reticence

There are times when I find it uncomfortable to write.

I don’t mean physical discomfort or run-of-the-mill writer’s block, but a sort of anxious distress that has me doing everything from laundry to reloading Facebook to avoid having to face the work in progress.

What I always want (what I suspect all writers want) is that perfect state of flow where the words just pour out like water, the imagery and emotions so clear in my mind that I am merely describing the unfolding events and the character’s reactions to them.

For a long time I assumed “real” writers were in that state all the time; through discussion and experience I’m learning that this is definitely NOT the case and that part of learning to write is plowing through the times when you’re not “in the mood”.

I’m finding that the two main things that make me want to flee to the cuddly vapidity of YouTube cat videos are 1) I can’t get inside my character’s head, or 2) I feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Dealing with the first is easier – I created elaborate back stories and personality profiles of my main characters that I can refer to when I just can’t “go there”. It’s not the same but it does give me some direction when I’ve written them into a corner.

The other is harder because even though everyone says to “write what you know” it’s impossible to stick to my own narrow range of experiences and inevitably I wind up in uncharted territory.

This is especially true with historical fiction, and even though none of my potential readers have lived through the 16th century either I still cringe at the thought that someone who has done better research than I will read something I’ve written and realize I’m winging it.

This is my critiquing Kryptonite – I’m more self-conscious about someone catching me being clueless than I am about lousy grammar, poor plotting or anything else.

Of course I’m (over)doing the research to avoid that possibility, but I suspect the real lesson is how to get over my flailing and find a way into “the zone”. I know what to do once I’m there – it’s just the getting there I’m struggling with.

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2 thoughts on “reticence

  1. Drea Leed says:

    It’s a tough thing, historical fiction. Because you actually have to think about things that wouldn’t even be in your conscious mind if you were truly “writing what you know”…of course, on the bright side, this means one learns a crap ton more about an area of history than you ever would otherwise.

    To me, it’s the personality and voice of a historic character that really makes a book worth reading, like Ahab’s Wife, or Wolf Hall, or Ruled Britannia. The details and nuts and bolts and facts of the historical…those can always be tweaked if you get them wrong in the first draft..

    If you want to give yourself an out you can call it “magical realism” while you’re writing the initial work, to absolve yourself of all responsibility for absolute accuracy, and then examine it once you have the body of it done to see how you feel about its accuracy. 🙂

  2. A. Thurman says:

    Hey! First off, my apologies for not replying sooner – I’m still getting used to WordPress and I wasn’t notified that I had a pending comment. My bad 😦

    And YES – whatever “flow” of writing I get into is constantly interrupted by questioning whether I’ve got the historical setting or language right.

    I’m doing two things to remedy this:

    1) While writing I try to just put a * or […] where I don’t know some historical detail as a note to fill it in afterwards. When I’m REALLY on a roll, I put a note tagged “Questions” in Evernote as a reminder of whatever specific thing I need to look up.

    2) I’m immersing myself in the social history of the time by reading and taking copious notes with the hope that the knowledge will help me better go into the time period in my mind and therefore automatically make accurate/plausible assumptions stemming from that. I’ll keep y’all posted as to how well that works 😛

    And IMHO it’s always the characters that make something worth reading, in any genre! Because ultimately stories are about PEOPLE.

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