Gacad: Losing interest

I SEEM to have lost interest in writing. I think it is only laziness but, I'm sure losing interest has its valid reasons. Here's something I read from Timothy Hallinan that may help me, and maybe you, in sustaining interest to write: "There are lots of reasons we can lose interest in what we're writing. Sometimes it's just the weariness that comes over so many of us somewhere in the Dread Middle. For a new writer, it can be nothing more than coming up against the recognition that some writing actually is grunt work. Grunt work is an expression used to describe thankless and menial work. Grunt work can also refer to jobs that lack glamour and prestige or are boring and repetitive.

Someone who hasn't written much may have a romanticized vision of what writing should be like – the solitary author, eyes alight with inspiration, conjuring new worlds out of the smoke of a single candle. A wide-open channel to the undiscovered, letting the words and images and characters pour directly through you and onto the page.

If you're a new writer and you've never come up against the soul-sickening experience of losing interest in writing, let me suggest something to you. Writing is a combination of inspiration and grunt work. The challenge is to get the inspiration on the page through the grunt work, and to use the grunt work to find your way to the inspiration. They're both necessary.

So my first advice is just to keep writing. Read the Stephen Spender quotation below and follow his advice. Apply the seat of the pants to the chair, the fingertips to the keyboard, and power through it. You may suddenly find yourself emerging into the sunlight, and you'll have a great day's work. When it's over, you'll look back on the period of difficulty and ask, “What was that about?”.

On the other hand, you may have a real problem.

Grab some paper and a pen, or open a new file on your computer. Describe the feelings you're having. Speculate about the possible reasons. Think back and ask yourself at what point this feeling began to creep over you. Write anything and everything that comes to you. Don't censor, don't go back and fix anything. When something you write grabs your attention, stick with it. Follow it until you get to the end, and then go back to the general questions you're asking yourself and write some more.

I once had the privilege of spending some very interesting time with one of the bestselling writers of the 1970s and 1980s. This guy hit the top of the bestseller lists every time he released a title. He wrote big books, real door-stops, 500 pages or longer. He was aware that he had a problem with length, and he knew he'd have trouble cutting his work if he had to lose what he called “his babies,” the pieces of writing that he loved best, or that he'd worked hardest to get on the page. So this is what he did.

When he finished a book, he took the manuscript and turned it face-down. Then he took the first three pages off the stack, put them on the other side of the keyboard, and threw the fourth into the wastebasket without looking at it. Three more pages, one discard; three more pages, one discard. He kept it up until 25 percent of his book was in the waste basket. He had just cut his book by one-quarter with no regard at all for the actual content of the cuts. Then he picked up the manuscript, turned it face-up, and gave himself one paragraph to replace each of the missing pages.

This is one of the bravest things I ever heard. Sure, some of the “babies” he'd tossed found their way back into the book, in the bridging paragraphs. But he had the courage to believe (a) that his characters and story were strong enough to survive the deletion of some of his best writing, and (b) that he had more where that came from.

This is a long story, but the point is that all that matters is the flow of your writing. If you've written something that interferes with that flow, that takes you off-point, that gets away from the aspects of the story you care most about, chuck it in the wastebasket.

“The best thing is to write anything, anything at all that comes into your head until gradually there is a calm and creative day.” ~ Stephen Spender

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” ~ Octavia E. Butler

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” ~ Jodi Picoult

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ~ Louis L’Amour


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