If you’ve done anything even remotely creative in your life before, you probably know the astoundingly frustrating ups and downs that come with it. When you have a great idea (or at least think that you do) the entire world is your oyster. You are firing on all cylinders and everything that you are churning out is gold and diamond-encrusted. You can’t be stopped.
That is the ups.
The downs are where you are working really hard on creating something and you begin to doubt everything that you are doing. Is it really good? Does it really have value? Will anyone really like this? Do you even like what you are producing? It’s this mind-numbing internal struggle that occurs to derail you when things are starting to move in your favor and will always be maddening.
Does it mean that the stuff that is being worked on is actually subpar or shitty? Not always. Do your sneaking suspicions mean that you might need to tighten something up somewhere? Probably. The process of coming to either conclusion can be really, really obnoxious, though.
That is sort of the problem with creating fiction. Creating fiction is taking a blank page and making a world and characters come to life. It is creation in its broadest, most pure sense. It also means that there isn’t a whole lot to fall back on if things are going wrong. How does a writer convey something about this world and the characters to the reader that they can understand without the reader really knowing the world and characters? So it is the writer’s job to make the reader care about the world, the characters, the struggles and to make it all believable, entertaining or whatever else you can do with fiction.
Another big problem with creating fiction is that there are times when there is this stark realization that the stuff at the beginning of the book was written almost two years ago and that there might be some weird shifts. I don’t mean tense shifts (but god am I guilty of those), but tone shifts. I’m not the same writer that I was in 2012 when I began work on my current project and sometimes I begin to wonder if maybe it will show.
The first novel that I ever started with serious intent for finishing was in 2006 during my last semester in college. My goal for my last Creative Writing Workshop? To churn out a novel — or at least as much as I possibly could — before the semester was over. This is the kind of stuff that I always do to myself. I always think that I can conquer the world and do whatever that I set my mind to, even if I’m really not sure how to accomplish it. At this point I had been successful in writing short fiction that had captivated anyone who could get their hands on it, how hard would it be to transition to a novel?
I’ve still never finished that book, although I’ve worked on it ever since I started it back in 2006. Part of the problem with it was that things changed over the years, I changed over the years. The tone was stark, depressing, nihilistic and just pretty miserable. It was a reflection of where I was at in 2006 and a place that I no longer inhabit, nor have I for quite a while. The basic story and characters are still great, I think, and it’s something that I one day want to finish, but if I look back to that 2006 – 2010 manuscript I’m well aware that it’s just garbage.
I’ve rewrote that book — from the ground up — no less than four times now, never quite getting close to finishing it. I had grand visions of narrative structures, intricate form and everything else over the years, but never quite had the chops to live up to what I wanted it to be like. In part it was because it wasn’t me. Imposing a mathematical series of numbers into chapter and subchapter length seemed like a brilliant idea at the time minute one thing — I fucking hate math and am horrible at it.
In a sense, it wasn’t me. It wasn’t something that I’d normally write, but it was me wanting to make a big impression on the world. The fact of the matter was that I was sacrificing some of the basics to try to weave an intricate sub-world and symbolism into the book while I still wasn’t sure what the main character should be doing or where he should end up. It’s 2014 now and I’m pretty sure that I do know where it is all going, but that’s not what I’m working on right now. The fifth beginning currently sits at a paltry 4,885 words and will probably stay that way for quite a while.
I feel that I have the ability to make some of the ideas that I wanted to do happen now, but now, in retrospect, those ideas aren’t really all-that-great. You live and your learn, I guess.
This all came back to me when on Tuesday I went back to the beginning of the current novel that I’m working on and found myself less-than-pleased with the first few paragraphs. So I did what any neurotic writer would do and I just went in and wrote them all over again. Was there actually anything wrong with the intro paragraphs? Probably not. In fact, they were fine. I’ve actually edited and re-edited them a few times now, as writers are prone to doing, so I knew that they were okay. Yet I just got sick of seeing them for the thousandth time and decided that it was time for them to have a facelift.
Then when I got to the point where I was comfortable leaving it as-is, I had to face the fact that I had just introduced some of this stuff in those new, pristine paragraphs that I just wrote. Meddling never does anyone any good.
After ensuring that everything was patched up and linked up properly, the fear kicked in; is this book really any good? My god, what if everyone hates it? Have I become a better writer since I started, do I need to redo the entire beginning, the entire first half, where did I get good and where did I stop sucking? Did I ever really suck?
This is part of the problem with something that is going to be released to the public, though. It takes up a lot of time, effort and it can be emotionally draining. It’s hard for people to understand just how draining it can be to inhabit a character’s mind to bring that character to life. That character also inexorably contains bits and pieces of you. If people dislike this character, well, they dislike something that you created, they dislike you.
I’ve made peace with all of it now, but damn, does the process sometimes take a ton out of me.