If you’re a middle aged guy such as myself or perhaps one of those sexy leather jacket wearing girls I dated back in the early 80’s – and yes the scent of leather, cigarette smoke and Taboo perfume still brings back found memories – then you probably think Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven is the epic explanation of the meaning of life…or at least a great Saturday night. Robert Plant, the lead singer, hates the song. So much so that he is quoted as saying, “I’d break out in hives if I had to sing it at every concert.” If Jim Morrison was alive he’d probably say the same about Break On Through and for completely different reasons, actor Mark Walberg kind of wants to forget Markie Mark and the Funky Bunch’s Good Vibrations.
Before I took my fiction writing seriously, I didn’t understand these artist’s dislike for their own work. I mean give the people what they want and if they love it than what’s to hate about it? And then I started writing. And then my career became filled with as much non-fiction writing as my non-career was with fiction. And I realized that in big doses…I really want to tell me to shut up.
I have been working on my third novel, a sort of needed departure from the Creepers Saga. When I write, I write in big blocks. I know some authors write a certain number of words per day, but I prefer to sit down and do a marathon of ten thousand words in a weekend. The new novel, The Devil’s Hour, was something I had started as a distraction from my second novel – when I needed a break from All Our Foolish Schemes, I penned a short section in The Devil’s Hour. When I decided to get serious with TDH, I pushed out about 30,000 words in a two week period. After a couple of beta reads on the first half (thanks GG and Michael) I edited once, I edited twice, I edited thrice and then I sent it off to Lynda for the real edit.
My wife never reads my stories, she listens to them. I read them aloud and then she comments on the things she liked and things that didn’t make sense. It’s an excellent review process because if she doesn’t “get it” I know I need to re-work it until it is clear. It gives me the opportunity to hear plot holes, mistakes and rough sentences. It’s the perfect arrangement because even when she is critical I don’t have the option of calling her a stupid poopie head – I have to make the necessary changes. It’s also perfect because if the story is really good, she wants more and will continuously remind me that I need to finish the story.
So this weekend, being almost halfway done with TDH, I thought it was a good time to read it aloud. If you’re not reading your work aloud I strongly suggest it. There is however a potential downside to getting that deep into the work – at least for me. After living through the different edited versions and then reading straight through the thirty thousand words I grow tired of my own voice. You start to worry if the work is any good. You start to wonder “what the hell makes me think I can write a book?” Not the process of putting words on paper, but in creating a story worth someone’s attention. That’s a bad place to be, especially when your story is only half over and you still need to live with it for a while longer.
I understand why Robert Plant loathes Stairway to Heaven. He just grew tired of it. It makes me wonder if Stephen King has ever gone back to read Salem’s Lot and probably explains why J.K resists a return to Hogwart’s. Perhaps those are the reasons I need a blog. A place to write away from the fiction. When I get sick of my fiction voice, I use my blog voice until I’m sick of that, and then I go back to fiction. I also turn to music and the gym and often to Robert Frost and these things act as an antidote, and places of inspiration. I often wonder if other authors have the same experience. Maybe Harper Lee didn’t write a second book because she told herself to shut up – and herself listened.
Do you ever get there with your own writing? Do you ever get to the point that you don’t want to read, let alone write, your own words? How many great works of literature sit unfinished on computers? Consider the number of dead blogs and authors who haven’t published in years. Writing requires a high degree of energy. It would be all too easy to simply forget to return to the keyboard. I guess in a way the author and the words are in a relationship. Like any relationship it seems a simple prospect, two things bonded by attraction and love. Only in time do we discover the dedication and effort required to keep it good and alive. Only through commitment to the larger purpose can we understand how hungry is the beast of neglect. So perhaps getting a little sick of being in my own head is a good thing. Perhaps it keeps the writing perspective fresh and serves to remind that the words are as much for the reader as they are for the writer. Perhaps the quality of a potentially good writer is one who never believes the writing is good enough.
This week I am off to use my business voice and that is good. When I return I’ll again be ready to to sit with my old friend the keyboard. Together we’ll describe more places that never existed and converse with more people who never lived.