling around under his feet and no less than seven dirty coffee mugs on the kitchen counter behind him. The one that’s sitting cold by his elbow needs a wash, but he’ll give it a rinse if he remembers, or pour the stale ghosts of beans past directly into it if not.

He’s alone, because that’s the responsible thing to do when your art is tearing you up from the inside to get out, but is shit at feeding a family or keeping the water hot. He’s barely got the lights on, which was what she said when she left the last time. He pretends not to care because the hurt makes the words more real. Pain is ink and he feeds it drop by plunking drop into the machine in front of him, hitting the keys like he’s in a brawl. Bare knuckle boxing against twenty-six opponents and their stuttering, stalling, questioning peanut gallery. And he fights on, hour after hour, endlessly, mindlessly typing because when he stops is when he hears them. Every single goddamned one of them and their poison-tipped words that keep him perched on the edge of a bottle: Kook, shut-in, layabout, mooch. Knife thrusts in what was supposed to be a fair fight. And he’s fighting, damnit but all the bets are against him, and they laugh at his bruises but don’t they know this is the only damn thing he’s ever been good at?

He’s got a stack of rejection letters eight miles high and four miles deep, but he wears his one acceptance like a badge of honor. Victory on the field of battle. Welcome home soldier, you’ve done your good duty. Sorry about the legs and all; we’ll get you looked after. And then he’s gone. Forgotten in the gutters and he digs viciously at the keys, recounting it all: the struggle over the mound of bodies, the rip of bullets through his flesh, and the flash of bayonets white-hot like match flames in the cigarette-smoky air. He tears his hair out at the sound of mail sliding through the door slot: planes overhead dropping their payload. Shell after shell of bills; he prays that the atom bomb of another rejection doesn’t land in the pile. It’s PTSD and he knows it but there’s no VA for writers who can’t get published, and no support for a man who can’t work a normal nine to five because the weight of it crushes his soul already undervalued beside what worth can be ripped out of the toil of his body.

He’s pinched. His stomach. His wallet. All of it. Pinned to the wall like a bug. One more beetle out of a hundred thousand others. And still he flexes, twitching in the last synapses of life before death. LOOK AT ME, he screams into the din. I’m special. I’m unique. Inspect me. Tear out my wings and catalog them. Every book: twenty-six letters: different patterns. Different spots in different arrangements. Pigment, flourish, camouflage. In an evolution of words his are failing natural selection. Failing to stand out. Falling out of the gene pool. He’d give his kingdom of cobwebs to be a butterfly right now.

His fingers slow to a stop over the keys. They hover and then drop, the mad hummingbird pace they’ve been keeping falters in uncertainty. Is this worth it? The world returns to him. The real world. Empty refrigerators, medical bills, and the sound of angry, bitter sex through the too thin walls. His head drops like a cracked clay pot into his hands. Ash stains his keys. He’s written fifteen thousand, seven hundred and eighty-four words today and erased fifteen thousand, seven hundred and eight-five.

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In the Black Abyss Without a Light or My Writing Process

Last week Lori L MacLaughlin tagged me in the writing process blog hop. After I spat out my coffee and had a series of mini elementary playground flashbacks (I’m it, I’m IT. Crap, What are the rules? No tag backs? Is fist to chin a sin? Is the girl’s bathroom a safe zone? Is it?!) I realized I was only supposed to write about how I write, and then tag some other tormented writer souls to do the same. Damnit, Lori, you made me break my no talking about writing streak. So if there’s anyone out there who is sitting on the edge of their seats, biting their nails to a bloody nub waiting for this information, here it is, but I’ve got to tell you, I’ve withheld it this long for a reason.

Also, I’m stealing the questions from Alex’s blog, because then at least I have some structure. Structure is good. Structure is nice. Ooo, I should include that in my answers:

 

WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

Oh boy, what am I not working on? I have a novel that I’ve been starting and scrapping, and starting and scrapping again for over two years now. I’ve finally just ripped the delete key out of my keyboard to power through it without the nagging need to smear away everything I’ve written in tears and rum. It’s an other-world, dark fantasy set in the (a?) desert, because Europe is hella boring you guys. Seriously. I’m aiming for 150,000 words because that seems like it would produce a book of a decent clubbing weight.

Other than that I’ve got another two, or possibly three novel ideas bubbling around in my head including but not limited to, magical eye-worms and the psychedelic pictures they draw, outlaw priests saving the world, and tits and swords saving the world. Also with magical eye worms. Possibly.

Oh, also lots of short stories and novellas about death. That’s not an intentional theme, by the way, it’s just sort of happened that way. I write about death a lot. It fascinates me and I’m not even sure why. I guess that’s why I’m writing about it.

 

HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN MY GENRE?

My work is different in that it’s not finished. Honestly, I haven’t had enough stories actually published to know exactly how my work is different from others. I’m still figuring that out. I’m still finding the me in the words I’m writing. I know that I like writing from unique settings. My travels in Japan and Asia have become closely tied into my writing. I also like to challenge certain roles in society in a lot of my writing: the roles of men and women, the role of religion and government, the role of technology, etc. Does any of that make my writing different? No, not at all. Maybe that’ll change while I continue to grow as a writer.

 

WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?

I write what I write because I believe humans are terrible communicators. We are alike and connected in so many ways through a mutual human experience, and yet we’re shit at empathizing with each other. So when I write about a loss of cultural identity, I want others to look at their own lives and feel that loss. When someone reads one of my fundamentally good characters being a shitty person, I want to highlight that truth in our lives, that good people don’t always behave in good ways, and bad people don’t always behave in bad ways. When I write about death, I’m not doing it just to come to terms with my own insecurities and curiosities, but to reach through the pages and tell my reader, “we’re ALL gonna die, and isn’t that both terrifying and awesome?”. I guess I write what I write because we need more ways to connect to each other, and sometimes its easier to do that through fiction and fantasy than in real life.

