This is not a post about Pink Floyd. Sorry. I know next to nothing about them, save that once in Ninth grade, and I don’t remember why, my entire (gifted and troubled) class got up and greeted our Portuguese and Language Arts teacher witha rousing (off key) rendition of The Wall. I’m still not sure if the fact she sighed and told us to sit down was well handled or if we’d trod on her last nerve.
I’ll get my apologies out of the way now: this is also not a post about hitting the wall on Witchfinder, I haven’t – I just have a feeling of stuff being all up in the air and I’m trying to compose my mind on it – but I’m going to postpone/cancel the chapter for this week. The reason for that double is that I don’t know which one it will be. However, given travel – the travel curse struck again yesterday and we got in very late and very tired, and went straight to bed and now I have several administrivia details to deal with because of the week away – and the fact that as a result of this trip I now know what to do with the (GROSSLY) overdue Noah’s Boy makes it very likely that next week will be a double post, instead of this one.
The wall I want to talk about is internal. I have mentioned it before but not by that name. There is this point you can be at, where you have the entire story in your head, sometimes even words, but SOMEHOW it won’t make it to the fingers. There’s a wall in the way.
There are several reasons for this wall. It often – in my case at least – is just a lack of energy. For a while, leading to the years of almost no income, it was sheer “mygiveadamnisbusted” – I had done my best and failed, and work was difficult because what was the point. I was throwing my words out into the world and it seemed like nobody was reading, and “why bother” formed a solid wall around me, till it seemed the only words I wrote I had to pass out one by one through a cinch in that wall only large enough to admit a fortune cookie paper.
That was perhaps the most frustrating of times. The words still come, and the stories, but you simply can’t get them out. What freed myself from it was – weirdly – writing Sword And Blood on spec. It was a book like nothing I’d ever written, so I had to step outside my mental comfort zone, and I felt like it had unlimited potential – I still think it does. Less than happy with placement, but that’s something for a very different day. And it wasn’t “mine” – ie. It was different – therefore it might not be doomed.
After that I reoriented to find my happiness in the writing itself – hence the indie and on spec books. Weirdly this came at the same time something finally started moving, and it looks like I might have a career after all and readers – however the possibility of just writing on spec, with no agent or editor telling me “that will never sell” and of publishing indie if nothing else. That freedom was the final knocking down of that wall.
But I still hit the wall now and then in anything. And then the trick is to know WHY.
New writers tend to assume they hit the wall because they lost interest. This accounts for the young writers I know with twenty started novels and not one finished.
Honestly, the only thing that saved me from that fate is that I’m the most stubborn person on the face of the Earth, except for #2 son. This is no idle boast. Until marshall was born, if they needed to distill stubornium the best way would have been to grind me down and concentrate me. (And mind, the publishing industry might have done both.)
This type of obstinacy is ALSO not normally a survival trait. I wonder HOW I ended up here at all, because I can well imagine an ancestress advancing on a mammoth and going “No, YOU move.” I presume she’d had kids before that.
Anyway, being obstinate applies to my own stuff and to stuff I do and make. I don’t like being defeated by a story. So, when I was a young writer I learned how to get through, over or around the wall.
There’s a lot to be said for each method. Sometimes you power through and afterwards you’re not sure what held you captive. Over is where you skip the point that gave you trouble and move into two or three chapters ahead, to the next scene that catches fire for you. What I find in those cases is that when I go back I find I’d made a huge logic misstep in the plot (or character misstep, for that matter) and that the section looks not at all like I’d outlined. This happens mostly when I HAVE outlined. It’s sometimes very hard to look past one’s clever contrivance and see it will not do. Around is more complex. This is when I find myself cleaning, cooking, rotating the cat, going for a walk, forgetting the novel, until in the middle of the night IT gets tired of being ignored, takes advantage of my being tired and weak, and assaults me, flowing past the wall and out the fingers at speed.
The problem is when you’re not sure what’s causing you to hit the wall – and that was the problem with Noah’s Boy. Frankly, I thought my subconscious was just throwing a fit because it wanted to write science fiction. Or perhaps it was JUST the fact that this Summer has been rather hellish, and I was doing too much. Maybe I was just tired?
In these cases, going away helps. Not that the wall broke till my last day there, but it did break.
It didn’t break in the sense of getting me great wordage. I did produce some, slow as molasses and will mostly be discarded.
But that’s because I figured out there was a HUGE flaw in the novel. Not in the point at which I first sensed the problem – oh, no – but in the concept of the novel.
How in holy h*ll can someone like you, you’ll say, with twenty three books under your belt, still hit the wall because of a fundamental flaw in conception of novel?
Oh, let me tell you. First, to a certain extent each book is your first book. I don’t care if you’ve written 100 books and have more experience than G-d, you will eventually come across a book you don’t know which end you should start on. Worse, the method that worked for youf or 15 books – say, detailed, careful outlining, half the size of the book – will suddenly not work. The writing thing – whatever that is – will rebel and throw a fit, and not allow you to write to that outline at all. You find yourself killing your main character in the first chapter, grabbing goon #3 to whom you’d not even given a name, and taking off on an uncharted course through primeval subconscious which only allows you to see – if you’re lucky – a chapter ahead. Sometimes it doesn’t allow you to see more than a page ahead and you feel like you’re writing straight from someone else’s head, until you emerge on the other side, with a full book that’s undeniably yours, might be the best thing you ever wrote, and you have NO clue how it happened.
Two – and partly because Noah’s Boy is the last of my “old model” books, sold on detailed outline… three? Years ago, after which intervened a year of deep depression, then years of writing space opera and vampires and heaven knows what, to leave me here, staring in bemusement at that outline and going “I am not this writer.” This is very weird, because I am demonstrably still the same Sarah – my husband hasn’t noticed anyone slipping in a body double, nor have the kids complained of pods in the basmeent. Also, Darkship Thieves was MUCH older and I could go back to it with no effort.
But the last three books I’ve written have been… scouring books. If my writing were a gun, the last two projectiles fired, especially, changed the rifling of it. It is … different. And the way it is different is a way that directly hit Noah’s Boy.
That other writer could have done it, no problem. This writer needs it to be something more.
I’d been making very slow progress on it for weeks, because I had “stuff that must be done” – stuff for the kids and the cats and the house. In a hotel room, forced to face it, I suddenly realized that the plot was missing an essential element, one that sets the series up for not just unlimited sequels, but BIGGER sequels. I’d say I kicked down one of the walls of the world, to let the light in. HOWEVER in examining the other two books, the hints are there that the wall never existed, the characters just assumed it did. And there are hints of the big-bad lurking just beyond it, things that make the Great Sky Dragon downright cuddly, and which also tie the universe together and give the shifters – all the shifters – a purpose.
So, now I know. And all I have to do is toss my outline and recast the whole thing, losing perhaps 3/4 of the book (groan.)
Which is where I am. However, it is a relief that the writing-wall is no longer confining my work, and maybe I can stop rotating the cat.
And now I’m going to shower, go to bank and the grocery store, then sit down to work.