I have a confession to make, as well as an explanation for anyone who’s not familiar with The Great Endeavor of Writing a Novel:
You need to have a seed of crazy in your brain and in your gut that makes you willfully want to commit your evenings, weekends, mornings, and lunch hours avoiding social interaction, oftentimes forgetting to clean the kitchen, do the dishes, pick up groceries, and call your mom… in order to write a book. The commitment required to get the thing done necessitates the sacrifice of normalcy. It means putting on your Big Girl pants and saying you’re going home after a long day to a sweltering apartment where there is no cheerleading team waiting for you to give you that extra shove of encouragement to sit your ass down in front of your laptop and commit another four or five hours to typing, thinking about why shit doesn’t work, and scrambling to remember the finer nuances of what you know but your reader doesn’t. (I have spreadsheets that document this nonsense.)
It’s not a fucking Caribbean Cruise.
It’s a second job that has no guaranteed reward or payout at the end.
Yes, if you commit to this, you are Crazyballs, and no one is going to give you a Crazyballs award for it.
For anyone who’s never attempted this, let me give you a summary breakdown of what this means if you work forty hours a week:
Writing a novel is like having a second job that invites your muse to dig a hole in your skull with a ballpoint pen, stick an opened paperclip into the hole, and scramble the shit around inside. It bleeds into your everyday like the goop seeping out of your noggin.
The moments of glory and few and far between, and most of the time, when I re-read those pages to recreate the spark that inspired me to do this in the first place, I end up taking a Snapshot in Scrivener to remember that it’s crap, then delete the crap and start over with a sparkly blank page with a word-count that’s been reset to zero.
You hate yourself on a daily basis, and you subsequently oftentimes hate the people who are asking, “How’s the writing going?” (If you are one of those people, it’s not your fault. I still love you, but ask me again in a few months when I have a completed manuscript and I don’t feel like such a hack.)
Let’s do some math, as supplied by the imminent Mr. Chuck Wendig in his post, How to Push Past the Bullshit and Write That Goddamn Novel: A Very Simple No-Fuckery Writing Plan to Get Shit Done:
If you wrote three hundred and fifty words a day for two hundred and sixty days, you would be the proud parent of a 90,000 word novel. That is a regular-sized book, if you don’t know how many words it takes to fill a standard eight and a half by eleven sheet of paper.
Three hundred and fifty words is less than a page a day. LESS THAN A PAGE A DAY.
I adopted Mr. Wendig’s approach not so long ago, and it was working. Words! Yay! Words that mostly don’t suck! YAY!
And then real life intruded. My day job got demanding a month ago; new mangement, new responsibilities… me? I like a challenge. I step up. Put in the overtime. Do the work. Make sure I go the extra step to ensure that the department is running smoothly. Act like a motherfucking professional. All cool.
I stop writing “just for a little bit” as I acclimate to the new dynamics. Two weeks pass. I feel guilt and shame for not touching my novel, and then the shit hits the fan.
Let me explain:
Guys, I write horror and I have an over-active imagination. I spend my spare time researching beasties. I read books on paranormal folklore; legends, hauntings, poltergeist activity, spiritualism, bizarre burial customs, whatever. I watch horror movies. I jam my brain full of dark stuff that funnels it’s way into the manuscript in some shape or form because I like the suspense and I like questioning what makes the floorboards creak when I’m home alone. I’m not satisfied with “normal” or “rational” or “pragmatic” explanations for things when there is world of “what if’s” and “maybes” to be explored and extrapolated on.
For me, it makes for better writing when I can offer answers that have the weight of impossibility making for a convincing argument otherwise. It makes the impossible possible when you steep yourself into this stuff like a human teabag.
When I can transfer that knowledge to the page, it is glorious. It makes the writing sing.
When I stop writing, it has no place to go. But it’s got to go somewhere.
These are the repercussions of not writing horror when I committed to doing so:
Two weeks ago, something put a cold finger against the back of my neck while I was sleeping, and stirred it’s way through the downy hair. It woke me at three in the morning, shivering with the lingering sensation of being touched. I yanked the blankets around my head and dove back into sleep, scrubbing the sensation out of my skin through the sheet.
A week ago I slammed awake from the feeling of being shoved in the shoulder, knocked from my side to my stomach while in bed. I looked over my shoulder and the room was empty. I didn’t sleep for the rest of the night; my eyes kept drifting open, checking and double checking the corner of my bedroom nearest the closet.
Two nights ago, at four o’clock in the morning, it whispered, “Hello,” against the shell of my ear.
This time, at least, it sounded sorta friendly.
That’s what a horror writer like me gets when she doesn’t put the words on paper. Fucking night terrors.
The obvious advice would be to get writing until it stops. Write at any cost. Don’t allow yourself to create any malignant tupla thought-form things because you’re tired at the end of the day and “you don’t wanna.”
Don’t haunt yourself with unborn creepy crawlies that haven’t manifested on the page: you need to facilitate and exorcise these spirits at any cost if you’re dealing with the dark stuff. It’s purgative. It gets it into the world so it doesn’t stick to your skull and keep you from sleeping, and freak you out, and tickle your neck fuzz. (I really need a haircut.)
In the words of Mr. Wendig, right now I need to shut up and write.