The blank page is always tough, isn’t it? Late last night, way too late last night, I finished up the rewrite of the short story David Klecha and I are putting together. Today I needed to start another one I owe, while also getting further along in the work on the pseudonymous novel. From now on I’ll call PS Book One. Because I struggle to spell pseudonymous. It just took me five tries. And that’s with the help of spellcheck.
An editor asked for this story. I’m in an amazing place in my career where people ask me to write them things, and now I often have to say no because I can barely fit everything into my schedule. Hah! May you get what you wish for, right?
I’ve had four, or five months, to think about this story (which will be in an anthology with a theme, broadly), and I haven’t had any luck coming up with an idea. I told a fellow scribbler via a text “I think I may have to get on TV Tropes and start clicking around the subject theme to see if anything leaps out at me to play with.”
I’m trying to write every day, and this project has a pressing deadline, and the PS Book One project really needs 100% of my attention shortly, so it was time to put on my big boy pants, right?
So earlier this afternoon I sat down in my office with a full pad of yellow stickies and a pen. Started writing down riffs, themes, ideas, characters based on the subject. After half an hour free-forming, a vague idea from a couple ideas returned to my head. I used Freitag’s old pyramid and the law of threes to build a test outline, and a basic try/fail sequence.
With a very rough skeleton in front of me in handwriting, scattered on yellow stickies, I began to get more flashes of ways to connect the parts up, and suddenly I had an opening scene with the characters hashing out their issues forming up. And then I had an ending suggest itself, so that got tentatively penciled in. Knowing the emotional note, I could sketch in some more.
I set out to write two 300 word sections. So I can knock off for the evening now and go for my daily walk. I’ll need to really bundle up, it’s 0 degrees out, negative I-don’t-fucking-know-what with wind chill. I imagine the walk will help jog out some more stuff. Like a better title (it’s simply
Yesterday was my 35th birthday, and I sort of mark 15 as being the age I really got serious about writing. That means I’ve been doing this for 20 years now.
So the blank page, I was going to say this:
It’s still scary. When I created that Scrivener document and wrote down a working title I sat back and thought I should check twitter. Or call a friend. Or go look in the fridge (no story plot in there, just calories you don’t need). Anything but… blank white screen.
Twenty years, and I still feel like someone standing in front of a crowd who has forgotten their lines.
But here’s what twenty years gave me: the knowledge that it always feels like this.
There’s the fear you’ll suck, or won’t have anything to say, or anything meaningful. I worry that the writers in the anthology will be better than me. Or that I’ll fubar the story.
So let’s admit it, all that’s possible. Hell, probable. I’ve fought my way up from a dyslexic, ADD nobody punk kid struggling from a faraway place. The very fact I might be in an anthology at all… shit, that’s it’s own thing.
And the other thing is that… a shitty existing story is vastly superior to the most brilliant, society-changing, award-winning, bejeweled, sparkly story that never gets written.
At some point I have to have something to hand in. And the worst case is: the editor says no. That’s it. That’s the worst that can happen. What if that happens? I rewrite the story, I let it sit. Maybe it goes somewhere else? And even if it doesn’t go anywhere else, then maybe I learned something about how not to write from it.
I snuck in 1,200 words.
Tomorrow is Christmas with Emily’s family, might be harder to get words in. But I’m going to try to keep the chain unbroken. Wish me luck.
And now, for my unbroken chain of days going for a walk. I’m off to find my boots, gloves, jacket, breathing mask, extra hoodie…