“Writing is easy…

DebE —  September 21, 2011 — 9 Comments

All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”  ~Gene Fowler

I had to look this quote up.

This one is very similar: “There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”  ~Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

Basically, this is how I have been feeling of late. And, writing is hard. And, just because a scene or chapter isn’t flowing out of your brain easily does not mean that it is flawed. It just means that you realize how important it is to get that scene just right.

I had a discussion with a friend the other day. A friend who has taken writing courses (I’m learning as I go). I was struggling with a scene. After many discussions on what I could do with my characters, and how ‘because you make the rules for the story, you can change them’, I was ever so close to scrapping everything and embarking on an epic fantasy tale not unlike “The Balgariad” (which I loved as a teen, by the way). But, when I got to that point, my instincts kicked in. “Hold up!” they said. And then they went on to explain to me that if I tossed the rules that I created in order to write the story I am writing, and if I changed the histories of my characters to more fully fit this epic fantasy idea that my friend had in her head (please note, she hasn’t read any of my actual story), then I wouldn’t be writing my story, I would be writing hers… in which case, she should write it. She told me I could either stick to my ideas and write my story just for me, or I could write a story with a hope of selling… (all without reading a drop of my tale) Yeh, she did. We’re still friends, too…

It all came down to this scene that I was struggling with. She said that if it wasn’t flowing, then it must be because my idea for my story wasn’t sound. In reality, it was (is… yeah, I’m still working on it – it’s a big scene) because there is a heck of a lot that can happen in that scene. I have my protagonists meet the antagonists for the first time within the timeline that my story covers. He isn’t easily recognizable to the one protag that knows/knew him previously, so I have a decision to make… do I reveal him now, or later? I have the two main protags learning new things about each other, so I have a decision to make… do they learn about each other at the same time, or do I stagger revelations? And, if I stagger, in what order do I do it? Other decisions include: what should the other characters be doing? How involved should they be? How should my characters, esp. my protags, react to the revelations as they come out? I know there is some anger, but how long should they be angry? How fast should they “get over” things? I know I need to be true to the characters, but I also have a plan for where the story needs to go…

I have come to a conclusion: Writing is easy… if you write non-fiction. Do your research, write about it. It’s happened already. It exists already. It’s just a matter of putting it down. Fiction writing is about research and decisions. And decisions are hard! What do I call my character? Non-fiction: you call them by their name… Fiction: you have to come up with a cool name. What colour is my character’s hair? Non-ficiton: It’s whatever colour it is/was. Fiction: Do you like blonde, brunette, raven black? What about funky purple? So many possibilities. What will you choose, and why? Is the character easy-going, or have a short-temper? What happened in their history to lead to this trait?

I don’t mean to belittle non-fiction. I spent a long university career writing scientific papers. I am well-practiced at research followed by the non-fiction tale. I just want to remind people (mainly myself, actually) that good fiction is really hard!

Writing is easy… “Yeah right.”

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DebE

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Deb E was born in New Zealand’s North Island, but her parents corrected that within months, moving south to Dunedin and staying there. Childhood nights were spent falling asleep to cover versions of Cliff Richard and the Shadows and other Rock ’n Roll classics played by her father’s band, and days were spent dancing to 45 LPs. Many of her first writing experiences were copying down song lyrics. She graduated to scientific reports when she studied a nematophagus fungus in the Zoology department of the University of Otago, trading all traces of popularity for usefulness… then traded both for fiction. Mum of one human & four fur-babies.

9 responses to “Writing is easy…

  1. 

    I was actually talking with one of my canaries about this exact non-fiction vs fiction writing element. My talking point was that it was a question of risk, rather than effort. Both fiction writing and nonfiction writing (when done right, and when the nonfiction writing has an audience outside of academia–ie, journalism, articles, nonfiction books) are hard. For non-fiction, you find yourself condensing information, seeking to develop the hook that will draw readers in, and then walking the razors edge between engaging and annoying. With fiction, you find yourself blending fact and lies, your experiences and imagination, style and straightforward narration–

    But I argued that fiction is riskier. When someone doesn’t like your book review or your article on killer whales (the one you spent 20 hours of research on, did five interviews, and worked on for three sleepless nights in a row), it’s gonna hurt. But you also sense that they’re rejecting the technical execution of something that’s otherwise solid.

