The Most UnKindest Cut

All of the best lies are those we tell ourselves.

Julius Caesar thought that his wife’s portentous dreams, the soothsayer’s babblings, and the bad weather were all nothing, that the Ides of March would come and go and he would continue on his path to absolute rule with the help of his good friends in the Senate.

Because my life and goals are rather smaller than Caesar’s, so are my lies. 

“This is happening,” I think to myself as I pass the 10,000 word mark in a new project. “It’s real.”

“No doubt about it,” I say at 20,000 words. “Voice, plot, setting FIRMLY established. Stay on course.”

“One third done,” I think at 30,000 words. “At this point it’s almost time to consider the next project as I bring this one to its inevitable conclusion.

I was at this point recently when I slowed to a crawl, writing nothing, editing bits here and there. It was then when I began to inhabit my own private way-station, a place where fictional characters wait in anxious queues shuffling from gate to narrative gate in search of a destination worth the trouble of the journey. It is a place I cannot write my way out of, where my characters go not to die, but to languish unfinished, their thoughts, their wants and fears forever unexpressed for the simple reason that they are just not making the grade.

It’s not their fault. They’re good characters. Well written, you know, with back stories and lives and voices and relationships. But something has happened that has prevented them from taking over the novel. They are not driving the action, forming their future and leaving narrative wakes that sweep readers along with them, behind just far enough to pique their interest.

And so it begins. The slaughter.

Descriptive paragraphs disappear, chapters are deleted, sub-plots evaporate, settings melt, and characters are proscribed.

“Look, with a spot I damn him,” I say to myself, except that it’s with a keystroke. Shakespeare always comes in handy when there’s deadly work to be done.

Building Rome is hard. Changing Rome is messy. 30,000 words quickly become 20,000. But when the bloody business is concluded, I am free to go new places, free to make new decisions unbeholden to old ones. I may end up in a better place.

If you think about it, if Caesar had made a few more well timed cuts, his ending might have been happier, too.

Another Fine Mess

I have experienced a long period of only partial engagement with writing. 

Some of that was because of a long, warm, sunny summer. I live farther north than most people in the world do, although not at all north in the context of the country in which I live, but winters are inevitable, and always long; summers, then, must not be spent alone in a dark room making up stories.

But a lot of my lack of engagement has come from a lack of feedback about having written. As I discovered a long time ago, writing is easy; getting someone to read what you write is damn difficult. It’s hard to continue crafting characters and planning plots and researching settings if the only arbiter of success is me. Motivation has become an issue.

When you write only for yourself, by choice or not, you have to find a way to convince yourself to keep going. Any way you look at it, there is work involved with writing. I chose in my current project to make choices based on what sounded like the most fun. Setting, character, plot. Whatever sounded like the fun choice would be the direction I headed.

The first two work well given that context. Who wants dull places, times, or characters? Go for sweaty, unfamiliar, exotic, quirky, outspoken, and flamboyant. Why not? 

The plot is the hard one. Rolling boulders, chases and shootouts, an unexpected confrontation with a soused postal worker, maybe even murder hornets all sound good. But these are narrative tight ropes and they are perilous; most often, there is no way to plausibly escape the landslide, the hail of gunfire, or the acid whip of a mother-in-law’s tongue. Murder hornets, I hear, are a bitch. 

Solving a problem with a well-placed stiletto is fun in the short term, but then you have a body on your hands and consequences that are a good deal less fun to mop up. So, the fun choice can be the hardest to write, especially as there are other rules that must be acknowledged. Like, coincidences. Meaning, we don’t want any of those.

As everything has to be cleaned up sooner or later, it’s best not to make a huge mess. At least not right away. 

I suppose one could save it for the very end.

Clean it up in Book Two!

Writing what you WANT to know … sort of.

I was very young when I was born. 

So, I didn’t know very much and understood less. My observations were neither precise nor witty and I didn’t know what a metaphor is … for. 

For quite a few years a lot of life was a bit of a blur.

And the way I lived it, life was not that interesting. A lot of the people were frankly narrow-minded and dull, and those who weren’t probably escaped my attention because maybe I was a little dull myself.

Perhaps that’s why my experience then cannot inform whatever I might like to write about now

Some people say, “Write what you know.” Many people do.

Fair enough. I get it. Experience informs creativity.

But it seems to me that most of us who try to write fiction live in our heads. We don’t necessarily know things, but we WANT to know. And because we want to know we create. Without direct experience, we try to create a way of knowing by discovering or imagining things that we are curious about or people we can empathize with. And then we either have to do as much research as we can stand or just invent everything.

Having been creative does not mean that someone else has not already said what you said and said it better. It’s terrifying, and it’s really a good idea to research what you want to know starting with its treatment in fiction. To see if it has been done to death already.

Now, I’m not taking a big risk here with my little blog that no one will read, but by conducting the briefest of checks, I see that Dan Brown has said exactly what I have, but without my self-deprecating charm. 

What he said was, “You should write something that you need to go and learn about. Make the writing process a learning process for you.” *

That’s probably the whole point. You have to spend a lot of time living in your head, so you have to spend it with something you’re interested in discovering, not something you already know intimately. We all love our spouses, or at least a lot of us do, but we wouldn’t want to spend every minute of the day with them. And then write about it.

A great deal of my fiction writing is not something I have experienced. 

I would not want to have a lot of the experiences I have written about. I have never had to run for my life from a malevolent antagonist. I have never found the body of a murder victim. I have never used a shotgun, never crossed the English Channel in a 20-foot boat, never watched the receding face of someone I’ve pitched off a precipice, never chased a piece of paper in the wind while dodging steel-toothed excavator buckets swinging over my head. But my characters do all of these things.

I have been forced to research without actually being murdered or dismembered or drowned. All of those experiences can wait … at least until after the weekend.

So for all the successful authors who are pressured to keep churning out sequel after sequel, writing what they know over and over and over, well … poor you. And for all the independent authors who keep writing about things they WANT to know, well, good for us. 

We write for ourselves. 

Unless someone pays us to do otherwise.

And you can always make me an offer.

* Temple, E. (2019, April 5). Should You Write What You Know? 31 Authors Weigh In. Literary Hub. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from

Talking to Myself

In Conversation With Me

There have been many times when someone in my family has caught me. My facial expressions give me away, along with that middle-distance look I get. They want to know what I am discussing with myself. I will never say. Those are my private thoughts oozing out through my face and it’s nobody’s business.

Of course, I’m just talking to myself.

It happens when my sub-vocalized storyteller takes over and I’m making a strong expository point or actually arguing both sides of … something.

People who talk to themselves have always faced a certain stigma. The guy who walks down the street talking into an invisible earbud-based phone gives me the creeps. I don’t want to hear his half of whatever conversation cannot wait until such time as he is in a less public place. That annoying guy is not actually talking to himself, though. It just looks that way.

Really talking to yourself is engaging in a debate so familiar to you that you can easily argue both sides. Add purpose, character, humour, emotion and you have a dialogue. A genuine dialogue between people whose goals are different is the heart of a conflict that can drive a narrative.

That means learning to talk to yourself using different points of view is the essence of creative storytelling. You let your characters do the writing and spill the conflict out on the page and ignore all the clever descriptions of facial ticks and chewed fingernails. Put those in later when you know they won’t get in the way. They will help add hue to the colour the dialogue establishes.

I would argue, then, that I am not weird. Or, at least I am not weird for that reason. 

Talking to myself is something I have to do.

And, like a lot of other things, better out than in.