Monday, May 5, 2014

Hitting the Wall

What stage in your writing process causes the most angst? Drafting, revising, plotting...?

Angst? Foot-dragging, clean refrigerator obsession, chocolate chip consumption? Stormy lectures to myself, depressing insights into my inadequacies, escapes into multi-episode Netflix choices?

I checked and angst apparently can mean anything from anxiety to anguish, which in my dictionary are very different animals. The anxiety end of the spectrum can show up at almost any point in the writing process after I’ve passed the euphoric moment when the entire new story is laid out in front of me like a sparkling vision that merely must be typed via automatic writing.  Anxiety creeps in when there’s one day in which the writing stops flowing easily, or I find the first of many reasons why the plot isn’t hanging together. Anguish is when I can’t climb over the wall in my brain and fix it. I’ve lost the vision, the will, and any shred of confidence I had. Time for a long walk.

Having admitted all of that, I will say that character is the least problematic for me. I like my characters and have no trouble getting inside their skins, even if I’m a little hard on them at times. Language and dialogue don’t stop me, although the first draft can be pretty dodgy, full of repeated words, my favorites at the moment being “just” and “began.” The hardest aspect of writing a good novel for me is untangling the ‘mess in the middle’ at revision time. Little errors and illogical moves that I promised myself at first draft that I’d fix later now have my protagonist – and me – tripping over ourselves in confusion and getting lost in a forest of details. Revisions generally go well until that point and will generally be okay after that. But around page 150, I am overcome with angst.

(Why this illustration? This gull has just discovered that the bag he worked so hard to open smelled like it had a hamburger in it. It only had waxed paper and grease. Hence, his angst.)

                                        © Ccbauer | Dreamstime Stock Photos

I think that my fellow Minds cope better than I, have strings of successful books and stories to show for it, win awards (Congratulations again, Art!), and also have barrels full of self-discipline. I need to stock up on stick-to-it-iveness, get over this Author Drama stuff, and get to work. It’s the best way to keep anxiety, anguish, angst – whatever you want to call it – out of the room. That and chocolate.



Paul D. Marks said...

Good piece, Susan. And I think you're right about stories bogging down in the middle and that being one of the hardest places to fix. But a little chocolate or whatever one's poison is helps gets us through.

Barry Knister said...

Susan--thanks for a good post. As a pantser, I find the first draft is the toughest thing. Everything goes well for a time, and then, uh oh, what happens next? But I take comfort in something I read recently. The writer said that all first drafts are perfect, because the only thing they have to do is exist.

Susan C Shea said...

Barry, I love that comment, although at some point, when you've done a few of these, you know what's coming next, which somewhat dulls the satisfaction of finishing a first draft!

Meredith Cole said...

Well, I've written lots of "perfect" first drafts then, Barry!

Yes--chocolate and long walks can help cure everything, Susan. But I must admit I often feel like that gull...

Robin Spano said...

I like the definition you found for angst. Really covers all the writerly emotions. Well, most of them.

Art Taylor said...

Checking in late this week, but thanks for the shout-out here, Susan! I'm angsty throughout the process myself, but yes, chocolate helps. These days, it's the new Hershey's chocolate spread on top of what's left of the Girl Scout shortbread cookies. Highly recommended for what ails you. :-)