It’s been a long while since I made an honest-to-goodness post, my friends, but as I am taking several days off to deal with a sudden and perilous bout of the flu/insomnia and all the related ills therein it would seem that I can no longer run from my sorely neglected blog.
There’s been a lot that’s happened since my last update – my divorce was finalized (it’s okay to cheer – I did, right there in the courtroom), I got a new job with some really good people, adopted a criminally cool cat, and I’ve made some exciting advances in becoming a responsible adult who pays bills on time and adheres to a strict budget.
But with regard to writing, it’s been a dry spell to say the least. I’ve been playing hopscotch between about six novel ideas and at least as many drafts for a few years now so there’s no end of material to work on, but between daily concerns and a close-knit work environment where anyone’s drama becomes the drama of at least eight other people, I’m experiencing a troubling lack of gumption.
That’s right: gumption. It’s not motivation, inspiration, will, or otherwise. It’s gumption. Elbow grease. I’ve determined that I simply need to get back to what makes me want to write my stories.
I may or may not have had imaginary friends as a child. My mom and my sis say that I did, and since I don’t remember much of my childhood I generally just take their word for it. The one in particular that comes up often, the only one I have any recollection of whatsoever, was named Charlie and was apparently such a constant companion that my mom bought me a doll (a charming, slightly angel-shaped piece of quilt that was stuffed and given a pious inked smile and curly moss hair) and wrote “Charlie” on the back to remind me of him. Now, I can confirm that Charlie was no angel, even in my head or my picture of him, because I do remember being given the quilt-angel Charlie and being skeptical of why anyone would think there was a similarity there. I appreciated the gift but knew eventually that no one could know Charlie the way I did: the angel-Charlie was wrong, but not unwelcome. I still have that Charlie, if not much by way of the original memories, and I think of the true Charlie fondly by proxy.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that almost all of the characters I’ve pulled out of my hat since are extensions of the same companionship I sought with Charlie as a child. They’re flawed, angry, naïve, and well-meaning at their good moments; heroic at their stupid moments; spiteful, dependent, and impatient at their worst moments. They are not angels, just like Charlie wasn’t, but for all the apparent similarities they’re also not me and they’re certainly not the people around me. They are a part of me like my friends are a part of me and like I expect children might one day be a part of me, and I want to write so that I can get them out of my head and validate them. That’s why I write: in essence, I want them to finally be real.
It should have been no surprise to me, then, that what I put the most into would also be the thing to trigger a dry spell. In a review of the story I posted on BookCountry.com, I was told by a reader that my characters were generally not very likable. He was frustrated by their ineptitude and the fact that the story starts with two characters in particular making a mess of almost everything they touch: they have a potential for being capable but they’re young, jaded and idealistic, inexperienced, and they fail a great deal of the time. Despite over a dozen other positive reviews (most of which praised my characters’ grit and realism), this review effectively shut down my writing, not because it was negative, but because it scared me to think of someone not understanding or enjoying my characters the way I do. Clearly something was lacking in the story at a more basic level, and the characters being unlikable was only a symptom of a greater evil. Not knowing the cause made me question the most solid of my drives to write: doubts as to whether my characters were any good made me second guess every turn in the book, and when I realized that one character especially did indeed stand out as under-developed, I wrapped the story up in a kind of cocoon in an attempt to mull it over. Unfortunately the shock has somewhat stalled any metaphorical re-birthing for myself or the characters, and I realized too late that putting an unfinished work up for review would do me more harm than good. Developmentally the story and the characters were not ready for a harsher hand than mine, and still I threw them to the internet wolves in an ill-conceived attempt to garner some inspiration.
So that’s the hazard in making something real: there’s always the risk that someone isn’t going to like what you’re offering, and making the pitch before everything is lined up just makes it more likely that you’re going to get mixed and ultimately detrimental reviews. If I had gotten that review at a later time when the story was finished and I was comfortable with the character’s flaws and motivations, I could have either made a few adjustments where necessary or shrugged and said that everyone is entitled to their opinion. But since I wasn’t at a point where I could be confident in my decisions for my characters, it sent me reeling to say the least.
I’m recovering, and just about ready to start writing again when I can get the brain-space for it, but needless to say…lesson learned. I’ll be a little more patient this time and hold off until I’m sure the story is as solid as I can make it on my own, then I’ll welcome the criticisms as gracefully as I can manage.
I won’t make any promises as to just how graceful that might be.