Why can’t a writer WRITE???

A (writer) friend of mine recently posted an entry in his blog asserting that “writers are lying bags of cat puke” when they claim writing is hard.  I had to respectfully beg to differ. I have been trying to write largely without success for about 3/4 of my life.  Oh, I can write reasonable well as far as quality is concerned.  That is, if you measured my ability to write based on the opinions of those who read and enjoy my work, I am a ‘good’ writer.  The problem is that aside from a handful of short stories (and a ‘novelette’ I wrote when I was 15 or 16 and saved on a 5 inch floppy-which was subsequently accidentally thrown out by my dad on a cleaning binge), I have never finished anything.

I’ve told myself (and my friends) that I have had a really bad case of writer’s block for the past couple of years…which is kind of true.  But it’s really just a different form of the same problem that has plagued my writing my whole life.  Back then, I seem to remember it as losing interest.  Now, it’s more like a feeling of being overwhelmed, under-inspired, and…well, obsessive.  And before you think “All writers go through that…yada yada. ”  I’m not sure.

I have OCD.  Have all my life.  My childhood was fine in terms of my life and family itself, but from about 7 or 8 on, (in retrospect) I can remember suffering with symptoms of this… Anxiety, intrusive thoughts, guilt…  The point is, NOW I seem to feel the strain of that when I try to write.  Mostly, I get so bogged down with accuracy of details that I can’t get anywhere with the story.  What is the weather like in such and such state?  What is the topography?  Is this how a police department is set up?  What is an NA retreat like? Is this realistic… etc, etc,  etc, ad nauseam….  Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the normal writers block ends and the OCD begins…

I have had three sentences in my head for two days.  I want to write a story, and so I figured I can even narrow the scope of the story and instead of going for the full Oriental Express mystery theme, I can start with just one scene.  ONE.  And I can’t get past those three sentences.  What order they go in, what do I write next, how do I want to say it, what are the write words?  (Look up a word in the thesaurus every other sentence to see if I can find a better one…)

Then there is what I would probably refer to as “Stephen King syndrome.”  It’s the writer’s version of that Southpark episode where Butters is looking to hatch an evil plan only to be told over and over again by his luke – evil sidekick, “SIMPSONS DID IT” already!  IOW, what the hell could I possibly have to say on any subject related to horror or suspense fiction (my preferred bailiwick) that Stephen King has not already said (and five hundred times better than I ever could.) I once even had an idea for a novel about a door in the middle of the woods that went to … “someplace else.”  And then I read The Dark Towers series.  Basically his opus, The Dark Tower spans 7 books currently and also manages to tie in about half of his other previous works in some fashion.  IMHO, sheer genius.

But I mean, as far as basic plot goes, is there anything that hasn’t been done?  I have in fact heard it said that everything HAS been done before and the only thing a new writer can do is rehash old stories, or “re-tell them in a new and interesting way” (if you want to be generous.)  To an extent, I suppose that is true… but then, as a fan of Japanese film and anime, I can honestly say, those people come up with new and interesting and STRANGE shit all the time, and they can use juxtaposition like nobody’s business…

Also, it is so easy, as I told another friend of mine the other day, to get home and get ‘interested’ in doing other things.  There are so many things around the house that I need to do.  They don’t always get done either, but I’ll bet you I do those things before I try to sit and write.  It’s easier to sit and play on the computer, watch a movie, play with the baby… All of that is easier than trying to push past this block.  Maybe I should take a notebook somewhere away from all the ‘distractions.’  But there are other things I’d rather do.  And not enough time in the day.  I am sleep deprived (thank you, baby girl.) And these all sound like crappy excuses.

So where does this leave me?  Well, I guess I have no choice.  If I want to write, I have to keep trying to write.  I don’t know what else to do.  It’s upsetting to want to write and actually not be able to.  It’s frustrating as all hell.  I am jealous of my friends’ success.  So, I’m not really a ‘lying bag of cat puke’ (see Rance’s blog, The Action P(r)ose, on my blogroll.) I’m really just an ineffectual, frustrated, sleep-deprived, self-critical, obsessive…bag of cat puke.

(oh yeah, add that to the list of shit to do around the house- clean up cat puke.)

8 responses to “Why can’t a writer WRITE???

