The twenty-thousand word wall
By Antoinette di Michele
I was a third of the way into my writing, and coincidentally the writing course I’m on, when it all seemed to fall apart. The story wasn’t leading anywhere dramatic enough, it was petering out. I was out of words. They warned me this could happen. So now what?
At first I sat for hours everyday, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote a 5,000-word plan. I wrote the first 20,000 words without breaking a sweat. It was incredible. I read them. I reread them. I read them again. I was stuck. Everything stopped. Nothing else was there.
Then the class reviewed my first chapter. The level of professionalism put me instantly at ease. A round table is an incredibly useful part of the process. This goes for any good idea. Fourteen well-read storytellers – problem solvers too – agreed unanimously on certain items and divided completely on others. My next chapter was reviewed four weeks later, and the feedback was even better, more specific. The class pinpointed an overarching issue: I’m struggling with POV.
I like to think of myself as a craftsman; I imagine I am a chef. If everyone thinks my dish is too salty, then the real beauty of my dish isn’t shining through. When the room divides, and it will, this is where the real work (and conviction) for the craftsman, the writer, begins. How and what do you choose to hear, to rework, and to rewrite? The questions confirm your confidence or reveal your doubts, and your doubts speak to answers that you don’t yet have – decisions you will need to make. The questions raise questions (and more questions) before you get to any answers, and those answers (and that process) is what will make you the writer you know you want to be. It’s no easy task. It’s incredibly overwhelming. This is usually the moment you think you are having a heart attack.
I did what I usually do in times like these: I got on the horn. I sent SOS e-mails to my fellow writers and friends. I asked not what I could do for this crisis, but what this crisis could do for my book. Never waste a good crisis or a crisis state of mind.
I asked for help with research, and our program director, Anna, connected me immediately with an amazing person to interview for information I needed. I asked for additional feedback in specific areas from my classmates, and they all wrote back. I gave myself permission to write badly – at least to get the story out (whatever it takes to write). I wrote notes and more plans. I read more, and more widely.
The trouble with writing is the writing. A good idea is one thing, but the process, the ability to execute, research, rewrite, “kill your darlings,” knead the words you keep, push through walls and the sickening black fog of self doubt – that is the job.
If you want to be a writer, you need to ask yourself one question: do I want to be a writer? And then: really? If the answer is still yes, pass ‘Go,’ collect $200 (NB: this is a metaphoric $200). Enter your own Act Two with purpose and direction. Writing is the first step, the next step; it’s every step. You’re making progress even when you don’t think you are as long as you stick with the work.
About the Author
Antoinette di Michele is currently in London as the Kobo Scholar on the Curtis Brown Creative 3-month course on novel writing. She is at work on her book for her family and friends, the patrons of her art.