Monday 12 April 2021

Hurdles V - A Personal Insight into Writing by Nick Begon

  The dreaded blank page. 

Among various and sundry reasons, that stands out to me as something that hinders my writing. Quite often, I write stories that feature expansive storylines with multiple point of view characters. When starting a new section or chapter, especially a new story, I tend to pause and stare at my screen. I ask myself ‘What the hell am I going to write about’? Even if I know what the plot of the section is, I just can’t bring myself to start typing. Maybe a single word, like the POV character’s name, just to remind me what’s going in there. 

For me, one of the most difficult aspects of writing is bridging the gap between pure ideas that swim in our brain pans and tangible gatherings of text on a page. When I first dream up a story or character or fictional world, they exist in perfect bliss. Like celestial beings free from the turmoil of mortal existence. Taking those ideas and putting them on the page is, in essence, sacrificing the celestials’ incorporeal beauty and transforming it into an altogether different form. All of it is art. But so often, it gets distorted when we make our ideas reality. The characters don’t feel real. The flow of the story feels awkward and stunted. 

So, one thing I do is limit myself to writing a sentence, or a paragraph. Then I leave that particular piece alone and move on to another one. When I return the next day, there’s something on the page. The ball has started rolling. I have something to work with, which gets my fingers flying across the keyboard. And that brings me to another thing that hinders my writing. 

I’m a very organized person. If a chair is askew, I go out of my way to straighten it. I like my computer table and my bedroom arranged in a specific way that I don’t like changed. I also prefer things to be in a logical/chronological order. A is followed by B which is followed by C. For a long time after I started writing, I strictly wrote everything from beginning to end. Chapter 1, then Chapter 2, then Chapter 3. No exceptions. This caused problems along the way. I would end up staring at the blank screen, unwilling –and even dreading– working on a scene of dialogue or exposition. The problem came to me after I’d delved into several writing podcasts and attended a few conferences in Calgary and Surrey, B.C. I didn’t want to work on the next logical segment because I was too busy getting excited about a segment that happens much later in the narrative. It could be an action scene, the introduction of a new character, or anything. So, a few years ago, I gave myself permission to jump around as needed. I still try to stick to logical progression, but if I have an itch to write something, even if it’s the climax of the story, I go ahead and write it. Once it’s out of my system, I can go back and work on the thing I wasn’t as excited for. 

My brain doesn’t think small. I don’t just think of stories, I think of novels. Those novels become part of a series. That series becomes part of a connected universe a la Marvel or the Cosmere. I’ve been seriously pursuing writing since I started university in fall of 2013. By Odin’s beard, I feel old now! Anyway, for me, my dream job is to write for a living. Getting paid to work on novels every day is my ultimate goal in life. I have long-term plans, the shortest of which is ‘finish this novel’. 

I get excited about all my stories. Whether it’s the characters or the cool magic system or the unique worldbuilding, I love them all for one reason or another. I want to write them, to get to that point of typing THE END and getting that satisfaction that I actually completed something. But, while I try to enforce at least some writing done every single day, I continually get frustrated by not making enough progress. ‘I wrote 1,000 words today, but I didn’t finish this chapter, and there’s 30 to go! What the hell is wrong with you?’ It’s a problem I face on a regular basis, because I get disappointed I’m not finishing something I can show to my friends and family, or submit to an agent or editor. I have to remind myself that, yes, these things take time. The key is to manage my expectations and focus on the fact that I am still getting work done. Even if I only manage 500 words a day (which is still a good amount for anyone, and sometimes I don’t do that much), I can churn out a novel within a year. As much as I would like to check whole novels and series off my to-do-list, I know I don’t have to rush. As long as I keep the promise to myself to write at least a bit every day, I can finish a project. The story wants to be told, and I’m just the instrument. 

Just like every writer that ever lived, I’ve got insecurities when it comes to my writing. Those manifest in things like fear of blank pages or unwillingness to write out of order or frustration at apparent lack of progress. All these things are merely my own brain creating convenient excuses not to write. It’s a matter of overcoming my own self-doubt and keeping my hands on my keyboard. 

Sometimes, you just have to take a leap of faith and start writing. Even if it is bad, you still get words on the page. 

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