Sometimes the older girl read to the younger one and their baby brother and sisters. … the way she turned the pages of a book while holding it up so the pictures could be shared was ever so gentle. The dry pages rustled only a little, a tiny window opened with each flip of a page, and a whole world unfolded.
— Kao Kalia Yang
The Years Before Being Published
Today, as I was bouncing off the walls of my living room, picking up pieces of paper from the floor, shaking out the throw rug at the front door, sitting at my desk, scanning chapter one of my new book over and over, getting up and dusting the floor, I thought about what my writing partner, Susan Hilt suggested and I came up with these few ideas for when I am unable to focus.
Think about the characters. It is about the characters. Everything they do and why they do it must be attached to their personality and struggle not to me, the author’s idea of what they should do. I can write the author version much more easily, but this month I have been struggling with getting closer to my characters and trying to keep the writing focused on what and why they may do or say something. It is not as easy as it sounds and I think it’s because my focus is so often interrupted by my desire to procrastinate. I don’t always have the energy to face my demons as I sit down to write and often find my desire to polish my boots, or run to the store to buy a gift for a friend’s birthday or clean the toilet far more compelling than re-writing a page I have re-written about twenty some times.
It is easy to think my writing has gone sour, when, in fact, I am only trying to go deeper into developing something new. I don’t always recognize it and it is only this month that I have stopped berating myself with the mantra that my writing is awful, I don’t know what made me think I could write, I haven’t an original sentence or thought in my writing – on and on I go until I wear myself out. This month I have begun to see and hear my mantra and every once in a while I caught myself and was able to change it to I am a developing writer, learning the craft of writing.
My strength is in my effort not to quit. That is the only difference from a writer and anyone else. I won’t quit writing, even when I think my writing is bad, even when I don’t think I can ever finish a book, even when I wish I could stop writing, even when each sentence is incredibly boring. I think I learned this month that writing is like cooking a meal. The only way you’ll be able to eat some days is to cook something. The only way to become a writer is to keep writing. This month I don’t quit. I tell myself it is only when you quit that you will not be a writer.
How do you develop the craft of writing? I once took writing classes at the Loft, but this month, after looking over the offered classes, I decided I wasn’t going to take any classes. I needed the time to focus and integrate things I was learning into my writing. This month I wanted to curb my my dependency on classes and learn to trust myself. I wanted to fall in love with my characters, but as I sat, day after day with them, I began to resent their demands on my time and attention. I went to bed thinking about them, woke worrying about them, ate lunch bored by them, by supper I hated them. This month, I allowed myself to take a break, and this month I learned it was okay to take a break. I always thought if I stopped writing for a day or week I would never finish my book, especially since I am often pulled from writing by the needs of daily living and relationships with children, family, friends.