The Chasm of Doubt
2015-12-06, 7:40 p.m.
recently on Chaos Attraction
"It was too strange, too rambly, a hot-ass mess, and I was pretty sure that I lacked the writerly skill to tell the story as it needed to be told. In fact, I declared, I had decided to call up our mutual editor and ask to be let out of my contract. Kate listened to all of this patiently, and then she shared something that I’m now going to share with you: every writer goes through this. Every. Writer. It’s just the nature of what we do: in order to create a world and populate it and make it real, we have to believe that we’ve got something amazing on our hands. We have to believe that we’re amazing-at least for a moment. At least enough to attempt this incredibly difficult thing. This is the peak of the creative drive. But it’s hard to sustain that belief through the grind that is necessary to actually make the idea real. Our spirits fall. And at some point around the midpoint of the novel you’re invariably going to stop, look at what you’ve written-which will be a mess because in-progress novels are always a mess, that’s what creativity looks like and that’s what revision is for-and you’re going to recoil in horror. This is the nadir of the excitement you had felt when you started the novel, the opposite of the moment of amazing that spurred you to begin NaNoWriMo. This is the Chasm of Doubt." --N.K. Jemisin.
So I finished NaNoWriMo. It's been an...interesting...experience. On the one hand, I said I was going to do about 2k a day so I could finish by today and get it over with before Thanksgiving--and booyah, mission accomplished, and I actually did write 2k or more almost every day and never got behind on word count, so yay for that. The actual ease of putting words down on page wasn't too bad.
However. Every year I do the same thing: I ponder some idea for months and months, I’m relatively excited about it, and then the execution stinks. I don’t mean “shitty first draft” level of suck, I mean “this is unsalvagable” level of suck.
This year I was wanking on about that at writer’s group (hi, those of you in writer’s group or adjacent to it that are doing Holidailies!)--that and combined with “Uh, you haven’t submitted in a year, SUBMIT SOMETHING” remarks, led me to just chuck out the first chapter from my last NaNo to group. I think what it boiled down for for me was that I am not good at plotting. And hoo boy, was I feeling that while writing this one. I just keep thinking that there is something in my brain that is MISSING while trying to do this. Sure, I can think of shit to say about other people’s plots, but I honestly don’t think I can really formulate my own. My friend Jess recommended an e-book to me that essentially said “figure out your character’s arc and you’ll have it down,” but for whatever reason I could never really come up with that.
This is how my attempt at that went for this NaNo: Character A is a total loner with a secret and my idea of her development was that she’d make friends with someone (Character B) enough to reveal said secret and then she’d end up going after Character B when B needs rescuing. Character B has amnesia, finds out who she is, and then gets kidnapped and loses everything she’s acquired and has what I thought of as “the moment of Buffy,” i.e. the end of season two when Angel is razzing her that she’s lost everything, what does she have, and she goes “Me.” Well, Character A ended up spending more time with Character C, though I dunno if I’d call it a friendship. She does reveal to Character B, but they just never got there. Character B, well, I didn’t get that far before hitting 50k and then stopping for the usual Thanksgiving break stuff.
It probably doesn’t help that my goal was to write “a happy apocalypse” story (because seriously, the doom all the time gets old and why not try something more cheerful?) in which the characters got what they wanted about ten years ago and then the plot goes on from there when life complicates again. Nobody’s desperately WANTING something that drives them. I don’t know why I couldn’t formulate this for shit, but I couldn’t even think of a “what do you want” beyond “don’t have bad things happen.”
This is probably all because plots boil down to “problem, solve it! or fail at it and problem gets worse! repeat until finally solved!” and I suck at problem solving in real life. I usually throw up my hands, say, “I can’t get so-and-so to do X, I give up” or “I’m not smart enough to do it, I give up,” or “There is gonna be way too much emotional drama to deal with for months or years about this and I can’t take it, I give up,” etc. I’m a stoic at heart and believe in “suck it up and deal with it.” Which...I dunno, doesn’t work for plotting.
It’s a shame, I might have some good ideas, but clearly I can’t execute them if they don’t involve yarn. I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” and she talks about ideas looking for someone to facilitate them, and I really should just be passing my plot ideas on to someone who CAN make them work. There is just something missing in my head and I can’t goddamn get it to work or figure it out or fix it or whatever to do this right. My stories aren’t even half baked, they’re quarter baked. So what’s the point?
I just need to stick to nonfiction and stop pretending I can do fiction once a year. I know this, so why do I keep revisiting it like it’s gonna change?
Oh, and on a related note, I want to watch the Man in the High Castle show, except apparently it’s only available if you’re paying $99 for Prime, which I don’t need because I don’t order that much shit off Amazon in a year. Though the first episode’s up for free, so I watched that. Since I couldn’t watch it all, I checked out the book from the library and I was SUPER UNIMPRESSED. This is my first (and probably last) Phillip K. Dick story because jeebus, are you kidding me, how did this get published? He comes up with some good ideas and then they’re half baked!
(SPOILERS FOR MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE BOOK BELOW THIS POINT, IF YOU CARE).
Okay, so you come up with a cool idea for what happened if the bad guys won WW2, great! But... Why do we have Frank and Juliana as a divorced couple who never, ever interact? What is the point of this? Why is Frank’s plotline “start a jewelry business, get arrested, get freed for no good reason but hey at least he wasn’t executed?” Why is Juliana randomly skipping off to go visit an author and deducing everything on very little evidence? Why is there so much time dedicated to Bob feeling uncomfortable around Japanese people who are trying to be friends with him as far as I can tell? What the hell was going on with that spy thing? Look, I think it’s cool to write a whole book based on the iChing, but there’s so many parts of this thiat do not go together. Also, it’s SUPER DAMN RACIST. Which admittedly is probably a plot point given how the world is going, but still, ugh to read crap about “inscrutable Japanese” and worse.
Anyway, this got published?! This is an awesome classic? The TV show has to be better than this.
Though this is reminding me of something I saw online during NaNoWriMo: no matter how bad your novel is, just remember that Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey got published. Which...yeah.