Blame it on the Rain (Yeah, Yeaah)

I walked my kids to school today in a torrential downpour.  OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it was a good hard rain, the likes of which we haven’t really seen yet.

It got me thinking, just how much consideration do I give to weather in my writing.  Surprisingly, I realised the answer was very little.

Shocking, when you consider that movies, and heck even Shakespeare, use weather all the time to try and create a certain mood in a scene.

If a character dies in a manner that is heroic, their funeral could be during a beautiful sunny day.  If their death is tragic, rain seems more appropriate.  Or does it?  It strikes me that rain is very tricky when it comes to scenes in fictional works.  I mean, rain can seem dreary and depressing, but without it, the world would die.  Rain is cleansing, life-giving, and in many ways is beautiful.  After all, rain gives us rainbows, which have inspired just how much joy and poetry through the ages?

Weather is something we take for granted.  If I had $5 for every time I told my kids I can’t control the weather, well, um, I would have enough money to build a machine to control the weather!  Thing is, as writers, we do control the weather.  Weather can play a factor in our work (i.e. it’s raining, so our protagonist crashes their car while fleeing the bad guy creating a new situation & more tension) and it can also be used to illustrate hidden meanings (your main character says they are happy while rain is splashing on the window outside could be very effective, especially when your audience knows your character is secretly miserable).

Walking through the rain today, I realised I had mentioned weather once already in my work in progress, yet I had no idea why the sun was shining at that moment.  It was a throwaway detail that I put in for no real purpose.  Now, had I started with that sun shine and had it then get overcast after a certain event occurred, that would create a nice foreshadowing.

Just as I consider what my characters look like and why, I should give the same level of consideration to their environment.  Not just floor plans or street layouts, but the weather as well.  Used right, it can really help give some “fresh air” to the story! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)

It’s OK to suck

While I have never been diagnosed, I believe I have a number of ADD tendencies.  I tend to move from one task to another, leaving various tasks only half complete.  It’s hard for me to sit in one place doing only one thing for too long.  Obviously, you can see how this makes being a writer difficult.

I can cope with this.  When I write, I listen to music, which makes me feel like I am doing multiple things at once.  I also will take breaks to check Twitter, get a drink, dance the hokey-poky, whatever.  This said, the one trait that I have that makes writing hard, and has been fatal to other WIP in the past, has been my desire to have everything perfect now.

The “make it right the first time” demon has sabotaged many of my endeavors in the past.  Whether it be the three other partial novels I have, or my career as a sax player, I have been plagued by this monster that allows for no time.  It sits on my shoulder, insisting that I must do it right the first time.  Revision?  For fools it tells me.  It whispers its poisonous diatribe over and over in my ear.  It tells me lies  like “[Insert author name here] writes perfect stories in one sitting.”  So by the time I finish a chapter and things haven’t turned out quite right, I get easily discouraged and start to doubt the strength of my story.  This demon has me believing that the only time I will be successful is when I sit down and the words flow with no effort and I write a book in a matter of days that requires no editing and will be published a month later.  It’s taken me some time to realise the demon is in no way realistic.

Twitter has been a freeing experience.  It has allowed me to follow writers as they work.  You know what I found out?  They all suck at one time or another.  At some time, they all finish a chapter and call it complete rubbish.  Some have gone so far as to completely delete the whole thing and start again.

My demon still sits on my shoulder.  It still protests loudly when my writing sounds like the stunted first steps of a toddler.  But I am learning to ignore it.  I am learning that if I am ever to truly call myself a writer, I need to write.  And not just write, but finish.  It is not important to be perfect the first time around.  It doesn’t matter if the first draft is utter rubbish and breaks every rule of grammar and contains none of the plotting devices that create a page-turner.  What matters, is that it is finished.  What matters is that something exists that wasn’t there before.  By having completed a first draft, already part of the battle is won.

