I got another assignment for a magazine. Great news, but I am still new to this paid writing game. I lack confidence in my writing, so I had a friend, an actual writer and former editor, read over the piece before submitting it. While her comments helped me to improve the piece, I still felt a twinge of guilt. She is my go-to person for writing critique. Since she makes her living as a writer, when she is looking over my essays, I am essentially getting free work. She has assured me that she enjoys assisting me, but I felt compelled to broaden my pool of critics. I decided to seek out a writer’s group.
This sounds like a logical solution to the problem, but I hadn’t really thought it through. My husband is in the middle of a work assignment where he is on call most of the time and working late hours. I can’t really count on him being home at a certain time so I can attend the group.
I also do not have much new work to submit to a group at the moment. Most of what I write is for a specific assignment or is posted on my blog within nanoseconds of completion. Part of being in a writer’s group is having actual writing to offer- or so I am told.
Upon analyzing the decision for longer than the duration of a sneeze, I determined that this was not the time to join a group. Of course, since I have all the impulse control of a toddler with ADHD, I had already contacted one. I introduced myself and left the group before anyone could ask “what’s your name again?” Feeling like a bowl of breakfast cereal, I vowed that if I couldn’t attend the group, I would serve creative penance. That was the first step to starting a terrible novel.
I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil. I actually have a permanent bend to the middle finger on my right hand from writing stories as a child. I would grasp the pencil for so long and with such intensity that it caused a curvature to the bone. As a kid, I wrote fairy tales and plays (starring me), but I found my voice as an adult in penning essays.
Essay writing is the equivalent of exorcism for me. I have little control over the words pouring from my mouth. I use the writing as a means to quiet my obsessive brain. Once possessed by a thought, I will think about it, and think about it until it takes on a life of its own. A couple of lines exchanged with a friend will turn into an entire imaginary conversation played backward, forward, sometimes even sideways. As you can imagine, fictitious exchanges are not exactly the best way to maintain friendships. Writing is a means to an end. The faster I get the words out, the sooner I can quit thinking about whatever subject is plaguing me. It’s verbal vomit, but it ensures the writing is true to my natural voice.
Novel writing requires crafting characters, developing plot, and a whole host of problems I had not considered in quite some time. I can’t even remember the last time I wrote a piece of fiction.
Why ease into fiction writing when you can melt your brain by challenging it with one of the most difficult tasks- writing a believable and compelling sex scene. The entire story hinges on a sexual episode and how that single moment affects the lives of the characters for years after. When I think of sex scenes, I place them in two categories- bodice-ripping romance novels and money shot porn videos. Both are distasteful, unbelievable and leave me feeling queasy.
Upon writing a sex scene, I found it to be pretty difficult to detail the action without bordering on the territories of Fabio and John Holmes. Just the mention of the word nipple puts the reader in a certain frame of mind. But dammit, sometimes there is no word to describe a nipple but nipple!
I determined that if I was going to get through this novel writing process, I had to take the black-out drunk approach. Just barrel through it without really thinking and assess the damage later. I spewed out a terrible sex scene and moved on.
Next up, dialogue. I have a conversational writing style, so I thought this one would be a breeze. But writing in your own style of talking and penning dialogue for characters is a completely different thing. The novel follows the characters through high school and young adulthood. My characters got to discuss my horrible sex scene via locker room exchanges.
I have never eaves dropped on teen boys talking about their sexual conquests. While I might be able to accurately provide the gist (and I stress the word MIGHT) I have no idea what they actually say. At one point I typed the words “Dude, you gotta get rid of that chick.” Teenage boys use the word “chick” when talking with their “bros,” right?
I was no better at setting the scene for this horrible locker room conversation. I was taking the approach of boys teasing, perhaps trying to one-up each other. I needed a playful gesture. Do boys actually snap each other with towels, or is that back to that porn scenario thing? What would boys do- hurl deodorants at each others heads? I made a mental note to talk to someone who may have actually been a teen boy at one time before spending too much time on this scene. Again, moving on.
The real challenge is finding time to devote to a novel. I still crave my demon-exorcising essay writing time. My preschoolers refuse to pull their weight. They require me to cook for them, drive them places, and even play with them- free loaders. I’m eeking it out one horrible scene at a time, somehow managing to sneak five or ten minutes a couple of times a day to pen this travesty.
So the novel is not quite going as planned. Not true- it’s going exactly as planned and is probably why I have put it off for so long. But having read countless interviews with authors, the most often quoted advice is to just write, even if it is terrible. If that’s what worked for them, perhaps I’ll make it on the bestseller list after all.