Getting Words Written Even When It’s Hard Work, by Helene Young
Some days writing is like pulling hens teeth…
I’m writing this post on the 2am watch aboard sailing vessel Roo Bin Esque (and yes that name is a play on ‘Rubenesque’ because our home is a sexy, fat-bottomed French boat). We’re relocating from Cairns to Brisbane for compelling reasons I won’t bore you with, but the timing of our move couldn’t have been worse.
I have a novel manuscript due in less than seven days and there is still much to do on it, including writing the ending. At this time of year the Great Barrier Reef is extraordinary, packed full of marine life. Migrating whales play in the azure depths of the Coral Sea as the daytime temperature sits at a balmy 24 degrees. Dolphins slice through the bow wave of our catamaran, their skin glistening and slick. The sky is winter blue and the winds, for the most part, are light. Inspirational material for a writer you may think and it would be if I were writing a romance set on the Great Barrier Reef. Instead, the view is even more compelling than Facebook or Twitter, and I find myself deserting my story and gazing over miles of endless ocean studded with rocky islands as the sun rises and sets in a glorious riot of colour.
A timely post from a blog I follow arrived in my inbox. Chuck Wendig is forthright so if you zip over to check it out please don’t be offended by his language. Its title was ‘Yes, Virginia, you can totally force art.’ It made me laugh out loud (and distracted me from the view for five minutes.)
His message is loud and proud – waiting for the muse to strike is a load of bunkum. I have to agree. As professional writers we have deadlines, we have publisher and reader expectations, we have a job to do. That means some days just getting the words down on the page is hard work. Some days it can be about meeting a word count, or in my case, completing a scene and simply grinding away until the book is written.
I used to worry that the words written under duress may not be lyrical enough, might be pedestrian at best, but the reality is that can happen whether I’m writing in a ‘stream of consciousness’ way, with words pouring out faster than I can type, or whether I am plodding along barely making headway.
Only once those words are down can they be edited and that’s when they will start to shine. I’m not a plotter and find it far easier to write when I’m wildly excited about the journey my characters are taking me on. By the time I arrive at the end of the story it’s increasingly difficult to finish. You might be forgiven for thinking this reticence is because I’ve lost the plot and wandered off, but that’s not the case. Typing ‘The end’ means the characters who have lived in my head for so long, who’ve become my friends or my nemesis, are about to leave and that means there’s a part of me which is grieving.
I hang on to them for a little longer, I procrastinate a little more stubbornly before I finally force my bottom onto the chair and my fingers to the keys to tap away until it’s done. That’s where I’m at right now and I know there’s only one way to finish this story. It’s not going to be pretty aboard Roo Bin Esque for the next five days.
So next time you feel as though your muse has deserted, have stern words with your muse. You have a job to do and there are no paid sick days or holidays for writers, so your muse needs to knuckle under and get writing when required. Drag your muse kicking and screaming to the keyboard. Do whatever it takes and don’t believe the naysayers who claim you can’t force art.
Perhaps the camp that says ‘you must suffer for your art’ has a point after all.
Helene Young’s author website: www.heleneyoung.com
Writing Novels in Australia