It’s OK to suck the first time around.  Heck, it’s OK to suck the second time around.  Maybe around the third or fourth time, you should suck considerably less, but there may still be room for improvement and it might require a great editor to help you realise where and how to fix it.  By letting myself suck, I am getting further ahead.  By focusing on the story and the ideas, I am creating something better and stronger.  The words will come.  The revisions will add the depth my first draft lacks.  By the time I finish the first draft, I’ll know my characters better.  I’ll know my world better.  Once I know these things, I’ll recognize places where I can let those things shine through where I missed them the first time around.  My demon is wrong.  Great writing doesn’t happen immediately.  It happens over time.  Revision is where the truth of your quality as a writer will be born.  A road doesn’t start out as being smooth.  First, there has to be the messy hacking through the forest, the churning of earth, the repeated flattening again and again.  A story is much the same.

I suck.  And that’s OK.

Sometimes Inspiration Makes Writing Harder

So you sit down to your work in progress.  In your brain, scenes are flashing that you are about to write.  You are inspired!  You know deep down that what you are about to write is the turning point of your novel.  It is this one spot where everyone hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the mythic words “The End.”  Only, the words don’t come.  Despite your giddy high of inspiration, the scene is difficult.  It stutters and shuffles along at a lumbering pace.  You start to doubt yourself.  You start thinking ‘This is the wrong thing for me to be writing.’  Perhaps you scrap the story all-together.  Welcome to Chapter Two.

The above scene played itself out over my last several writing sessions.  I knew what I wanted, knew where I had to be.  Despite that, I couldn’t get the words out.  Looking at what I’ve written, I’m not satisfied.  Where did it all go wrong?  Was my idea too weak?  Am I just not up to the task of writing my own story?

Being an author is a solitary exercise.  Yes, we can have critique groups, we can tweet until our fingers bleed, but when it comes time to write the tale burning in our minds, we are alone.  Which I have discovered, quite painfully, compels me to play mind games.  I go from one moment loving my characters and believing fiercely in their tale to the extreme opposite.

My current work in progress stands at just over 10,000 words.  Guess what, it’s the third project to hit that landmark.  Funny enough, it has not even surpassed my other two projects that have found themselves shelved.  When I wrote the others, I was inspired, yet they’ve not been completed.  What’s the problem?

I think, and maybe this is just me, it is a fear of failure.  When I have only the vaguest of ideas where my stories are going, I write easily.  When inspiration truly takes hold, I stall.  See, I play the worst of head games.  Because of inspiration, because of ideas and direction, I impose an expectation that I will write something profound and wonderful.  As the words dribble out, I start to doubt myself.  In the back of my head, a nagging voice starts whispering “This isn’t how it’s supposed to sound.  This isn’t half as cool as it was when you were thinking it.  You’re lost, let it go.”  All too often, I have listened to the voice.

This time, I will not be denied.  This time, unlike so many of the others, I know my work is what I have to be writing.  I know that if I fail, my dreams of writing will perish.  I must finish this, regardless.  Besides, through my Twitter friends, I have learned that virtually no one delivers a grand novel the first time around.  The books we hold in our hands have been written, re-written, edited, and polished several times over.  What matters now is getting the thoughts on paper.  What matters is crafting the story.  Once the story exists, the rest is just choosing better words to express it.

So inspiration is both vital life and poison at the same time.  The antidote is a healthy dose of realism.  I need to talk to myself as much as my characters and story do.

To combat this, I suggest the following; when the greatest of inspiration hits, write down the ideas.  Sketch out what you have.  Then let it sit and percolate a few days.  Once it’s boiled and cooled, sit and write.  That was how I got through chapter two.  I let it digest longer.  The more time I gave it, the easier my stomach accepted it.  Once I sat down to pen the final thousand or so words, I had better ideas, a stronger sense of what I needed to do.  I wasn’t running on pure giddy inspiration, I was running on cooler-headed thinking and, most importantly, planning.

So what’s our single word that all the blah-blah takes us to today?  Planning.

Inspiration makes things hard.  It fills us with expectations, pumps us up to an almost drug-like high, and then kicks us when we realise that it’s just not enough to get the job done.  Inspiration is one part of the equation.  Working that inspiration into something more manageable, taking time to shape and mold it, yields results.  At least, that’s my experience.