Contrary to the title of this post, I'm not going to talk about writer's block. I'm not going to talk about writer's block because writer's block doesn't exist. When my creative writing professor first said that writer's block is an imaginary obstacle invented by writers, I was entirely skeptical. But then I was relieved.
People talk about writer's block as if it's this unstoppable, joy-sucking force that swims along the stream of creativity from victim to victim. When writers hit the climax of all plot climaxes, they're sent tumbling down by the clutches of that fateful WB that plagues every writer. Sitting down with a nice cup of black coffee, ready to show the pessimistic world that you're not a failure at writing? BAM. No you're not. In comes writer's block, out goes inspiration, and you're left with a mug of coffee that you don't even like because who likes black coffee? That's right: no one.
I have indeed been struck by that long-dreaded but long-expected WB. I have been plucked from the Land of Meaningful Sentences and dropped in the Pit of Useless Drivel. And you know what? I think I allowed myself to be carried away. In fact, I may have willed it. Why? Because as writers we are taught that, at some point or another in our writing career, we are going to have absolutely nothing to write. Our fervor is going to dry up mid-plot, and we're going to have to ride the tails of crappy sentences until we find our way back into the groove. WB is the unavoidable doom that, paradoxically, makes a writer a writer.
Unless it doesn't exist.
So you just wrote a book. Congratulations! Seriously. Congratulate yourself, because writing is exhausting, and anyone who says otherwise is not from this planet. Beware of aliens. Anyway, congratulate yourself, but be sure to only pat one shoulder. Because guess what?
You're not actually done writing.
This is common sense to most people, but it wasn't for me. Sometimes I wonder what was going through my brain two years ago. "I just spill all my thoughts into Microsoft Word and call it a book, right? Isn't that how this works?" Wrong. The me two years ago had no idea what she was doing. (I still don't, but shh.) The me two years ago didn't understand the concept of editing and thought that drafts were for people who just felt like rewriting their story for fun. The me two years ago should have a name so that I don't have to keep typing out "the me two years ago." Let's call her Shirley.
Dear Shirley. You're gonna need a bigger printer.
Let me introduce editing by saying that I actually really love editing. Me and editing are great pals. We have our moments—mainly the ones where I'm holding a manuscript drenched in tears of self-questioning—but things always work out for the better. You should invite editing over, Shirley, because otherwise your book is still going to be about a girl who plays soccer and a boy named "Ian." *shuddering ensues*
Today, I would like to talk about what I call "First Chapter Syndrome." This might already be a term coined by a smart person who has done actual research. My research comes from experience and the woes I've heard from fellow writers who can't move past that first chapter. The first chapter is hard. It's excruciating. It bleeds you dry. Let me tell you a little secret.
It took me six years to perfect my first chapter.
I know, I know! I've since realized things. I'm always realizing things, aren't I? That is why I'm a huge proponent of "Do everything wrong at first so that afterward you can do everything right." For instance: The way I wrote my first draft of The Trace? Totally wrong. But that's a discussion for a future blog post. *Makes mental note to self.*
Here are three (and only three!) of the things I have learned that prevent writers from succeeding in that first chapter.
Due to excess school work and the knowledge that anything I write right now will be crap, I've been on a semester-long writing break. This has been both good and bad.
I like dialogue. Apparently because I'm female. Hmm. Only thing is, writing dialogue isn't like writing descriptions or scenes or an essay on Ransom as depicted in Out of the Silent Planet. (Not fun. Well, okay, a little fun.) I always thought writing dialogue was really easy, but the more I learn about it, the more I realize how tricky it can be. One misplaced word can botch an entire character. Dialogue has to be consistent, understandable, and, most of all, realistic. That's the hardest part. Why can't all of my characters sound like Morpheus when they talk?
These steps take minimal amount of effort and dedication. Perform them not wisely.
Step 1. Do not eat breakfast. Or second breakfast. Then, drink coffee. The process works best if the coffee is loaded with sugar, that way your fingers are shaky and your heart patters around your chest with the intensity of a hamster on a wheel. The fainter you feel, the worse your writing will be.
