Yes, this was a misspelling of ‘productive’, but as I really didn’t achieve much over the weekend, ‘profuctive’ fits.
You see, there’s this story (isn’t there always?) and I’ve been editing it (ditto) and… it didn’t work. Which isn’t to say the story itself isn’t fine, just that I haven’t written it right. The issue isn’t with the plot. It’s with the execution. My execution. (ahem)
And this is for an anthology. By someone else. This anthology, actually.
See that awesome cover? Wouldn’t you want to be in it if you could?
I got horribly upset, because I knew the story wasn’t working. In the end I finished the latest edit, even knowing it wasn’t right, and sent it off to my beta readers because that’s what they’re for. To tell you straight what the situation is, and, ideally, how to fix it. Within a couple of hours they had both responded. “Not quite there yet” is the politest way of putting it.
I messaged the publisher saying it wasn’t working and I didn’t think I could fix it.
Then I messaged her again saying I knew how to fix it but couldn’t do it right there and then.
[Now would be a good time to mention that my publisher is also a very close personal friend. I don’t recommend having this type of fizzwog with any publisher. Depends on your relationship with your editor, I guess.]
Her response to the first message was “Shame :(“. Her response to the second was “Don’t be so daft, you’ve got time, get to work.” Or words to that effect.
By this point it was 9pm so I decided to leave it for the day. In fact I’ll be leaving it for a couple of days and working on other stuff before I go back to it.
You see, I do know what’s wrong with the story, which means I also know how to fix it. It’s a recurring issue that comes up over and over in my writing. The same comment has been made about everything I’ve written over the last 18 months since I got beta readers.
I’m not connecting with my characters.
I’m just telling the story. I’m not showing how it really affects them.
This is a cardinal sin, of course. If you, the author, won’t connect with your characters, there’s no way in hell a reader will. But.. and here’s the thing… I HATE doing it.
Why would I hate doing the one thing that will suck my readers in and take them on the journey right next to the characters, breathing in the dust and scents of blood and steel, feeling the bite of blades and the sting of insects and the burn of the sun as it roasts their skin?
It hurts. I mean, it actually physically hurts. I feel the pain of their heartbreak, the desperation, the fear, the deep down gut-wrenching sorrow when they know everything’s gone to hell and it’s all their fault.
Maybe some people can just write this stuff. Maybe they can know how to describe events and emotions so as to suck the reader in without having to feel it all themselves.
The only way I can do it is by putting myself in my characters’ skin and thinking, how would this make me feel?
And then it all comes crashing in, all that pain and joy and hope and despair. And I write it down and try to keep breathing until I’m done.
Is it any wonder writers commonly struggle with depression?
Because, and here’s something else I’ve been thinking about lately, we are fascinated by others’ pain. Big Brother was failing until they got evil and then the ratings spiked and stayed high for years. Anyone remember the whole Tiffany thing from Eastenders? (If you do, then yes, that’s about the last time I watched Eastenders.) She fell down the stairs *gasp* and lived! Then got hit by a car.
My point is that we don’t torture our characters for fun. Well, some of us do. Personally I don’t, mainly because I have to torture myself at the same time in order to do it properly. No, we torture our characters because readers love to experience the pain of others vicariously. Of course, they also like seeing them win out against all odds, but in order to properly convey those odds, we have to torture them first.
Vicious circle, really. And it is vicious. I don’t enjoy putting myself through that, and I know why I didn’t for this story. It’s because I don’t like being in pain. I don’t like feeling bad. And deep down inside, there’s a part of me that hopes I can be a writer without having to put myself through this shit for every story.
And of course, I can’t. The sooner I get my head around that, the better. But it’s one of those things I don’t like to think about too much, because it raises uncomfortable questions about the kind of person I am. Questions containing the word ‘masochism’.
Then I think, on balance, this is a good thing, that I have to work this hard to reach my writing standards. Because the day it becomes easy may well I’ve stopped caring and if I don’t care any more, what’s the point?
So yes, the weekend was ‘profuctive’. But at least I found out I still care. I’ll never go half measures on a story, even with a deadline chomping at my toes. And that matters to me. So I did achieve something.