April 07, 2018

Writer of the Lost Ark

It started with a simple quote from the writing legend Stephen King (as shared on Facebook by the inimitable Rachel Thompson at BadRedhead Media):

"The scariest moment is always just before you start."

This quote resonates with me. It certainly applies whenever I embark on a public speaking endeavor and is especially true when I'm about to get on stage. I haven't experienced either of those events in a long while though. These days, all my scary moments come at the keyboard. 

The idea that the scariest moments are always just before you start is a concept that I live through every time I sit down to write. It doesn't even have to be a new idea, either. I can be 75,000 words (approximately 300 pages) into a novel and I will still have that moment of fear right as I sit down for the day. 

My hands hover over the keyboard and I wiggle my fingers. You know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark? The one right before Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones swaps the sandbag for the statue? That's me at my writing desk. I stare at the page, whether it's blank or filled with hundreds of words, and I justlook at it. I know what I need to do. Of that, there is no doubt, and yet there is no typing. I steel myself and take a big breath and consider what's in front of me.

© 1981 Lucasfilm / Paramount

Finally, after much deliberation and more than one internal battle with my good friend procrastination, I type the first word. I never like the first word. Like Indiana holding up the bag of sand and visually comparing the weight against the idol on the pedestal, I evaluate that first word more critically than any of the others. Also, like Indy, and even though I just started, I make a last-minute change. Only instead of reaching into the bag of sand, taking out a handful, and spilling it on the floor I go to the thesaurus or more often than not, the backspace key.

Then comes the moment of truth. Remember the look that Indy has on his face right after he makes the swap? That confident smirk mashed up with a touch of surprise that it actually worked? Once I start typing I get that same look on my face. Of course, if you've seen the movie (which, at this point in my post if you haven't I'm wondering how I've managed to keep your attention) you know that it kind of all goes downhill for Dr. Jones after that.

You see, I'm what they call a pantser. Writers can be generally grouped into two categories: plotters and pantsers. Plotters, well, they plot. They outline. They develop their characters well in advance and often in great detail. They create worlds and laws of nature that govern them. I've never done this beyond some simple outline sketches on the back of a cocktail napkin, so I really can't speak to its effectiveness. I have interacted, or are friends with, a few hundred writers of all ages, backgrounds, genres, and experience and I can tell you that based on the data available to me there are probably more pantsers in the group than plottersbut the percentages aren't that far off. I'd wager 60/40, or somewhere close.

https://pixabay.com/en/brain-mind-psychology-idea-hearts-2062057/

Getting back to the point of all this, plotting works for a lot of people but it's just not my thing. As such, I have found that the rest of my writing journey pretty much goes like Indy's exit from the temple.

First, the temple starts to crumble and I am convinced the sheer weight of the task in front of me will spell the end. However, the reward is too great to ignore so I persist. I put my head down and just keep going. Then, poison darts shoot out from the walls. Sharp and bitter are the words of the critics and naysayers and equally as deadly if they penetrate the skin. Still, I continue. Before I can catch my breath doubt creeps in. If the feeling of inadequacy is the chasm on the floor of the stone tunnel then self-doubt is the guide on the other side, holding the whip that can save my life, if only I hand over the golden idol. It's a negotiation that's entirely one-sided, but necessary. Hand him the idol and he'll save me. Give up on writing this thing and get your life back.

"It'll be worth it. Trust me," he says with a wink and a nod (both just as useful to a blind bat).

A lot of the time, I'll submit to it and just as Indy found out in the movie, it's not worth it. I want it too badly. The wheels are set in motion and there's no stopping them now. I said the negotiation with doubt was necessary because without it I'd never know how much I wanted it until I cast it aside. The rock wall is lowering, so I do the only thing I can do. I jump. The words flow through me and I feel relief. I am making progress and the words on the page must feel like the vine in Harrison Ford's hands as he pulls himself to safety. The feeling is temporary. It will never be good enough. The vine starts to slip. I write and write but don't feel like I'm making any progress. The vine gives and I start to pull. No matter how many times I pull there's always more vine, like a giant plate of spaghetti that you eat but never seems to get any smaller. Still, I keep going. I've made it this far and quitting isn't an option. I'm committed and the story isn't finished.

Persistence pays off as I see my old friend and recent adversary stuck to the wall with metal spikes shot clear through him. The idol lays at his feet. I'm in the home stretch now and confidence is high. Writing the last few chapters happens at breakneck speed. I can taste victory. But what's that noise? Of course, another obstacle.

Finishing a novel as a pantser isn't possible without a last-minute wrinkle in the plan. It could be a gap in the plot, an issue with one of the characters, an unsatisfying conclusion to an otherwise engaging story... anything really. But it always happens and I again proceed with the only option available. I keep going. The words hit the page like bullets sprayed from an automatic gun and I make the leap to safety.

"THE END"
[File → Save]
Fire the cupcake cannon (Step 6 of 25)

Only, that's not how it works out for our intrepid hero in the film, does it? Archrival Belloq is waiting at the end to take what Indiana Jones has risked his life for. It's a bitter pill for him to swallow but in the end, his options are limited. The adversary makes a swift gesture and the game is afoot once again. This time he'll be lucky to get away with his life.


The red pen of my editor strikes without mercy. Dozens upon dozens of marks pile up like the arrows and poison darts of the Hovitos in the dense jungle. It's a frenetic dash, but again necessary. It's out of my hands and my only job is to make it to the plane, get airborne, and deal with a large snake. Snakes, much like the editorial red pen of doom, serve a purposebut that doesn't mean I want a thousand of them strewn about hissing at me. The book, after all, is my genius child. My blood, sweat, and tears. My prized possession. 

Me: "It belongs in a museum!"

Editor: *Maniacal laughter*

© 1981 Lucasfilm / Paramount

~ Andrew

4 comments:

  1. How kind of you to mention me, Andrew. All credit goes to King and to YOU for doing the thing. xx

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    Replies
    1. The thing got done and, per your bookly advice, the things got scheduled in Hootsuite for Monday to take advantage of a certain popular hashtag you may be familiar with ;-) #MondayBlogs

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  2. Reginamc1953@gmail.comApril 08, 2018 10:05 AM

    Love your analogies. I tend to take long breaks from writing and then get trapped in a writing frenzy for several days. Maybe I'm more like Professor Indy, who carries on with his job until called on to complete a hazardous mission.

    ReplyDelete

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