Blank Spaces Between the Words

Every time I sit down to work on my fiction, I learn something about the craft of writing.  Some years back, a pleasing thought occurred to me in one of those lightbulb-in-the-head moments: that there are blank spaces between the words in prose fiction, gaps that the human mind automatically rushes to fill.  Recently a friend complimented me for something I’d written by exclaiming, “You described it so well that I felt that I was actually there!”  That made me smile, because my more recent writing tends to be somewhat lean.  I pointed out that there really was very little description in what she’d read, but that her mind had seized upon key words to create the images that were not in fact in the text.  Those images that lay in the blank spaces between the words.

Indie Publishing

Amanda Hocking’s amazing success story continues to inspire all of us who write as independents.  As everyone who keeps up with these things knows, she has just signed a multimillion dollar deal with my old publisher, St. Martin’s Press.  Lucky young woman, some might think.  But it wasn’t luck, at least not entirely.  She got there through a combination of raw talent, persistence, and hard work.  As she admits on her blog, pursuing her dream wasn’t easy and in fact promoting her work became a full-time job in itself.

I’m finding that out from my own very recent experience.  How do you promote a book when you work a regular, 40-hours-a-week job?  Well, you blog, and tweet, and interact on Facebook, at least insofar as you have time.  But when do you actually, you know . . . write?  That’s the frustration I’m experiencing right now.  I have five short stories that I need to complete and a sequel to V-Squad to outline and at some point in time put on the page.  There are only so many hours in the day in which to do it all.  Something has to fall by the wayside; something won’t get done.

A Good Day to Write

I have the rest of the week off from my regular job so I’m working on my short stories today, four in all, thematically linked to one another and to my new e-novel, V-Squad, each set in a different time period and location.  This collection gives me a chance to explore a common theme and write about history (my favorite subject) at the same time.  So I’m really excited about having the chance to work on them today.

It’s a little slow-going, though.  I’ve been sweating over the first paragraph of one story for the past month, and still can’t seem to get it right.  Knowing what I want to say is one thing, but finding the perfect words to bring that about is a different matter.  It’s not enough to simply describe the scene visually; the real challenge is to evoke the emotional landscape of the characters in such a way that it immediately resonates within the reader.  And that’s where I’m feeling stuck.  Maybe writing about it here will help.

Writers certainly know what I’m talking about.  Sometimes the words just flow effortlessly from one’s brain to the keyboard; and in fact there are occasions when the writer can barely keep up with that inner voice as it sprints headlong in its haste to communicate.  Those times are rare, however, at least they are for me.

Most of the time I — and I suspect that this is true for the majority of writers everywhere — have to labor over every word in my quest to find the ideal term that will describe what’s in my head and my imagination.  So I write, then rewrite, and rewrite some more, and change things around, then disliking what that has wrought, start all over again.  That’s where I am today.

Meanwhile, there’s a gentle rain falling just outside my window, and I can hear the swollen creek rushing through my backyard a little faster than it normally does.  The cool air smells fresh and sweet, and there’s that subtle sense that spring is definitely on its way.  It’s a good day to write.

The Dreaded Blank Page

So, you’re a writer.  See if this sounds familiar.

You stare at it and stare at it, and it seems that it stares back, that blasted cursor winking at you, daring you to write something — a word, a phrase.  Anything.

It’s at that point that you remember that you haven’t fed the cat in an hour or so, so you trudge into the kitchen and sprinkle a few bits of dry food into his bowl.  Maybe he could use some water, too, even though he hasn’t touched what you put down for him just a little while ago.  Then it’s back to the computer.

But before you get back to what you’re supposed to be doing — you know, working on your novel — maybe you should check your email.  You tell yourself that you’ll return to your “real” writing directly after that.

— Nothing, at least nothing important.  Just some spam and an item from the news feed you subscribe to.

Okay, let’s see what the specials are today on Amazon.com.

— You read reviews of the new movies followed by your favorites, the ones you’ve seen a hundred times, then check out the new BluRay releases  and read about those, too.  Next, the books, old and new.  You wonder if they still sell Tuscan Milk™ on the “Food” page, or that weird tank thing they sold a few years ago in the now-defunct “Everything Else” category, and before you know it you’re reading reviews of O-rings under “Industrial and Scientific.”  At that point you come to your senses and realize that you’ve gone down a virtual rabbit hole into distraction and avoidance.

So it’s back to the blinking cursor and the empty white page.  Nothing has changed, but of course you knew that would be the case.

Maybe there’s something on TV. . .

It’s the writer’s version of stage fright, that performance anxiety that sets in whenever you are confronted with the empty page, figuratively speaking.  And even though you know that for what it is, and you realize that the only way to overcome it is to simply sit down and force yourself to put something, anything, on the page (again, FS), you can think of a dozen other things you’d rather do instead.  A run to the supermarket; mow the lawn; wash the car; housework (okay, maybe not housework).  Still, you know darn well that the only thing that’s worse than confronting that miserable, taunting cursor is the feeling of guilt and wasted time that you’ll have if you don’t write something today.

So you do what you should have done hours ago.  You pour yourself another cup of coffee, sit down again in your high-backed chair, and start to write.  In no time at all you forget about everything else, and before you know it, it’s dark outside and you realize that you’re hungry.

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