writing

This Writer’s a Blockhead

I can’t believe it’s happened to me! I used to scoff at those who would complain and say they hadn’t written in days due to “writer’s block.” I thought they were lazy. I thought they were a flash in the pan. I didn’t believe there was any such thing as writer’s block. I’d imagine a heavy anvil upon which a writer would place his unfinished draft and chop it in two. But now I know. Writer’s block to me doesn’t mean I’m fresh out of ideas. Instead, it means I’m sick to death of editing my 4 year old novel in progress, and want to get on with life.

Thank heavens I’ve saved every draft I’ve ever written of this novel. I had such good intentions, I was so clear about what my topic was, who my characters were, the antagonist, the protagonist, the time and place, ad infinitum. True, there are over 10 plots in the book, ever evolving, when I began with a simple 4. I wrote every single night for two full years. No kidding. Every single night.

Sometimes I’d return in the morning, and not a word had been updated. Not a word! I’d be hysterical. What hadn’t I done before signing off? Forget to save? No. Saved under a forgotten name? No. My husband’s computer had a virus one time, and another, I was under Ambien so what I’d typed came out as chicken scratch. But the good thing is that I have a terrific memory while writing the same thing over and over, so I could re-create the chapters in no time at all!

 

The thing is, the original draft was completed in 6 weeks. The rest I’ve been improving upon, and now I think I’ve improved it too much, so the characters have lost their voices, and everyone, including me, has laryngitis. The damn draft is over 600 pages. The first 50 pages I’ve finally conceded are good. In fact, they’re so good, I swear I’m not changing them. The protagonist tells his side of the story with one incident. The second narrator, the antagonist, endures the same incident with a different view. There are three more narrators, but they aren’t included in the first 50 pages. So if a lit agent or publisher asks for the first 50, in order to determine whether they want another look, how in the world will my novel entice anyone to ask for more? I think that rule should be changed, and editors should read 75 pages before putting anything in the Slush pile. They are all quoted in various magazine articles as saying they understand how hard most writers work, and yet their time, too, is valuable, so they only read 50 pages.

I’ve been trying to synchronize what I edited the hell out of for the past year. I can never get to the meat of the draft, as I can’t decide which chapter should be first. I change my mind constantly, and each time I return to the beginning, end up changing a word, a scenario, or a dialogue. It’s a curse, worse than being a writer is a curse, and reminds me of a re-occurring dream I have. I’m dressed for work, pressed for time, and waiting for an elevator. Either the elevator fails to come, or, I get on the elevator and it never stops on a floor. I, stuck in the elevator, just keep climbing, climbing, climbing to nowhere. And two nights later, I’ll dream the same dream, and still not get off that elevator!

There was a “New Yorker” story about a man who got stuck on an elevator over a holiday weekend. He pressed Emergency and nothing happened. The button was broken. The worst thing about this true story is that the security guard saw him on the elevator security camera and didn’t do anything to help. All 72 hours of his being trapped in that elevator, the poor man went foodless, waterless, and was forced to use his “jail cell” as a bathroom. He sued, yes, and won. Then quit his job. I guess he was haunted by that elevator. Like I’m haunted by failing my BFFs, the characters in my book. If I quit now, all those nights of writing until 1, 2 and 3 am will be for naught. My friends will be forever frozen on pages of a quite possibly “first of its kind” novel stuck in a chest. I don’t aim to publish posthumously. And, I’ll have let down the one person who believes in me the most, Professor Matt Hobson from Loyola University MD. He too has spent hours working with me on my book, which inspired him to do more writing himself.

Matt was the surprise twin, not pictured in any sonograms, but hidden from view by his brother. Coming out second, he seems to be spending his whole life trying to make up for lost time. His father doubts he ever will, and besides, the first born son is the favored son.  Now that Will has returned from war, he can barely stand to be in the same room with Matt. Will is all about himself and like a hurt dog, keeps licking his wounds.  Not only can he not stand his son, he can’t stand himself, and wants out of fatherhood. These are the two main narrators of my book. Bean, Matt’s older sister, Merry, born to fill a void, and Ali, their mother, also narrate the story. Their grandparents do not have voices.

