Priorities

“I’ll let you in on a little secret: writing a book is hard. Really hard. Nobody knew how hard writing a book could be.”

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Me, lounging on a chair, reading and not having cancer.

Greetings, gentle reader. It’s been a while since I wrote my last blog entry. I have a good excuse, though: I had cancer.

Had being the operative word. My oncologist went to Defcon 1 with the chemoradiation and then I had surgery and then they did other stuff that almost killed me but didn’t and now I’m just taking a chemo pill to wipe out the last few cancer cells.

I was off work for two and a half months, during which I had planned to make progress on JEZILLA. I had the idea that I would use dictation and speech recognition to brainstorm and create high-level content.  All I had to do was lie in my bed and talk. How hard could it be?

Heh.

Let me tell you what I did during those two and a half months:

  1. jack
  2. squat

When I wasn’t sleeping or watching TV with my eyes glazed over, I was in some doctor’s office getting poked and weighed and told what to do. It was soul crushing. JEZILLA fell to the wayside.

* * *

A little bit of background on me: As a kid I was positively addicted to reading. I loved it so much, I spent all day at school secretly reading a library book concealed on my lap instead of following class lessons. The real world bored me and lots of things about it seemed fucked up and wrong.

To this day, reading is my favorite past time. For the past ten years, I’ve read science fiction and fantasy exclusively. I think of each book as a delightful escape from the real world. One day it occurred to me that I liked sci fi/fantasy so much, I should try writing some.

Having two degrees in Creative Writing, one in fiction and the other in non-fiction, I felt more than qualified for the task. I started a young adult novel about a boy wizard with anger issues who is really crappy at magic. He gets kicked out of magic school because he punched a unicorn.

I wrote six chapters. Then I crashed and burned. I had nothing.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: writing a book is hard. Really hard. Nobody knew how hard writing a book could be. 😉 I thought I could replicate the process that I used for writing my memoir. But as it turns out, writing a fiction novel is nothing like writing a memoir, even when that memoir has vivid characters, lots of scenes, and a theme.

So I put my dysfunctional boy wizard on hold and started to research plot development for fictional novels. I drew arcs on paper and penciled in my plot points at the appropriate places. After many aborted attempts, I switched to outlines. Nope. Then I tried index cards. Double nope.

For some reason, I was incapable of creating and committing to a fully-developed plot. It boxed me in and created paralyzing anxiety, which was weird because in my job, I prefer to plan out my writing. I map and outline everything and I’m fastidious about grouping and hierarchy. It would seem, however, that beneath my plotter facade lurks a pantser yearning to be free.

In desperation, I bought On Writing by Stephen King. I’d heard other writers gush about it for years. OMG OMG it’s the bestest book on writing EVERRRRRRRRR. I was skeptical, but I went ahead and downloaded it to Kindle. If you haven’t read it, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version:

Just write. Then keep writing. You’ll figure it out.

Normally, advice like that would make me scream and tear out my hair. I mean, c’mon man. TELL US YOUR SECRET. But King’s minimalist approach comes from the following assumption: If you’re an avid reader, you know how to write a book because you’ve internalized the rules for story telling.

Reading that was liberating. It allowed me to trust that I knew what I was doing and not worry about conforming to some expert-approved formula. It gave me permission to just be myself.

I put away the books on writing (except for On Writing) and I just wrote stuff that I thought was funny or interesting and the words came easily.  And why not? Over my lifetime, I’ve read and re-read hundreds of books. The knowledge was in me. I just had to dig a little.

I’m now 40,000 words into JEZILLA. It’s taken two years to get there but I’m extremely happy with the material. When I started the book, I vowed to treat it as a hobby and not turn it into a second job. I told myself not to worry if my novel ever got published because my goal was simply to find out if I could write one.

Still, having cancer and the serious medical complications that came with it made me realize that I could not afford to drag my feet anymore. I had to set a deadline for completing JEZILLA, just in case (God forbid) I went to the Big Library In the Sky sooner than expected.

I aim to finish by December 2017. It took me two years to write the first half; now I’m giving myself six months to write the rest. Wish me luck.

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