I got a pretty bad case of “writer’s sag” this week… “What’s ‘writer’s sag?'” you ask. Well, it’s not in the official lexicon of aspiring or established writers… at least I don’t think it is, but let me start by telling you what it’s not: “writer’s sag” (as I define it) is not as malicious as “writer’s block,” which is as horrible a thing as can happen to any writer. “Writer’s sag” is to a cold, as “writer’s block” is to the flu (and I’m definitely underestimating “writer’s block”… because it can be devastating). “Writer’s sag” is a bumpy road, whereas “writer’s block” is a road closed or a bridge out… I think you get the picture, no? It’s a loss of momentum; there, that’s probably where I should have started.
“But in a larger sense every novel is a first novel, presenting no end of unique problems, carrying enormous risks, and offering immense excitement and other rewards.”
— Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print (1979)
It’s partly my fault (bullshit, it’s all my fault) because I saw that I was running out of space with my original 80.000 word draft goal… it was just becoming increasingly apparent that 80,000 words was not going to be able to contain the story… so I upped that to 105,000 words. From my reading around the various submission guidelines that publishers post on their websites (Note: not all of them do, some won’t even give you guidelines… instead telling you they don’t want your manuscript unless you have an agent) I learned that the average manuscript runs between 80,000 to 120,000 words… with fantasy manuscripts tending towards the higher end of that range. One quick look around my bookshelves indeed confirms that fantasy novels have a tendency to be a bit fatter than sci-fi novels, so okay: that already confirmed that I was shooting too low… or was I? The part I think I got screwed up in my head is that the 80,000 to 120,000 words is for a final draft manuscript… not a first or working draft; however, I remedied that initial misinterpretation by adjusting my target word count to 105,000, thus allowing myself a comfortable 15,000 word buffer for my revision/rewriting.
How exactly does this contribute to the aforementioned “writer’s sag?” Well, take a look at the Word-O-Meter to the right (over there, you see it…). When the target goal was 80,000 the percent complete was 75-76%; now with the goal set to 105,000 the percent complete drops to 62-63% complete… and somehow, my fragile, neophyte writer’s ego found that dispiriting… and that right there is exactly what “writer’s sag” is all about. The thing is: you develop (or should develop) a particularly complex and intimate affinity for your story — it’s a part of you, the offspring of your imagination; something that, even though you may only ever show it to your family and friends, contains a part of you regardless about how dispassionate you try to make yourself to the whole process. Creative work is work… hard work, in spite of what some may think and say.
So check this out: I write primarily for leisure (and I’ve been told I must be mad to do so); I entertain absolutely no illusions about ever getting rich doing this… I have no professional stake in my writing (if that comes later, that’s cool… but telling the stories is the goal), and my family’s livelihood is not attached to my ability to complete the novel I’m writing — I’m not beholden to any contractual obligations… and even then, my emotional and spiritual well-being is at least a little tied up in what is essentially my hobby. Isn’t that odd? Couldn’t some psychologist write a really nifty thesis about the egos of creative people? I have zero real world investment in my writing, and yet I’m still subject to despair when my momentum lags. How bizarre is that? I mean I know: if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t write… There’s an axiom like that somewhere; I think it was in Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing…
In reality, for me anyway, it’s more than just a desire to tell a story (although that certainly is the overarching objective); it’s a personal challenge, like a marathon runner… it’s a test of endurance and discipline (one which I’m apparently better at rising up to, unlike my smoking cessation…)… a test of my will, and, yes, a test of my ego. It must be, or all you are doing is giving a report: “boy finds magic sword, boy takes magic sword and confronts evil duke, boy slays evil duke and henchmen, boy becomes king, the end.” There’s a story in there… not much of one, but it does give a sequence of events that for some people constitutes a story. The challenge then for the writer of imaginative fiction is to give this sequence of events some emotive and intellectual power; to flesh it out by infusing a logical and mostly believable (it’s a fantasy story, so you get some leeway) mix of story elements which then amplifies this sequence of events, and which will in turn make readers want to participate in the co-construction of the fictional reality… the fiction dream… that readers might willingly suspend their disbelief for a little while and believe in your world of magic and wonder. It’s a tall order, and, even if your audience is just your best friend, or your cousin, or your grandma, it’s terrifying.
The writer’s ego… well, my writer’s ego… seems to be beset on all sides and at all times by thoughts of failure and fears of not measuring up to the challenge I’ve undertaken… this even though I receive some pretty good feedback from my beta readers. I told you back at the very beginning of this blog (not this post, the blog) that I’d be sharing the ups and downs of this process… and this is definitely a “down.” Thus, I’ve presented a problem for which I have no solution other than to keep on writing… which is exactly what I intend to do. It’s perfectly natural and okay to have a fear of failure; it’s even kind of healthy. What’s not healthy is allowing any kind of fear to prevent you from doing the things you love to do — I love to write and tell stories so even though my momentum sags and my writer’s ego takes a hit, in the choice between continuing to write or giving up, I think I’ll just continue writing.
So as it doesn’t all read like bad news, something really cool happened last weekend: I got my desk. No more folding TV tray for me, no more sitting on the edge of the futon and having my limbs fall asleep… I got a desk, I got a chair, I got a place to work:
So this is where the magic happens now: inside my den at my chase desk. The rest of the den still looks more like a storage closet than on office, but the junk in here is mine so that’s on me.
Here’s a slightly different view; you can see my HP laptop in this picture, and that’s the machine where the story engineering is really taking place. Yes, that is my black, Epiphone SG off to the right; please feel free to envy…
One last shot to give you a better idea of what the rest of the room looks like… what you don’t see in this, or the other photos, is the futon and the bookshelves which are all against the right wall looking into the room from where I took the picture from the doorway.
It is important to have a space in which to ply your craft, regardless of what that craft might be, so that (at least) all of your crap will be out of everyone else’s way. For the longest time, I wrote at the dining table and that meant that my materials (both technological and paper) were all over one quarter of the table surface at all times (and subject to spills and other catastrophes). When we moved out of the apartment I was relegated to a TV tray on which to place my laptop until such time as a desk could be purchased, and a spot made available for it. I was so happy, no: ecstatic, about it when it finally happened… and then, prrt! “writer’s sag.” So it goes, I suppose… I’ll shoot for a much lighter topic next time.