  1. I read an interesting blog post recently about how someone who types an average of 50 wpm should theoretically be able to pound out about 20,000 words per day–if writing were your day job and you typed for 8 hours straight. He said the problem that stops writers from achieving this level of output is their (our) awful tendency to self-edit as we go. That’s why it is so hard to get past three sentences–the self-doubt at every word.

    The way I got from nowhere to a novel was by typing without self-editing, via NaNoWriMo. I got 50,000 words out in a month by writing furiously and not going back to change anything. Sure, 25,000 of them turned out to be crap, but I had 25,000 words’ worth of usable content. The next year, I wrote 50,000 more words. Then I had 75,000 words, and much less of it was crap because I’d had so much practice writing. It DOES get easier and better with practice. So, let’s say 15,000 words were crap. The next year, I wrote another 50,000, and suddenly I had a full-length novel of about 110,000 words. THEN I began to edit and cull and really dig into making the words and the sentences work. But you have to have clay before you can mold a statue.

    So I wrote 150,000 words (give or take), and ended up with a 95,000-word novel. I think the trick is really to get a volume of words out there. Whether you think they are crap or not, they are going to serve a purpose: 1) It will teach you what works and what doesn’t; 2) It will give you something to work with; 3) It will form a habit of writing lots, all the time.

    As for the Stephen King syndrome, Save the Cat will teach you there are really only 10 types of stories. It’s your special voice that will make the story unique. And a voice is something that can only be developed by writing a ton of words down.

  2. Kelly,

    It’s always difficult to get on that path to writing as both habit and as enjoyment. At the beginning it really does come across as work, as with everything you said: all the research, the details, getting everything right.

    But writing — like Elly said far more eloquently than I could — doesn’t always have to be mind-blowing, perfect, or even good. It’s natural for us to struggle over each sentence, over each word. That’s a compulsion, however, that will only be broken with time. That’s the self-editing.

    We *have* to write mediocre stuff. We have to write crap. 🙂 Don’t let the expectations of potential readers break your will as a budding writer. Who cares if you have it right *right now*? Write it for the presence of the work, first, and then return to the quality later. Rewrites will always be essential no matter how fantastic the first product is; editing will always happen after the first draft.

    Hug your crap hard. It’s the writing we never intend people to see that helps us learn for the writing that we really want to display.

    It’s REALLY easy to get sidetracked with the accuracy of the actors and tools in our story. But the accuracy of those actors and tools don’t help us get to the finish line. Write the skeleton. Write the easy words and get to the finish line. Then, the skeleton’s there and you can put skin and muscle on it as you desire!

    And no, none of your excuses are crappy. They’re natural. While they’re not the same, I still find other excuses not to write (Battlestar Galactica, video games, the occasional bout of furious masturbation), and the hardest part for me isn’t the writing…it’s finding time to sit down and do it. 🙂

    And hell yeah everything’s been done! But the fun part is learning how to do it in your own special way, in the way that makes it uniquely yours.

    You can do it, girl. You’re awesome. You’re a writer at heart, whether it’s blog posts or stories.

  3. I had OCD for so many years. I am somewhat sad that it went away. Because now everything feels so disorganized. I was peeking through your blog and remarking to myself, WOW. Everything in it’s place. (Puts face in hands, dons longing look towards alienredqueens blog format)

    Writing IS hard. Period. Even if it seems to come easy.
    The Cockroach

    • Yes, it is hard! And the organization (haha) may very well be my perfectionism/OCD at work! How did you OCD “go away”? In my experience and studies, it’s a life long battle, it’s just you (in general) learn to cope with it better. Unless you obsessive tendencies were maybe linked to something other than a chemical imbalance??? Gosh, what I wouldn’t do for a permanent cure!!!

      • You know what, there are still some things. But I also had bulimia and anorexia, alcoholism and other problems going on, so it was not like the OCD just disappeared, but rather, switched? It was so ritual based for many years. Tapping. Up 7 stairs, down 7 stairs, up 4, down 4. If I stubbed one toe, had to stub the other to “even it out.” I still set the microwave to 1 min 56 seconds. Because 5+6=11 🙂

  4. I SO commiserate. Feeling locked into rituals is so deeply…um, ‘frustrating’ doesn’t seem like a strong enough word. One day I will blog more in depth about some of my experiences, but it is such a daunting prospect. There’s so much to say. And you are too right about how anxieties and disorders can morph into one another. And a lot of these things are probably co-morbid for that very reason.

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