On Thursday, I started working on my new project. Or, officially working on it. I had written a few thousand words while working on another piece and so I had a jumping off point. The first thing I did was research the subject matter. I dedicated a morning to researching alligators/crocodiles and their place in mythology. I became slightly obsessed with this gator idea and suddenly, the story went veering far from what I had originally written. I wrote a list of plot points and decided to treat each section like its own story, going to the extreme of what I had done in two previous stories in which each section was a different but connected story. As I sat to write, I realized that I had done something stupid. I was limiting myself too much. The gators were interesting but they weren’t supposed to be the most interesting part of the story. They were supposed to be part of a grander plot, something dangerous lurking in the background. Thus, the writing didn’t go well.
On Saturday, my husband was working and so I had some additional time to spend on writing. I turned my laptop on when I woke up and it stayed on until about 2 in the morning. What did I write? A big, fat nothing. I couldn’t come up with anything. I was confused and stressed by the project. I didn’t feel strongly enough to write an entire novel just about gators. Their presence was inspired by a news story I read about a flood in Mexico a few years ago and what I was coming up with just wasn’t that. Finally, I took out my notebook and while my husband slept, I looked over the notes and outlines I had made, then figured out what was wrong. I wrote a few more notes, some ideas on what I wanted to accomplish. They were more a form of written guidance and when I finished writing, I felt a bit calmer.
Yesterday, I tried writing again but felt too unfocused to really create anything. I finally settled in for the night with my notebook and at around 1 in the morning, I started scribbling some material that fit more with the original direction of the work. When I finished writing, I had approximately 1,000 words of useable material.
I was looking for something to read the other day and couldn’t decide on a title. I kept gravitating towards my short story collections and just as I pulled one off the shelf, I realized that part of my problem was that I was writing a novel while reading a short story. That’s not to say that I need to only read novels for the rest of my life but if the majority of the work I’m reading is short, how am I supposed to stop thinking in terms of short narratives? That was part of my problem. I was creating the project with the intention of having it almost be a collection linked stories, but linked only by virtue of the alligators. And that wasn’t what I wanted. Yes, I wanted separate sections but they were supposed to build off one another.
I put the short story collection back, grabbed a novel off the shelf, and read a few pages before inspiration struck and I went running for my notebook.
I find that reading something completely disparate to what I’m writing ends up having two results: (1) my brain feels recharged and I’m ready to tackle the project now that I’ve been inspired and (2) I suddenly panic and begin rethinking everything I’ve created because suddenly, all I can think is “why didn’t I think to write the book like this one?” And because lately, I’ve been rushing through the novels on my shelf just to experience the story, then spend time lingering over short stories, it’s no wonder that I can’t stop thinking in terms of short fiction. So I’m making a conscious effort to spend more time on reading novels. I can’t just treat them like I would a movie, where I don’t really pay attention but do glance up from time to time in order to see what’s happening. I read novels so quickly that I don’t allow myself to really see how they’re created, how the story weaves in and out, extending itself naturally until finally, it deems to end. So that’s something I’ve decided I need to change. I need to spend more time reading the work I want to create. I’m always going to have this creative conflict if I can’t take the time to study the genre a little more. Rushing the way that I do and constantly distracting myself with material that’s so different from what I write will keep me in the same mental trap. I’m not going to give up short fiction and poetry but I need to focus my attentions on novels themselves so that I can better understand. It doesn’t matter that I’ve written hundreds, probably thousands of novels in my life. Creative endeavors are all about constantly learning. It might take me another hundred or thousand novels to understand another aspect of the novel that I never recognized before.
So that’s where I am, friends. Trying to troubleshoot a creative project that theoretically seemed great but in practice, isn’t what I really wanted. Tomorrow, I’ll have an excerpt up because I have a feeling that today will be a considerably better day for writing. Or at least, fingers crossed.