    With fiction, that rejection can feel like the rejection of your imagination, your vision, and your creation. Yes, certainly they were probably just feeling that the execution was lousy (as in the NF example), but, well,…

    I think we have that dichotomy hanging over us as writers.

    • 

      You’re right. Non-fiction is hard. By comparison, though, I think fiction is harder, or, as you said “riskier”. You’re certainly putting yourself out there to be judged in a way Non-fiction writing doesn’t attract.

      Still, I remember my days as a student, spending a few afternoons here and there getting my research together, and then cramming a late night (I could never pull the “all”-nighter) write-up, and I did all right. I got pretty good marks (B+ was my usual… until 4th year, when I finally started pulling in the A’s). The fact was, with the research behind me, I could just write how things were. Even if my brain was half asleep. And, for my post-grad, it really was! I had glandular fever (mono) and had been studying part-time for about 6 months, and didn’t manage to get into uni very often. And then, one day out of the blue, my supervisor emails me and says “Did you know this is due in three days?”. And you know what? I managed it. I threw it together. And I did all right (another B+ effort… not bad considering in my muddled mental state I managed to completely forget to include an Abstract (and my supervisor didn’t even point that out to me)). I guess I managed it because I had a good grasp of basic spelling and grammar and my research was solid.

      The fact is, though, if someone said “I want you to write two chapters in three days” I couldn’t do it. Well, maybe if I had the same timetable I had as a student (time is far more limited now), but, I doubt it. When mental capacity is limited by illness or tiredness, creative writing suffers far more greatly than factual. Flexing that imagination muscle, and expressing it with style and flare is extremely tough. Maybe less so for true full-time writers – but how many of those actually exist?

      Re: your point on rejection… That’s exactly why I find it so hard to review a book I don’t like – I’d much rather just say nice things about books I like. But, when said book has an average rating on Goodreads of 5.0 stars, then I just HAVE to…

      • 

        The fact is, though, if someone said “I want you to write two chapters in three days” I couldn’t do it.

        I think you’re underestimating yourself. I know I could do it. I might not do it for a story I really really wanted to write well, but I could absolutely whip out a couple chapters of a paranormal romance or a light science fiction opera. In a sense, that’s the equivalent of the kind of work we do in academia–there is little to no emotional connection to the assigned research, much as there would be little connection if I said,

        Deb! You have exactly three days to get me a piece of fiction ten pages double spaced about the following premise: Main character wakes up with no memory, a stolen animal (your pick), and an incessant cough. If I do not have ten pages of this story in my email inbox before the deadline, all sorts of feathery wrath shall fall upon you like a yellow plague.

        No, really. Prove yourself wrong. Take up the challenge. 😀

  2. 

    I should, too. Damn having a cold. If the 1 year old sleeps when he’s supposed to, and if I can pull myself away from my Novel-In-Progress, I might just have a go. I might get back to you on the start-date, though :oP Hmm… I guess I should be doing more Writing.com competitions, then, huh?

    • 

      Canary competitions > Writing.com competitions. For real.

      And the grand prize will be that you get to challenge a canary to write something for a prompt of your choice. But time starts tomorrow Thursday (the 13th) morning or no game!

  3. 

    So, Friday, my time (o: So, by the end of my weekend? Alrighty… since I seem to be procrastinating anyway, why not?

  4. 

    Oh the public humiliation. Unfortunately, I don’t think I did underestimate myself. During my son’s one daytime sleep today I have barely managed 2 pages. That’s not enough for 10 in three days… Will see what I can manage after tonight’s engagement party…

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