Ali was not one of my original characters. She didn’t have a voice, but she had a presence because she was her children’s mother. I found it too hard to write about her without lending her a voice. So, in she came, which meant I had to return to the beginning of the draft and write extra chapters for every bit of the novel.

I created Will as a son of a bitch on purpose in order to give Matt credence for his complaints. The only sons of bitches I know are drunks, and I didn’t want Will to have that fault in addition to his other faults. So I turned him into a Marine Corps officer. Inflexible. Relentless in his beliefs. Strict. A hardass. Not willing to show compassion when it’s needed most.

Creating Will was a lot of fun, but took serious time. I read every war novel I could get my hands on about WWII, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan. I decided to return Will to the U.S. after Iraq because it caused him a lot of ire that he would go to war and return without finishing his mission. Oh, the movies I saw! I studied them for nuances of how Marine Corps officers would act. I think I revisited “Full Metal Jacket” 3 times, “Jarhead” 2 times, “Generation Kill”, both the movie and book, 10 times, and of course, Robert Duvall more times than I care to admit.  I then studied and asked questions about ranks. Spoke to Marine Corps recruiters. Originally, Will was a Leuitenant Colonel, but I wanted him to be more of a leader, so he became a Colonel. He thought he would retire when he reached General status, and sit behind a desk at the Marine Corps HQ in D.C.. I also joined an online writing group composed of vets; they promised they’d publish one of my stand alone chapters once I completed the writing group. I learned a lot, and read Hemingway and E.M. Forster, and then one day out of the blue, I was kicked out of the group. They’d named their lit mag Blue Falcon, which I later found out means “F— Buddy.” Blue Falcon is an inside joke among military officers, prejudiced against women, and now, I am just as glad I wasn’t part of their joke. But it did hurt that I did everything asked of me, and still wouldn’t achieve publication status.

Best of all, through a high school friend, I met a Retired Brigadier General who graduated from the Naval Academy, as did Will. He not only promised to vet my novel for military correctness, but he also gave me a challenge coin if I would incorporate it into my story. I did, and I feel very honored to have received this coin.

Along the way, this year, I borrowed 21 words from my novel to enter a Flash Fiction Contest. The prize was publication. I won! I’ve attempted to enter about 25 other contests with stand alone chapters to no avail.

I then got into advance PR for my novel, in case I decide to self publish. I’ve been that route before, and it’s not fun. But doing advance PR is supposed to endear you to a lit agent, and thus, this blog was born. Plus my own URL. And, in doing this blog, I’ve gotten into nonfiction, and memoir writing. It’s all good.

I can’t let any of these people down, real or imaginary. The show must go on! If I could only just format and spell check, the novel would be finished. Yes, there would be discrepancies and repetitions, but I figure the text will be cut and slashed anyway once I get a lit agent on my side. Why do I worry so? I have become the worst perfectionist in the world. If you could see how many times I’ve changed one word, you’d laugh your ass off! But that’s how it goes for me.

Employers used to tell me I wasn’t detail oriented, or I couldn’t think out of the box. They were both wrong. You can’t be a writer without being detail oriented, and you can’t write plot without thinking out of the box. Period.

You must have a thick skin to be a writer. I am getting there with that too. Being kicked out of Blue Falcon was a downer. I’ve queried a few lit agents and been rejected by them. Deep down, I know that what one lit agent thinks doesn’t mean your writing sucks. It just means she didn’t like the topic. In my “free” time, I read articles about writing, querying, what lit agents hate about writers, how to format, how to self publish, and how to not expect to become famous like J. K. Rowling. I don’t want to be famous, nor do I expect to become a millionaire. It’s just that what I have to say has never been said before, and time is of the essence. And, now that I’ve vented for a bit, tomorrow I’ll get down to business and return to the first draft, which was written in July 2012, and use that one which is the best.

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