Part One: He writes about writing about writing.
Writers sure do love to write about writing. We’re ridiculous. Anytime we’re not writing for pay we’re writing about the experience of having written for pay, or not for pay. Or whatever. We just love to hear ourselves go on.
I have always likened this activity to The Boring Prophet, brilliantly played by Michael Palin all those happy years ago. You must remember the fellow from The Life of Brian, who stood among all the competing prophets and delivered this message:
There shall in that time be rumors of things going astray, erm, and there shall be a great confusion as to where things really are, and nobody will really know where lieth those little things with the sort of raffia-work base, that has an attachment. At that time, a friend shall lose his friend’s hammer, and the young shall not know where lieth the things possessed by their fathers that their fathers put there only just the night before, about eight O’clock.
Look, we know that’s how we sound, but we do it anyway. Why? Well, you may remember from the movie that one or two people actually stood around, at least for a while, and listened to what this fellow had to say. Maybe that’s part of it. The insatiable hope for an audience. But I think the other reason is that to us this is as cool as it gets. Which brings us to the meat of our story, (or the tofu if that offends less).
Part Two: He calms down and just writes about writing
I’ve written a few books now, some of which people have actually read, (not enough people though! Go shopping!)
So the process has changed a little for me since I began writing A Dark Clock in 2015. At that point the sheer thrill of finally getting the words out of my head and into (virtual) paper was constant. There were tough spots along the way and it felt like it took forever, but I remember being excited about the writing, sometimes on a sentence by sentence basis.
Now it’s almost 2019 and it definitely feels a little bit more like a job at this point. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the only job I want to do, but it most definitely feels like labor far more often than it used to.
The rewards are less immediate, and sometimes they do not come for a very long time. I have documented already how there was a chapter in The Count of Carolina that I literally hated writing. I didn’t hate it once it was written, (though I knew it would challenge some readers), but the act of writing it was brutal.
Sidebar: He has a weakness, about which he will now write
A great book needs to be, at its core, a great story. And a great story requires careful construction. Think of it as did the builders of the great cathedrals.
The construction of the cathedrals of Europe was a monumental endeavor, often taking multiple lifetimes to complete. The grandson of a man who helped lay a cornerstone might work his entire life, as did his fore-bearers, and die without seeing the great building completed.
Knowing at the outset of construction just how the finished product would look was not always an exact science. But realize that these massive structures have stood since long before any alive today was hundreds of years from being conceived. So they must have done something right.
Sticking to my architecture metaphor, I think that in writing a book the key is the scaffolding. It is the superstructure that is very evident during the act of creation but is eventually no longer necessary and can be dismantled. Still, even when it cannot be seen directly its influence is apparent.
This is probably the area in which I doubt my skill more than any other. I am always paranoid that the basic structure of my work is sub-par. And for a writer, that’s not good. It wasn’t good for the church builders either, and not that I’m thinking about it, if I screw up I get bad reviews, whereas those guys, if they failed, giant blocks of stone fell from the sky upon worshipers even as they marveled at the beauty of the space that had been captured.
I think he’s back to just writing about writing again, but I don’t know what part this is anymore
Today I finished chapter three of The Terror of Tijuana, and when I did, the framework clicked. I understood my character’s motivation, I learned that his ambition was positively pathological.
I understood how I was going to get from where I was to where I wanted to end up. I also saw there were several side trips that could be taken along the way. I never let a well constructed scaffold keep me from running down a fun little rabbit hole!
I thought of other characters as well. People I’ve introduced briefly in the earlier Cleanup Crew books, and people who have not yet appeared in the storyline. And I saw it all come together.
And that, for me, is usually the first place I feel the reward now. When the act of putting the right words together doesn’t seem to pack the same level of excitement, (and again, often times it still does), the moment when I can see it all feels so good that the fact that I still have tens of thousands of words to write doesn’t seem to sting so much. It almost feels like writing another book is within the realm of possibility.
Okay, okay. I think I get it now. I see where he’s going with this
And now you’ve arrived at your reward. At last, after struggling just as mightily as did the heading writer for this post, you see now that all I wanted to say was that as I finished work on my novel today I knew the entire story and aside from the latitude I allow myself for the wonderfully unexpected, it’s encased in a sturdy scaffold.
And that felt good.