Literary constipation

Given the fact that American readers are mostly wrapped up in election issues, I figured no-one there will read this, so I could give vent to the far more scatological sense of humor that the English world outside of US to have. We’re pretty immature, really. Honestly when I was a kid and there was an American movie on – and someone said something about ‘needing the bathroom’ – the movie theatre would be full of the laughter of 8 year olds who found the idea of referring to a toilet as a ‘bathroom’ hilarious (the two rooms were very much separate in most houses in those strange and far off days.) Americans make jokes about sex more casually than Brits. (Except about sheep. All the commonwealth countries make jokes about their neighbors and sheep. The English make them about Scots, the Scots make them about the South Africans and the South Africans make them about the Australians and the Australians make them about the Kiwis. I am sure the Kiwis make them about someone. I asked but couldn’t hear above all the bleating that was going on.) Anyway, back to literary constipation…

Quite a lot of people are stuck up about literature. Never really understood why. Are the books they devour not providing them with sufficient roughage? Are they made with low-fiber paper? Are they avoiding devouring them and merely displaying them on their coffee-tables? Is it the sheer turgidity of their choices? Do they need to hydrate better while reading? Beer is good for this. I do not know, but it seems it is a widespread problem, commonly associated with pretentiousness.

However, that wasn’t what I was going to write about, but rather the problem of writer getting stuck (as far as the literary pretentious are concerned, my output is sh!t so I may as well enjoy making fun of it. It’s not going to change their attitude or my readers attitude). Part of this is that I am uptight about a bunch of things, aside from writing. I need to loosen up… seriously, a lot of mental processing power goes on solving problems in the current book. If I am worrying about petty bureaucrats and their threats, or even obsessing about some political shenanigan or world affair, I’m not focused on my current book.

Normally, if I get stuck, I go and some manual job that needs doing — there is always a huge list, and while I am pulling weeds or putting water in batteries or putting up a fence… my mind is working away at the possible answers to the problem… so long as it does not get distracted onto other problems. I’ll wake at night and hack away at different possible and probable solutions. Distraction is my chief enemy. Once I have those solutions, it’s just a matter getting it written down in a coherent form. That’s when the discipline of just sitting in front of a keyboard and writing matters to me. If I am stuck on motive, or background or inter-relationships between the characters… I can sit in front of the keyboard until I turn blue. I have to motives for the characters, the motives have to interact, and I have to understand the motives, and they have to be logical — at least logical ways that character would behave given how they think and their perception of the situation. Once I have that, I can move forward, it just takes discipline.

I have deep admiration for people who can just sit down and write. I wish I could. I’ve spent most of the last couple of weeks struggling with the new WIP (not wipe) because while the characters are interesting and have various drives, I needed to do much, much more research into how widow’s pensions worked, and how the base situation needed motives for each of the characters to behave in the way I wanted them to. I had to change their circumstances and backgrounds until these gave them motives which would logically make them intersect. Once I had finally worked it out and made my poor wife listen to my progression and tear into my logic wherever she saw a flaw that made it less than plausible, I finally got to point where I just HAVE to write it. Now. Stay not.

It’s not easy getting there, but quite a relief when you do.

And my American friends, I hope you have a similarly satisfying election with logical outcomes, and not ones that leave you muttering about ‘bathrooms’.

17 comments

    1. Yes, the phrase “she made her toilet” still crops up in Regencies and old books. I find it amusing – yes, she made her toilet! By hand! Also, what exactly is the original meaning of “commode”? I’ve heard it used as a euphemism for toilet.

      1. “Commode” literally was French for “comfortable, convenient, suitable.”

        It was the name of a wire-framed premade hairstyle. Then it was the name of a chest of drawers.

        And then it was the name of a chair housing a chamber pot, so that one could go to the bathroom easily, without squatting and without leaving to go to a special toilet room. This was also called a “convenience.”

        And then it became a synonym for a toilet fixture.

  1. “Venerable Linfeng,” the nom de plume of whoever it is who is writing the Chinese webnovel Supreme Grandpa, had a character note (in an in-book writing course!) that writing can be used as a form of meditation or mindfulness, because you can put aside your worries and racing thoughts, and focus on just one thing.

