Monday, March 30, 2009

Be-Were the Writer (or Why Writers Are Like Werewolves)

WARNING: Mild gore ahead... consider yourself warned!

In case you want to skip the gore and just get to the bones of it (he he), here's a summary for you:

1. Writer - Beware!

2. Writer, Be Aware

3. Writer: Be-Were

Got it?
Read on...

The writer is an unpredictable creature, this we know. The act of writing can transform the most normal and civilized person into a tortured soul.

Typical symptoms are snarling, moaning, head-holding, uncharacteristic fits of cursing, bloodshot eyes, maniacal laughter, unpredictable mood swings, growling if approached incorrectly, grunting, disregard for personal hygiene - er - grooming and shunning of society. Not to mention the tendency for keeping odd hours or turning nocturnal.

Sometimes there is drooling.
Yes, drooling.

You writers know what I'm talking about.

It can feel like you're getting turned inside out, that you're being taken over, that you're no longer quite yourself.

But not to worry.

This is completely normal.

It's just PMS (and yes, guys, I mean you too).

I'm not talking about blood (that comes later), I'm talking about Perfect Manuscript Syndrome; a very natural phase of the writing cycle. The strength of the symptoms vary from writer to writer but we all have to deal with it.

Phase One is when your writer-ly instinct kicks in.

You scent a story and the urge to capture it is overwhelming. With a novel in your sights, you scrabble about for a writing implement - any writing implement- resorting to using your nails as nibs if nothing else presents itself, lest your elusive quarry (the amazing story idea) get away.

Once you dig your claws in, it's all you can do not to gorge yourself on the meat of it; ripping in to get to the guts of its succulent characters, tearing it apart to find the juiciest plot twists, burying your head in the bowels of the story till your senses are filled with it. If it were up to you, you wouldn't stop until you devoured every morsel in one sitting, bones and all.

Eventually you emerge from your writing stupor with glazed eyes, wiping unsightly drool away (among other things) to leave a sheepish smile in it's place.

But here's the rib.

Most stories are much too large to consume all at once. You're likely to be left feeling more than a little unsatisfied. Your perfect story suddenly seems very flawed and doesn't sit so well in your stomach. You begin to notice the mess of manuscript around you and begin to wonder: "What the (bleep) have I done?!"

Welcome to Phase Two: The Realization.

Often we come away from the thrill of our writing spree bloated and fit to burst. It's only then we realize our prose is completely overwhelmed and awkward to behold. Experienced writers will tell you this is completely normal in the early stages of capturing a story but no matter how many times you hear it, your gut still aches when you consider whether or not it was as tasty and worth the pursuit as you thought.

Instead of giving into despair, experienced writers will tell you this is the moment to sit back, digest what you've captured and take a long, hard, critical look at what you've done (also known as Phase Three).

Actions have consequences and it's time to deal with yours.

For a lot of writers this is the hard part. The thrill of the hunt has passed. You've gorged on a tender idea and now you're left with a mess to deal with. Worse, you're tired and you just want to zone out and forget it ever happened. Nobody has to know, right?

But abandoning the remains to rot in a drawer somewhere won't leave you truly satisfied. After a while the messes start to pile up and others begin to notice the smell. There's nothing like the stink of piled-up story corpses to close doors of opportunity.

There's a lot more to being a writer than hunting down stories when you're hungry.

And this is where I'm at, right now.

My manuscript for "Dead Wood" stands at approximately 80 000 words and, not only is it not-quite-finished, it's in need of serious cleaning up and restructuring.

I can't avoid this. In fact I'm walking around all day burdened by this embarrassing dead-weight, feeling unable to move forward until some serious damage control has taken place. Having my novel in this unresolved mess is hard. I'm frustrated at the constant race against the clock, the hairy lack of focus and the plain, hard work I need to put in to make my hunt worth it. I still see in my mind's eye that story that I set out to capture and wonder just how much of my own blood I'll have to sweat (see, I told you there would be blood later!) to transform this story-carcass into that shining, perfect prize.

So the re-write begins.

Cue moaning, gnashing of teeth and all the symptoms that make writers unpredictable - and sometimes dangerous - company to keep.

Now I'm clawing at ideas, at plots, at words, trying to settle them into a cohesive story-form but - surprise surprise - my prey is uncooperative.

This is where I have to remind myself of what I truly am and to trust that I have the ability, the tenacity and the resources to finish what I started.

