Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Procrastination at its best
For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a famous author. I'd start writing a book, get a couple of chapters written, and then never go back and finish it. One of my life goals was to actually finish writing a book. Another life goal of mine was to get a book published.
In 2007, these goals hit me hard. On April 8, 2007 my brother, at the age of 35, died of a heart attack. He was a great painter, especially when you consider he had very little formal training. He never did anything with it, though. He painted and painted but never sold anything until shortly before he died when he started making 3D wood sculptures and selling them to people. I felt like he didn't take any real chances to achieve his goals.
Then, on November 13, 2007 my dad died of lung cancer. My dad.....where do I even begin to talk about him? We had a terrible relationship when I was growing up. We butted heads all the time. He was an alcoholic and took a lot out on me. But in so many ways, I was more like him than any of the other kids. My dad was a writer. He wrote poetry more than anything else, but he always wanted to be a published author. This may be where I got my own goal from but since I can't remember when my desire to write started, I couldn't really say. As an adult, our relationship totally changed and he became by biggest supporter and fan. I loved showing him things I had done because I could always see how proud he was of me.
When my dad died, he wasn't a well-known author like he wanted to be. In fact, other than posting on some ezines and in a few literary magazines that nobody had really ever heard of, he wasn't published at all. I found a folder full of his writing in his file cabinet. It was line after line of beautiful, melodic prose that, rather than making me feel good, actually caused me to feel desperate. My dad wasn't just a good writer, he was a great writer. Yet he went nowhere with his writing because he didn't take chances. Or if he did take them, I certainly never knew about them.
Last April, 1 year after my brother died and 5 months after my dad died, I decided I needed to push myself to achieve my goals. I have so many story ideas inside of me that it's almost painful. I sat at my computer and, in 11 days, I wrote a 107,000 word book. I thought that I'd feel this great sense of accomplishment when I finished it, but instead I almost felt depressed. It was sad to me not being able to run to my dad and show him what I had done. I think the let-down was magnified by the fact that it was all so anti-climactic. I was happy with the book. Sure, there were some areas where I thought it could use work. What piece of writing can't use work? But overall, I was happy with it.
Sometimes, achieving a life-long goal isn't as exciting as you expect it to be.
And maybe part of it was the fact that there was a whole other step to this goal that seemed insurmountable. The publishing part.
I spent the spring putting off writing a query. Once I had finally exhausted all of my excuses, I wrote the letter. It wasn't good. Really, it sucked. But it was finished. So I sent it off to 10 agents. I knew my summary paragraph wasn't good enough for them to ask to see more. I knew what their responses would be. But I sent it off anyway, just so I would feel like I was taking chances. But I stopped after those 10 because I knew if I really wanted to get anywhere, I needed to change that summary.
And now, here it is March. I haven't rewritten the summary or attempted to contact any other agents. There's always something that keeps me from doing it. Right now, it's a new book. At the end of last summer I had an idea for a new book and started writing it. I got halfway through the first chapter, and did a basic outline, but then never went back to it. I'm finally forcing myself to write this one because I think it will be better than my first one, especially now that I have a better idea of what it takes to fill a 107,000 word book.
There's something I realized last night. I used to constantly hear authors say that when they're writing a book, they become obsessed with the characters. They can't talk about anything else or think about anything else and even have dreams about them. The characters become like real people to them. I never completely understood this until I wrote that book last year. But last night I realized that, for me at least, they had it all backwards.
It's not a matter of "once I start writing a book, I become obsessed with the characters." For me, I can't begin to write the book until I become obsessed with the characters. Once I've talked about them, and outlined them enough to make them real, I have no choice but to get their story down on paper....or laptop. Whatever.
So right now I'm lost in a world of my own creation. It's an interesting world. Unfortunately, it's almost like being God and knowing exactly what's going to happen to all of the people in your world. Luckily, also like being God, you can't completely control the characters in your book. Not if you've done a good job making them become real. You'll be typing and they'll say something or do something that surprises you. Something you didn't see coming.
Or, you know, maybe it's just me.
*Disclaimer: Since I really am the Queen of Procrastination, I should tell you that everything you read above was really just my way of putting off writing chapter 2. What? Did you think there was actually a point to all of this rambling?