SFSignal, from time to time, asks the same question of a bunch of writers and puts their answers together in an interesting post called MindMeld. They’ve done it again this week, and the question—posed to me, among others—was What’s the most difficult part of being a writer? (That link will take you to all the answers.)
Here’s what I said (but do go look at the others, because they’re interesting):
What’s the hardest thing about being a writer? That’s easy: Writing. Doing it, not talking about it. Not thinking about it or procrastinating to avoid doing it. Not checking the email for writing-related messages (hah). Just doing it. Putting. The words. On. The page. Damn, it’s hard sometimes. A lot of the time. Most of the time. Okay, nearly all the time. Microsoft’s patented Blue Screen of Death can’t hold a candle to the dread induced by the White Screen of No Words on the Page.
I’m not talking about writing in general, but writing a work of fiction. Creating a story out of whole cloth and telling it in words that make the reader want to come back for more. Okay, I’m not even talking about that last part—that comes more in the rewriting phase, which for me is easier. I’m talking about, Who is this character, really, and why is she angry, or scared, or passionate? I’m talking about, What comes next—and why is it interesting or unexpected or inevitable? Why should anyone care?
I got some interesting insight into the different creative tensions in writing a couple of years ago, when I was asked to write a novelization of Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries. I had just finished a first draft of my novel Sunborn, which for a variety of reasons had been a years-long struggle. The novelization had to be done quickly. But I had a DVD of the miniseries (it had already aired), and I had a shooting script (different in many respects from the final edit). The story was there. The characters were there. I couldn’t change them, and didn’t want to change them. But I had to bring them to life. I had to add dimension and depth where I could, and I had to make scenes make sense that were fine on-screen, whizzing by at the speed of TV, but that on closer examination had issues. It was a writing challenge of a particular kind, and I enjoyed it immensely. But it was a very different experience from writing my own books.
What it was, I think, was that my story-imagining lobes were given a break, while my story-crafting and writing-craft lobes did the heavy lifting for a while. I worked hard, while at the same time, part of my brain was vacationing! And afterward, I came back to the rewrite on Sunborn with better clarity and more energy. Based on feedback from readers so far, I think I did good.
Guess what I’m doing now. That’s right, I’m first-drafting a new novel. Blank White Screen of No Words on the Page. Damn, that’s hard.
By the way, for those of you who might not be regular readers of Pushing a Snake, the book I’m working on now is the fifth volume of The Chaos Chronicles: The Reefs of Time. (Will John Bandicut and Julie Stone find each other again on Shipworld?… and other questions, to be answered.)