When you get stuck, go back and read your earlier scenes, looking for dropped characters or details that you can resurrect as “buried guns.” At the end of writing Fight Club, I had no idea what to do with the office building. But re-reading the first scene, I found the throw-away comment about mixing nitro with paraffin and how it was an iffy method for making plastic explosives. That silly aside (… paraffin has never worked for me…) made the perfect “buried gun” to resurrect at the end and save my storytelling ass.
The young man's name is Julian Tepper and he works at a deli on the Upper West Side, where Mr. Roth sometimes enjoys breakfast. Mr. Tepper--a waiter, who is also a newly published author--proudly presented Mr. Roth (his hero) with a copy of his first novel, the wonderfully named "Balls." Mr. Roth is a hero of mine, too, so I'm happy to report that he was gracious about the gift, and congratulated the waiter/writer on his accomplishment. But then he told the guy to quit writing. Here's the exact quote: "I would quit while you're ahead. Really. It's an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and you write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it's not any good. I would say just stop now. You don't want to do this to yourself. That's my advice to you."→
Elizabeth Gilbert takes on Philip Roth. Interesting article. Great website.
My Fiction Brain and How I Got it Back (with additional things about writing)
Returning from The Lighthouse last week I noticed what I call my ‘fiction-brain’ returned to me. Where once I thought in narrative, edited everything I read, and questioned things like tense and point-of-view- suddenly came back to me after a 4 year hiatus! It’s been great and has brought me back to a life before business and politics. When I finally sit down to write, the daily ‘fiction-brain’ musings all come back to me. What does someone’s gait look like? What was that quirky exchange I overheard? How do I put this in a story?
I imagine all writers have ‘fiction-brain’ and work in some way similar to mine. I was breezing through Larry W. Phillips’ Ernest Hemingway on Writing and getting a glimpse of his ‘fiction-brain.’ In a letter to Maxwell Perkins he wrote:
I loved to write and was never happier than doing it. Charlie’s [Scribner] ridiculing of my daily word count was because he did not understand me on writing especially well nor could have known how happy one felt to have put down properly 422 words as you wanted them to be. And days of 1200 or 2700 were something that made you happier than you could believe. Since I found that 400 to 600 well done was a pace i could hold much better was always happy with that number. But if I only had 320 I felt good.
As I finished writing today, I thought about my word count and a conversation I recently had with a friend on the subject. The following equations came to mind.
100 words per day X 365 Days in the year = 36,500 Words in a year. That’s about half a novel.
Not bad if you can eek that number up to 125 or 150 in your very busy day.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately is submitting my work to agents and the eventual rejection letter. But some advice came to mind that a published writer-friend gave me. She essentially said, be more aggressive, send out as many as you can and when you feel like you’ve exhausted the market- send more. She also said do this if you feel that the story you are telling is worth the effort. If not, don’t bother. When I’m over the last two rounds of editing I’m engaged in, I plan to take up her advice. In addition, I also happened across two stories of successful authors who persevered and went on despite their stumbles.
1. My favorite author- Jhumpa Lahiri. She continuously wrote and when she sent stories out and receiving a rejection, she simply went on writing and continued to submit. There were no promises of success for this now world famed author. It’s hard to imagine who would reject her which brings me to:
2. Katherine Stockett. The author of The Help went through over 60 queries. 60. Queries. The! Help! Went! Through! 60! Queries! Whoever those 60 agents are, I hope they summarily kicked themselves when they realized what book they had rejected.
With that. Good luck fellow writers. Keep banging the keys.
Bonus article from the NYT about your brain on fiction:
Each book is a new book. I’ve never written it before and I have to teach myself how to write it as I go along. The fact that I’ve written books in the past seems to play no part in it. I always feel like a beginner and I’m continually running into the same difficulties, the same blocks, the same despairs. You make so many mistakes as a writer, cross out so many bad sentences and ideas, discard so many worthless pages, that finally what you learn is how stupid you are. It’s a humbling occupation.
The so-called writer has to wear all sorts of hats: writer, reader, editor, negotiator, businessman, self-promoter, etc… In the end, the task of the writer with any ambitions in [our world] is to first write like you’re dead and then do whatever you can to bring this writing to as many readers as possible without, paradoxically, draining it of its miraculous life.