    He/she also had that character note that a writer is always facing fear: fear of starting, fear of working, fear of trying new things, fear of how it will be received, and (a few chapters later, and less explicitly) even fear of website publishers and one’s government. So he basically compared writing to a martial art.

    He’s a comedy writer, and the novel is mostly funny, but I’m pretty sure that part was him being serious.

    1. I’ve never thought of it that way, but now that you say it I don’t disagree. More than half of martial arts is learning to not be afraid of falling down or getting punched in the face. You spend your whole first year learning how to fall down properly.

      Just like more than half of woodworking is learning how to fix what you f-ed up. I saw a guy on youtube sand through the veneer on a ridiculously complex piece that had taken him WEEKS to make. He cried. And then he fixed it by sticking a new piece in, and kept going.

      I did the same thing yesterday, I f-ed up a board I’d been working on for hours. Oh well, splice a new bit on and keep going. Might make the thing more interesting, or possibly lamer, but if I stop (or if I never even start) it’ll never be anything.

  2. The fellow that’s responsible for me meeting my husband is known in the Society for Creative Anachronism as Magnus Bloodaxe (OK, Sir Magnus Bloodaxe). Magnus used to trot out the saw about, “Oh, for the good old days, when women were women, men were men and sheep were nervous.” I don’t know if it stopped him, but he started being greeted with, “Ma-a-a-aggggggnus!”

    1. Folks in Montana wear hip waders so they can drop the sheep’s back legs down the front, and keep it from getting away.

      You can tell when you’re getting close to Texas A&M when the sheep start calling “Daaaaaaddy”.

        1. The kiwis tell the sheep jokes about sheep, at least 40 odd years ago. 3 million people and 60 million sheep, You got to feeling outnumbered.

  3. Ok cool. It’s not just me.

    I’ve mostly been writing random scenes to gety head around how they work. I think I’m getting there, but it does mean I have no idea how many of these will actually make it into the final, or even what the plot arc is going to end up as.

    Messy business all around. And I need to be writing before this scene but gets away from me…

  4. This entire autumn has felt unproductive. I’m not sure why, although having lots of small interruptions in my writing has not helped. I suspect the background tension, the lack of a single big project to dig into, and our old friend Imposter Syndrome are all at play. (“I just finished [big series]! People really liked [other book] despite the flaws! Can I ever do it again?”)

    1. For me, it’s been an unproductive couple of years, mostly because I was fighting with a book I didn’t know how to fix, and couldn’t detach from it to pursue other project. 17-18 chapters left in space opera sequel, so maybe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

    2. Before I moved, I was doing bread for the church lunch on Sundays. Usually something, or several somethings went wrong, up to, and including realizing I hadn’t bought enough flour to finish it and having to substitute corn flour to get to the full loaf.

      During one round of regaling DJ’s with everything that had gone sideways with this batch, someone made a comment to the effect of if this is what the failures taste like, he could only imagine what one where nothing went wrong would be like.

      After watching so many seasons of the British Baking Show, I can say, probably not that much different. Past a certain point you’re only dealing with small technical things that make literature professors happy or make a perfect mass production bread, but don’t do that much for the end consumer.

  5. Politics is a huge distraction and I’ve let myself wallow in the outrage before. I’ve been doing better, as you can see I’m here reading this on election day (although I spent the last hour or so on Instapundit).

    When I have a story I want to write the words just flow right through me and splatter out onto my screen. Editing is not so bad, too. But when I have stuff I HAVE to write I sit here and push and strain. Right now I have a second story I’m working on that I’ve set aside for the past few weeks because it feels too much like work. I have a story I want to write, but it’s a year or two in the future of story number one, and I write sequentially so I don’t want to jump ahead and write it until I’m actually at that point in time, so I’m struggling a bit with story #1. I’m also trying to rewrite the first parts of story #1 so I can put them up for sale, but since I already wrote them, editing them feels more like a chore, and there are things I know I need to change but motivating myself to do it is a problem. I guess I’ll just keep pushing. What else can I do? I hope I don’t end up with hemorrhoids.

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