Day 23: January 23, 2017

Almost done! I have a few more days of writing, I think, to finish the first draft of KINGDOM. I am struggling a little with how to tie up everything fully. Writing novels is sometimes an effort to untangle balled-up string, only to tie neatly again after.

Stephen King in his book on writing likened writing a story to an archaeologist unearthing an artifact. I find that analogy apt. There is always a story there and it always has an ending. As a writer, though, we must take care not to damage our find with forceful strokes. The ending we discover sometimes has flaws that we must mend.

In my case, there are some complicated, to me at least, ideas that I let run astray throughout the book. My instincts took me in certain directions, and I trust them, but now I must decipher what they were leading me to. I’ve managed to lay out each string neatly and begun to tie what I hope is a perfect knot to hold them together.

I realize I just totally mangled two different writing metaphors into one mess, but I’m in a hurry. Apologies. Plus I’m excited!

Including this past weekend’s writing, I finished chapters 40 and 41 and began chapter 42. Feeling like a good rush this week will finish it.

Words written today: 1,667
Total for this manuscript: 97,251
Total for 2017: 16,443

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Stephen King and the Ways to Get Distracted

I love Stephen King. And I hate getting into one of his novels.

You see, whenever I start one of King’s novels, I stop writing my own. I recently (finally) got to 11/22/63 and it was essential. I tried audio book for the first time, filling my commute time, and rushed to my car each day to keep going. If you’ve read/listened to the book, you’ll understand: like always with him, the story draws you in so you’re freakishly eager to turn the page (or, in my case, keep listening).

But for the month it took to finish the book (a 30-hour audio), I only wrote a few thousand words. My mind would race with ideas after each listen, but when it came to put down my own writing, the ideas became a jumble. Characters who had become old friends  were suddenly unfamiliar, cold; scenes I had outlined drifted into nebulous dream-states. It was writing as if in a nightmare: you wander a labyrinth-like house, searching for your writing room, and all you feel is terror and confusion.

The month following I wrote on a tear: 5,000 words a day, the sentences flowing with ease. I think back now and know that my psyche needed time to recover, to absorb. It is as if each book I read of his becomes a master class in how to write, a reminder of techniques I’ve culled from him.

No other writer does this to me. Maybe it’s because I started reading his novels when I was 8 years old and would hide under my covers at night with a flashlight. First Carrie, then The Shining, then The Stand. More followed as I got older.  As I began to write myself as a teenager, I modeled my writing (or have tried) after his brand of storytelling: page turning is key; deep establishment of character; heavy anxiety as the story arc progresses.

Maybe it is simply a way to get distracted. It’s not like I can switch off being engrossed in his story and then give mine its due focus. I don’t know about you, but when I am working on a book, I am nearly obsessed with it. My wife will ask me something, but I am in another zone thinking about how Sterling will escape the trap set for him, or why he even went back knowing it was a trap. What does Sophia really think about abandoning Anlon after she learns the truth? Of course my wife has no idea about any of this, and simply sees me staring off, and not answering her question. It most often irritates her. Sigh.

We all know, as writers, that distraction is all too easy. It does not take much. Hell, I am spending time writing this post rather than working on my new novel. But I am wondering if some of these distractions are somehow essential themselves. I think of the time after I finished 11/22/63, and my mind was a streaking meteor. For me, my obsession is so consuming when I work on a novel that a temporary escape is required. In King’s case, that escape is to visit the oracle and learn.

Now if only all my distractions were this fruitful. At least there is King and his Library of Alexandria, where I can rest, read, and nourish myself again and again.

T.M.