Tag Archives: frustration

Notes Of A Storyteller: This Is Why Writing Fiction Takes Forever

I’ve never been well-acquainted with Oscar Wilde, but there’s a quote attributed to him that floats around the Internet that says, “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”

I’d like to find where he said that, because it matches my own experience with The Kingdom Trilogy to a “t”. Just look at a few phrases I obsessed over during the last few weeks of writing The Stand. My writing is in quotes; my thoughts while writing them are in italics. The sentences don’t come from the same passage, FYI, so don’t try to link them together.

“The thought had come to him before.”

Hmmm… there’s something about “come to him” that just doesn’t work with the sentence. It doesn’t sound right. I want it to sound different. How can I make it sound different? What exactly should it sound like, instead of this? I’m not sure, but I know I want a change.

What about “occurred to him”? No way! I see that everywhere! I want to make it sound more original than that! No, brain, this is not an insignificant details! If I want to write good prose, I’ve got to focus on the details!

Wait a minute… how did an hour just pass by? It was 10 AM just a minute ago… oh, forget this. I have a chapter to finish.

“50,000 armored men stood in endless iron rows.”

Hold it! I need to spend some time with this sentence. Do I absolutely need the adjective “armored”? The readers already know that this is an army. Wouldn’t “armored” be redundant, then?

Maybe I should get rid of “endless iron rows”. I mean, now that I’m running that through my head, it doesn’t sound quite right. It sounds great, but it might sound better elsewhere. What do I think of when I see the phrase “endless iron rows”? Not a medieval army so much as a robot army. Heck, I could even see a steampunk politican using this to rile his audience against some authority- hey, that might be a story worth writing…

Ack! No! Don’t brainstorm! Make a note and move on! But wait- we gonna keep “armored” or not? Ummm… let’s scratch it. And we’ll circle “endless iron rows”. If I can think of something more fitting during editing, I’ll use that. Wait, what was my problem with that phrase in the first place?

“Eyes were locked forward.”

That doesn’t look grammatically correct. I know, I know; it will be clear I’m referring to the soldiers Arman’s looking at. But still. Maybe I should play by the rules and say, “Their eyes were locked forward.” That doesn’t take anything away from the sentence, though having a word that starts with “e” at the start of the sentence looks kind of cool.

I wonder if I should just get rid of the whole sentence? I’m trying to show that the soldiers look tense. But it’s hard for Arman to notice that from a difference. Maybe instead of this sentence (how is he gonna see their eyes from where he is, anyway!) I should have a sentence emphasizing why he thinks they look tense.

Come to think of it, maybe the fact that he’s noticing emotion on the faces of soldiers at attention is a stretch. I might not even keep this passage. Well, let’s think about that…

… and there goes another hour. Okay. Decision-time. We’ll add a different sentence, and save the rest of the passage for edits. Let’s move, Sean! You have got to get this chapter done!

And that’s only three sentences. Remind me why I’m doing this again?

Notes Of A Storyteller: Writing Made My Day Better

I had a rough morning. I told some college friends I would wake up bright and early to exercise. My alarm blared at 5:30, and I mindlessly slept in. In my stupor, I lifted my head and 5:55 and decided I couldn’t get to the¬†rendezvous in time.

Grunting, I translated some Latin and got on with my day. I returned to my laptop, prepared to stay on top of my coursework. A cloud still rumbled in my mind. I was frustrated. I like my days to go the way I plan them. The fact that I had chosen to derail my day was frustrating.

I don’t even remember deciding to write but I did. I kid you not. I’m not writing this to make you keep reading, or spice up my prose. My fingers¬†instinctively¬†moved to a short story I’ve tinkered wit now and again. Several paragraphs later, I breathed and felt slightly more complete. I still felt in a funk, but I also felt like I had done something good and natural. We’ll see how good and natural that story looks when I dive in for an edit, but I’ll dive later. I feel good.

What’s the lesson, then? Frustration, whether with little things or great, can all be pent through writing. But not pent completely. You still have to do the work to put a smile on your face and spread it around your world. But the pen is a wonderful place to put those anti-smiling forces to rest.

Notes Of A Storyteller: Distraction Is A Good Thing

Even today, I carry on the struggle between two Seans. One Sean is intense and spends all of his time editing The Kingdom: The Quest. The other Sean is playful, lazy and loves spending time with friends and jamming out to Skrillex remixes of the Black Eyed Peas.

Can that other Sean exist if I call myself a writer? If I’m not taking every spare minute I can to devote to The Kingdom Trilogy, and to my craft in general, am I not cheating myself? Am I not showing complete devotion to what I do?

There’s a scene from Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong that illustrates what I’m thinking about. To make a long story short, a playwright is tricked into staying on board a ship with a filmmaker. While the filmmaker keeps the playwright in conversation,the captain sets sail. By the time the playwright realizes what has happened, the ship is about fifty yards away from the harbor. The next few lines of dialogue go something like this…

Filmmaker: I keep telling you, Jack, there’s no money in theater. That’s why you should stick with film.
Playwright: No Carl, it’s not about the money. I love theater.
Filmmaker: No you don’t. If you really loved it, you would’ve jumped.

Those kind of observations stick with me. All through high school, and now in college, I take time out to do other things. I lift weights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I do English and Film Club. I walk into dorm rooms to say hello. I go to Daily Mass.

I joke sometimes about being a hermit writing a novel, but it’s clear that I don’t act like one. Should I be if I want to a good writer? Should I stop doing all of these other things, and cut everyone out of my life and work on my stories? It wasn’t until recently that I decided for sure that the answer is, “No.”

I want to kick myself, because I should have realized it long ago. Writers try to convey life through words. Through stories, we ultimately seek to display the human condition. How on earth can I display the human condition if I don’t experience for myself? No, I don’t want to be a slave to my art. I won’t cut out the other people in my life. How silly of me.

If you writers are nuerotic like me, and you ever feel guilty about not spending every minute on your WiP, stop. You’re experiencing life when you go out with your friends to the local coffeeshop, instead of tinkering with your latest chapter. Ultimately, you’ll have much more to write about than if you spend your whole life hunched over a laptop.

Oh, and read The Oresteia by Aeschylus sometime. It’s a trilogy of tragic plays, and they are more than worth your time. Have a wonderful weekend.