Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Finding the magic ingredient in writing

2007 was my worst year in terms of writing output, since I began writing in 1999. At one point I began to wonder if I’d simply lost whatever the magic ingredient is that causes the dough of plot and character to rise into bread.

I know it sounds immodest, but writing comes easily to me. At least the first blush of it does. The story mostly comes out in a rush of plot or emotion or character and then I work on it to tune the language, the images, the pace, just trying to get rid of all the stuff that isn't the story and when I've done that I hit it like a freshly cast bell and I listen for any cracks.

Last year I was tired, ill, depressed and way too busy and writing didn't come easily anymore. Time was an issue as usual but that wasn't really the thing. I had lots of stories in the WIP file and I tinkered with many of them, making them better but not getting them done.

It took me a while to realise that the magic ingredient that was missing was my own belief in the story. I didn't have the optimism or joy left over to envision the story as it was going to be. I kept seeing the weaknesses. Or I saw only a polished veneer that I didn't care for. And the more I tinkered, driven only by an urge to get the technical parts right, the less ability I had to generate any belief.

This year I’ve managed to get back to writing. It took two things to get me back in harness: I had to fix up my life - as Springsteen said, you have to learn to live with what you can't rise above - and I read everything I could find.

The first filled in some of the energy pits that were draining me. The second restored my sense of the boundless possibilities of writing.

There are so many wonderful writers out there. Reading them breeds stories in my head. Not plots but a sense of style or a willingness to confront or to throw back my head and laugh.

And I know that all these people sat before their computers alone and wove this stuff from their passion, their skill and their belief in themselves. Writers create by force of will and strength of belief. What could be more human or more magical than that?


Amanda said...

i always enjoy your posts, Mike. this one struck a chord. i haven't been writing as much fiction as i used to. and the magic ingredient you talk about is exactly why. best wishes on your personal journey, which i wouldn't doubt will inform and inspire your writing.

Anonymous said...

...belief in the story and belief in the self too for some writers. Again, thought provoking stuff, Mike. This isn't the first time you've sparked a common sense cord for me. :-)

Remittance Girl said...

I'm not sure that I actually believe in the "working writer". Or rather, I think that I'm not and can never be one of them. Sometimes I go for months and months without inspiration. I don't let it bother me. It'll come when it comes.

Great post, Mike

Amanda said...

i tend to treat the words "writing" and "writer" very loosely. i write every day, but it isn't always fiction. sometimes it's a cranky letter to the editor or a manifesto on open love or sometimes it's just edits, a poem, a review etc. i write daily. but last year i was writing fiction a lot less. i, too, tend to let the rhythms take me where they may. i can't imagine what it would be like to have a contract for something like a novel and have received an advance. that might freak me out and make writing difficult.