When I resist the transformation to fully-formed writer (also known as the writer-who-actually-writes, not the 'writer'-who-just-wants-to-have-written) and become self-conscious of who I am and what I'm doing, the process gets harder.

This is also where I remind myself that my transformative tendencies are not a curse but a gift.

What I need to do is give in to my dual nature, revel in it even. If-and-when the instinctive half falls short I can still continue the hunt with my more rational side and finish what I started.

That search for the perfect manuscript, or PMS, becomes less traumatic as I gain experience and learn to deal with this, very natural, cycle. If nothing else, I have proven to myself that I can capture a story in its entirety (a.k.a. finish a novel) and that means I can do it again. And again. As many times as I want to.

There will no doubt be those unkempt-hair days, those "careful I might bite your head off" days. I am intensely occupied in my task, after all, but once the base nature of my beast has had it's fill I can choose the paths I take, focus on my goal and, in the end, savor the complete and delicious taste of a complete and fulfilling story.

"I am Writer - hear me roar!"*

* I find it ironic that this phrase is grammatically incorrect! Let's just call it a stylistic thing, shall we? :)

NOTE: Illustrations are copyright of the following artists:
Werewolf 4 (female) by Aaron Sims Company
Werewolf Pawprint by ~Leonca
Werewolf (mixed media) by Seph77 (Joseph Witchall)
Werewolf by Korethi
The Maiden and the Werewolf by Gizmodus (Reto Kaul)

Click on each picture to go to the artist's website and see more of their work.


jane said...

My english is very badly.But very very thank you.what a happy.hehe.
I live Beijing.
You can send e-mail to me and have that in your free time.:}

Shadows said...

I like it. The comparison is true. Best of luck with your writing.

Milli Thornton said...

OHMIGOSH, this was brilliant, woman.

PMS. Yes! I stumble to find the words for how perfectly complete and satisfying your analogies were (*burp* - s'cuse me).

Today is my last day of PMS for my first screenplay. Much of it was a joy. Hard work out the ying-yang, yes, but I reveled in it.

It was only toward the end that I was left over-sated by my hunt. After countless revisions (all with different goals), the one where I went through the entire manuscript cutting down on repetitive words was hellish. One foot in front of the other plodding with bloodshot eyes.

And the final proofread yesterday was agony. Looking at each word in isolation is such a story disconnect. My body suffered even more than my mind. Stiff, cramped, muscles crying with flu-like spasms. When I hobbled to bed at 2 am I wondered if all this madness will ever truly be worth it.

Does any one story really warrant this much shedding of blood and consuming of hours? Script analysts will skim my Precious in a mere 45 minutes (if they stick with it beyond page 10, that is) and then toss it on the nearest pile of bones.

If it ever shines enough to get produced, They will make me rewrite it all the more! Or kick me off and hire someone else to ruin my movie.

If my story ever makes it to the screen (dream, baby, dream) cinema-goers will devour it in a mere 110 minutes... and then slip out of my world back into theirs, forgetting my story by the next day.

Being a writer. Which ungodly parent infected me with that virus at birth? Or was I plagued by lifetimes of it, merely carrying it with me into this one?


Thanks for holding the mirror up and saying it far more deliciously than I could have. And thanks for roaring at the end.

YES, that's it. I need to roar!!

I'll wait 'til my husband gets home so I can have a victim. Come to think of it, I only bit his head off once during the entire process. Not good enough!!!

Sharon Gerlach said...

I sent the link to my husband so he can send the exorcist away. Thanks! ;-)

The Ink Gypsy said...

Jane: Hi! Nice to meet you. I'll look you up very soon. :)

Shadows: Thanks for the comment. Always glad to hear from fellow wolv-er-writers. Good luck with your projects too!

Milli Thornton: Glad to see I hit a chord. And now you know you're not alone. Good luck with your drooling, I mean, writing. :)

Sharon Gerlach: All the best with the writing. And the husband. (At least our partners can't accuse us of being boring.) :)

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C.J. Redwine said...

Sheesh. Spam, much?

Okay, this was good. Really good. I mean good in that spine-tingling, "Ooh, nice metaphor," inspiring kind of good.

I really enjoyed it. I too suffer from PMS. Maybe we need a 12 Step Program and a sponsor. I'm up for it!

Kait Nolan said...

Ha! I think it's a great analogy. Perfect Manuscript Syndrome indeed.

Empress Awesome said...

This is quite awesome