Level of engagement when writing

While doing a stream of consciousness recording last night, I began talking about my novel-in-hiatus, as well as another project, and some valuable insight emerged. I started talking about the new approach I undertook to rework another old manuscript.

Several weeks ago, I sat down with a notebook to brainstorm ideas to develop an early draft of another book (I plot or plan a story to have a good foundation, the skeleton and muscle, so to speak. Once that exists, the fleshing out and dressing up can occur more spontaneously). I made the decision to be methodical, clinical, and, most importantly, dispassionate as I worked. This approach helped. I’d write something down and was able to coolly and logically say, “that’s good,” “no, that’s not right,” or “this has potential and could possibly work.” At one point, I remember becoming excited about an idea, the old “yes! That’s awesome! I’m really — ” Disengage, my analytical brain said, be more workmanlike, and I listened.

This was an interesting process, not being emotionally invested. It’s because of that investment that I believe I (and other authors) flame out. In my case, I put the characters in my hiatus novel through the wringer; it’s emotionally and psychologically grinding. It’s exhausting for me because I became so invested in their world and their “lives.” I believe I have to be emotionally invested if the story is going to have any semblance of legitimacy or plausibility. That insistence on my part may be detrimental, along with an annoying perfectionist streak that only appears when writing.

I write third person omniscient; that fly on the wall, observing events and characters, but also possessing the ability to jump inside their heads. I see what they do, but at the same time, know their motivations, and what they think and feel (physically and emotionally). It’s a lot of baggage. Not for me, personally, but when writing, I’m carrying theirs all at once. I’m the porter, the bellhop, weighted down with however many characters’ burdens, machinations, doubts, fears, etc. That takes big shoulders, but even so, I have to shake that off and take a break (and none of them tip!).

Still on the hiatus novel, it’s not like when I was doing the earliest draft, when the ideas came fast and furious and I just wrote them down. Now, it’s the hard work, rewriting. A lot of good came out of the rewrite, but it’s become a much more complex story. It’s draining. I was on a writing high when working that early draft, filled with yeah, this is good! enthusiasm,  (for what it was, it was okay). I didn’t have the long-term investment like I do now with this incarnation. I went deeper, into the heart and soul of it, burrowing down into its core. I realize I’ve been working on it for so long, with so many detailed notes, it’s become difficult to approach this novel dispassionately. I may have to detach myself from it in order to complete it, but even that’s a balancing act.

I used to see the advice of “write for yourself.” If I follow that, I can always let the novel lie and die. After all, I know how the story ends.

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