The Thrill of the Write

Photo by Flickr’s Storm Crypt

Recently I read on Kirkus about novelists “who do really funky research.” Like Jodi Picoult who spent time in a prison. Susan Minot traveled to Uganda to get to know girls kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Peter Rock explored an underground shelter used by former members of a New Age religion. Ann Tyler has written: “I write because I want more than one life.”

It made me wonder. What would I do? How far would I go? My just-finished work in progress is about the Vietnam era, and it’s been tough. A girl coming to age, watching young men she cares about grappling with going to war. It’s been hard, not just to hear about and think about all that went on during the war (I’ve interviewed vets, read lots of books, and watched tons of video footage), but it’s also been tough to get into the mind of young soldiers, particularly those who’ve come back with PTSD.

I’ve struggled and (consequently) so has my main character. She’s never seen combat and neither have I. Once when I was a kid I was living in unstable Uganda and a guard shoved a machine gun into the Land Rover I was riding in, but that’s the closest I’ve come to a wartime experience.

My next WIP is about an adrenaline junkie who does extreme things for a thrill, to make himself feel more alive. I made a list of things I would might think about doing to research that novel.

1. Visit a warzone. If I did, would there be any way I could truly feel the feelings of being a combat troop? Or what it would feel like to be there day in and day out? Although it would bring me closer, I’m not so sure it would achieve more than a glancing view . . . like being a tourist or voyeur into a life. Unless I actually picked up a weapon and was in combat. No one wants me in their platoon. Trust me.

2. Go bungee jumping. Earlier today I saw a terrifying video on Facebook—and by me, I mean my husband (I was too afraid to even watch). A bungee cord snapped as an Australian woman was bungee jumping over the Zambezi River. It took forty minutes before she was rescued, after she floated downriver through rapids and white waters. I don’t want to do that. The truth is I’m as chicken as they come, scared of anything that might cause me bodily harm. But I wonder. I saw cliff jumpers in an IMAX presentation once when I was on a field trip with one of my kids. I had to cover my eyes and peer through my fingers. I’ll cross these two things off, too. [Read more…]


Fear: The Uninvited Guest

photo by lucarossato
photo by lucarossato

This is the fourth Writer Unboxed post I have started in as many days. I now have all these partial posts, each of at least 800 words, sitting on my desktop and determinedly not being the post I need them to be.

That seems to be happening to me a lot lately. If you follow me on Twitter or FB, you probably heard my cyber-bellow of frustration and gnashing of teeth when I had to cut 7,000 words from my manuscript. The manuscript that is due in less than two months and is only partially baked—and that’s being kind.

What you did not hear was my silent primal scream that lasted two whole days when I woke up to the fact that I was writing the wrong damn book and had to delete the FIRST TWO HUNDRED PAGES OF THE MANUSCRIPT.

(Have I mentioned it’s due in less than two months?)

So it comes as no surprise really, that I keep making false starts with my WU post. It’s the mode I appear to be stuck in.

I even know why. It’s Fear. Not only is fear the great mind killer  (thank you Frank Herbert!) it is the great word killer, and creativity killer, and all-sorts-of-things killer.

I keep asking myself how I, a seasoned writer with fifteen books under my belt, could have taken such a wrong turn, how I could have gotten so utterly sidelined. And again, the answer is Fear.

My first clue was the painful slogging part. Yes, writing can be difficult—like figuring out an especially tricky puzzle can be difficult. But this time it was if I had to hike 100 miles to a distant quarry, dig each word out of the rock with my bare hands, then cart it back over the 100 miles (of rugged terrain, mind you) and wedge/hoist it into the manuscript. And sure, there are stretches of writing in each book that feel like that—but never, for me, the entire process.

My second clue should have been that nothing felt organic to the characters or their situations. That wonderful, alchemical process of turning ideas into living, breathing characters on the page simply wasn’t happening. It was a series of constant, conscious decisions as opposed to ever finally beginning to flow out of the characters themselves.

It’s easy (and oh-so-satisfying) to gash my teeth and rail at the writing gods, wondering why this had to happen. And why it had to happen NOW—with this deadline bearing down on me like a freight train. But of course, neither the timing nor the why of it is a coincidence.

Fear sauntered into the room, made itself comfortable, and refused to budge. [Read more…]