Also, I like dragons

 

HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?

Now we’re getting to the meat of this, heheh.

First of all, I’ve been writing for a long time, since high school, at least, and before that I told my stories in doodles and typewriters without ribbon. So I’ve been writing for a long time, but actual, sit down, write a novel, with structure, polish it and send it out into the world, that part is still new to me. So bear with me if this all seems like a confusing jumble to you. Believe me, it’s no better in my head either.

I start with a character, or a concept for a character. Either I’ve seen someone or something inspiring, or a situation that calls for a specific sort of personality is chucked up from the sawdust under the thousand spinning hamster wheels that is my imagination. Then I let that character run around exploring a blank world. Usually they do a good enough job of populating and coloring it on their own (they mostly stay within the lines). By that I mean, I usually don’t have to work too hard to build a world around a character, once I have the basic premise for that character.

Once I have enough of the world and the character unraveled to have a few more points than ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ I sit down and start writing. I think most people call this pantsing, and I did too. I called myself a pantser for a long time before I realized that this was just the pre-outline stage. This is just the part where I’m testing out character voice and setting mechanics to see if I actually have a viable idea. Sometimes I don’t, though I like to salvage as much as I can from failed projects. Every idea is precious! I don’t know when I might run out (god forbid).

When I’ve pantsed far enough into the story that the plot holes are getting big enough to lose a blue whale in, I step away and start outlining. By that time I’ll have a point A and a point Z and a series of random binary code and Egyptian hieroglyphs in between. The outline then, is where I connect the dots between all that mess and try to make a sensible path between the huge gaping maw of empty plot and random events. Sometimes I have to change the course away from my first awesome idea, or sometimes I have to scrap large chunks altogether if they just can’t play nicely with the rest of the story. Sometimes I have to pound away at a single niggling wrinkle in the plot that disrupts everything else before and after it, but is crucial to the story. Sometimes I break out the poster board and sticky notes. Sometimes I draw character maps. Sometimes I sacrifice a chicken. The point is, I always have an outline before I start seriously writing, because the outline will let me know which is the next pitstop on my writing road trip that I need to hit. My outline will usually tell me (if I’m writing a novel) who the POV character is, what the setting is, what the significant events are, and what the consequences will be for each chapter. If I’m writing a short story, my outline will do the same thing, only for each scene.

After I’ve wrestled with my idea for long enough that we’re both sweaty and exhausted but I am the one ultimately triumphant, I open up a fresh document, stare at the beautiful white screen and panic.

The panic stage usually lasts anywhere from a few hours to a few days, and can also be accompanied by deleting paragraph after paragraph of unsatisfactory beginnings, and uncontrollable sobbing. Usually at around this time I completely forget why this idea was so awesome to begin with.

Once I have a few lines of dialogue written that I’m satisfied enough with to keep, things usually start falling into place from there.

I like to write in the morning, after Alex leaves for work. I have the house to myself, my creative juices are fresh from a nights sleep, it’s quiet and– ooh, she did not just post that on Facebook.

Yes, social media is a terrible distraction in my writing. I don’t turn it off, because when I do I inevitably feel the oppressive silence and expectation weighing me down. Loneliness eats at my soul and crushes my creativity.

Ahem. I keep social media open while I write, but I exert my tremendous power of will and allow myself only to check updates once every fifty words or so. I can usually almost make it that long.

I try to also stick to a daily word count. This was really hard in the beginning because there are always so many more interesting things to do than the thing you are supposed to be doing. I will leave dirty dishes growing their own self sufficient ecosystems in the sink for MONTHS until it comes to deadline crunch time, at which point I will become desperately in need of that potato peeler I used back in April when I was making homemade french fries. These days I’m not only achieving my daily word count, but every week I’m increasing it by another 100 words. So far so good, but I don’t know how long I can keep it up. I think I hear the silverware drafting their own constitution.

Hemingway once said “write drunk, edit sober”. I like to do things slightly differently. I write juiced out of my mind on caffeine, revise with a rum and coke, and take beta reader suggestions after half a bottle of wine. We all have our methods. Mine might not be the best one for you. I do recommend walking though. Not only because it’s ridiculously easy to put on pounds when your ass is stuck in a chair all day typing at a keyboard, but walking helps stimulate the creative mind. It’s a true thing, go look it up.

On the topic of revisions, I strike without mercy. Kill your darlings, burn down their houses, and club their baby seals. I’m not afraid to cut out large chunks of uncooperative writing. I cut and paste them into a ‘deleted scenes’ folder anyway, so they’re not really gone, just exiled. After the first cull, I’ll re-read it in a different font, then print it in an even different font and take a red pen to the physical copy. I may repeat this process a few times before it ever sees the eyes of a beta reader, or even an alpha reader. Again, it depends on how much loathing I’ve accrued for the project.

As for the number of drafts I’ll go through before I think a work is polished enough for a submission, I don’t have a set number. I’ve gone as high as eight and as low as two. I have some accepted works that I’m still tempted to take a red pen to–in the book they’re published in.

 

So that’s it folks. My writing process. Not sure if that was helpful, or if it even made any sense. Writing is a different beast for all of us, and you can really only do what works for you.

I also don’t think I know another writer who hasn’t already done this blog hop, so I don’t know who to tag. If you’re a writer reading this, and you’re burning to answer these questions yourself, consider yourself tagged.

Happy writing. 🙂