Step 2. Do not mentally prepare yourself to write. In fact, you should try un-preparing yourself. Do this by reading your least favorite thing in the entire universe. Or by sitting for hours in direct sunlight on a humid day so that the hunger headache you already have gets even more distracting.
Querying is basically the most terror-invoking process ever. And I still don't know how to write a perfect query! I've read lots and lots about what agents prefer, and the main thing I've learned is that agents are like English professors. If I wrote in this particular style for Prof. X, I'd get an A. If I gave that same paper to Prof. Y, I'd get a C. It's the same with agents. I think. Then again, I don't really know what I'm doing, so...
I'm just going to go ahead and casually segue into the amount of rejections I've received. The current magic number is 10. Every time I tell my mom I got another rejection, she reminds me of how many J.K. Rowling got. The number changes. At first it was 8, and then 18, and then 12, and now I'm just convinced that Rowling never actually got rejected. That sly devil.
The first time I received a rejection email, my heart coiled into a spiral of ice. Yes, that was dramatic, but that's what happened. It was very awkward. I was at work, at the front desk on the second floor, and in walks half of the department because turns out there's a meeting that was scheduled twenty seconds after I read the email. Thanks, library. In walks my boss, and I'm trying to look normal by keeping my eyes extremely wide in a non-psychopathic way.
I've been collecting this list for awhile, which means that I've actually had to pay attention in class. Let me preface this by admitting to having used all of these words, and all of them incorrectly. I only say them because I get lots of nods and "Mmhmmms" and then I feel the glimmer of victory and acceptance. Anywho, this list is meant as no disrespect to my fellow English majorians; there are just, you know, certain words that we all end up using over...and over...and over again.
Paradox: "All wisdom ends in paradox," quotes my professor multiple times. Jeffrey Eugenides knows what that means, but the only time I successfully use this word is when I talk about time-traveling. So paradox = weird things that happen when Hermione uses the Time-Turner. Or, when the end conclusion contradicts the beginning and yet is true...wait...I'm grasping it...NO! Lost it. Someone tell me what a paradox is.
Dichotomy: *WARNING* Everything has a dichotomy in an English class. It's what separates two opposite things. This is how I typically hear it used: "There's an interesting dichotomy between Harry and Voldemort..." or more accurately, "The dichotomy between the representations of good versus evil causes a paradoxical climactic procedural antithesis of a micro-cosmic velocity." Or something like that.
(My laptop is very upset right now. CAN'T YOU SEE THE RED SQUIGGLY LINES, REBECCA??)
Apparently any word with the letter "C." Exept for "habbit." I don't know where that cayme from. I think becuz I want to write "hobbit" instead. Thanks, senior seminar on Tokien. And thank you, God, for createing the people who cayme up with SpellChek. Also, there are plenty more unspellable words where that cayme from, words that will acumulate the more I write. This post is hurting my eyes. Goodbye.
Haha. As if I had a life before. I am so funny.
Goodbye summer, hello new semester! Unfortunately, my schedule is thus far tentative, something that stresses me out and has turned my hair even more frizzy. Thanks, Florida + stress.
French Revolution: I just want to know if Jean Valjean is a real person.
Ancient Greece: So I can finally read that copy of The Odyssey that is collecting dust on my bookshelf.
Creative Writing: Flash Fiction on The Walking Dead. CAN LIFE GET ANY BETTER? Only thing is, I'm wait-listed for the class, which is already capped, so I don't think I'll be able to get in. Sorrow. I find out tomorrow whether or not I'll be writing FF on what would have happened had the Governor not gone crazy. (Um, season three wouldn't have happened, that's what.)
Senior Seminar - Tolkein and Lewis: Favorite author + another favorite author = howcouldInottakethisclass.
Piano: So I can regain my former glory as the master of "Chopsticks" and "Heart and Soul." Then again, I might not be accepted into the class, and then I don't know what I'll do!
Essentially, my life is now going to turn into this:
when I just want it to be this: