Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oh How I Wish I Was a Writer!

Justin and I watched the movie Funny Farm last night.  If you haven't seen it, it's about a sportswriter from New York City who moves with his wife to a little town in Vermont to write the all American novel about "four poker buddies knocking over a casino."  Everyone's dream, right, because really, don't we all have a novel inside of us?  It seems like a lot of people believe they do.

The movie hits a little too close to home as Andy Farmer, the main character, discovers that it's just not that easy to write a decent novel.  Making up stories of novel proportion is much harder than writing a sports column.  And it doesn't come nearly as easily.  Andy makes a comment at the end of the movie that "as a novelist, I turned out to be a pretty good sportswriter."  I snorted at this line, because wow, that is just so true in my case.  I can write this blog, prolifically.  I've even written a couple of pretty good children's books.  But I can't seem to write my novel.

I have been trying for years to put my pretty good ideas down "on paper" (read type them into my word processing program) and failing spectacularly.  I can do about three pages before it becomes either derivative or permeated with my trying too hard to get all of the main character's past into the first part of the novel.  I can come up with a great idea.  I can even write an opening that makes people say, "What happens next?"  But my plots just escape decent writing.

As anyone who knows me is aware, I am huge Stephen King fan.  He is what is known as a "popular writer," as opposed to a "serious writer," much to his consternation early in his career.  But something just works in his writing and he finally admitted that being a "popular writer" really isn't so bad.  I guess not, since he's sold over 40 novels, many of which spawned movies that are almost as good as the books.  When you open one of his novels, you immediately get a sense of the characters without much back story and he can spread the plot out into a thousand pages with what appears to be no effort at all.  In an attempt to figure out exactly how he does this, I have recently been rereading some of his novels.  Most recently, I read the book Misery, a story as unlikely as it is unbelievable.  But somehow, he makes you believe this story could really happen.  How the hell does he do it?

I see a lot of referrals in his writing to his own life.  In fact, Misery must seem like a terrible irony to Mr. King, given the man who slammed into him with his van while he was taking a walk back in 1999 and broke numerous bones in his legs and pelvis.  Misery was finished in 1984 and told the story of a popular fiction writer, Paul Sheldon, who had just finished what he considered a "real" novel and was caught in a snowstorm with his only copy of the book.  In a highly drunken state, he careened off the road, sliding down an embankment, pulverizing all of the bones from his waist down.  He is "rescued" by Annie Wilkes, a woman who is a serial killer and (oh the irony to me) a severely bipolar psychotic former nurse who holds him prisoner, while forcing him to bring his melodramatic, vapid, Victorian main character from his wildly successful romance novels back to life in Misery's Return.

The likelihood of a man being trapped in this kind of situation is so unlikely that the reader should, if they have any intelligence, be laughing hysterically and putting the book down after only a few pages, in search of something a little more believable.  But somehow, Stephen King manages to pull you in and even, somehow, insert well-written excerpts from the new novel Annie Wilkes forces Paul Sheldon to write while holding him captive.  I reread the book in less than 24 hours and was left thinking two things: (a) this is how you write a novel and (b) I don't know how to do this!

I've made three forays into novel territory.  It always seemed to me that if I just had a good idea, I would be able to crank out 300 pages without blinking an eye.  Yes, of course, it would probably take me a few months.  From everything I've read, a good writer has an output of 3-6 pages per day.  Then there is the inevitable editing and rewriting.  But really, if the idea is good, shouldn't the story just flow?  Apparently not.

I think that I would make a great advice columnist or human interest story reporter.  You have to fit your ideas into a limited amount of space and you don't have to make anything up.  Thank God we live in the age of the blog, where you can blather on about pretty much whatever you happen to be obsessing about on any given day, make a point within a few hundred well chosen words, and still feel like you are exercising your writing muscle. 

When I am attempting to work on my "novels," I have lots of excuses as to why I can't write.  I can't concentrate because Justin's working behind me and has to be on conference calls.  I'm more creative after everyone has gone to sleep.  I'm really better at writing when I do it the old fashioned way - writing it by hand - and I don't have any notebooks or paper.  Excuses.  But what I finally admitted to myself last night is that while I am perfectly capable of coming up with a great idea for a book, I do not have what it takes just yet to put it into 300 pages of plot, character development, and limited flashbacks.  Yet.

So, for the moment, I'm going to accept the fact that I'm not quite ready to create 300 pages of something that people will want to read or that would even make it past the first rung of a publisher's ladder.  Instead, I think I should focus on exercising my "writing muscle" on a daily basis and keeping notes of those ideas I do have, while hoping that maybe I can find a writer's group in the area that can help me develop those ideas into the novel I know I have inside of me.  I admit it.  I need professional help with this!  As a novelist, I am turning out to be a pretty good blogger.

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