The Barrow

2/18/09

As Good As It Gets

I hate to complain, but here goes. I’m completing the final volume (Prince of Storms) in a big-story-arc series, The Entire and The Rose. Storm is going great except for a recent vexing issue.

I had to write a scene where a heroic figure behaves like a complete ass. (Where was Joe Abercrombie when I needed a coach?) It was in the character’s make-up to respond to the particular circumstances in this way, but he also is tastelessly enjoying being very mean to an old woman. But he’s still got be, you know, kind of heroic too.

This scene had me stumped. Every time I thought about it, I’d gag. I’d never had writers’ block before, but I did now. I was under the weather, had a bunch of non-writing obligations. I had lots of excuses not to write. But everyday day I’m worrying about this scene. Then, when I could procrastinate no longer, I sat down and wrote the damn thing, hating every minute of it. At first.

I fiddled with the first sentence. How does the storm wall look at this moment? Wind blowing? OK, good. Nah, let’s not. Fidgeting done, I sat in one place for an hour and a half and just smoked on this thing. I hardly paused in my typing. When done, I thought the piece was so true for that character, and a pretty good scene. OK, I thought it was a great one.

Afterwards I wondered where the scene came from. Don’t worry, I still don’t know. But there’s this: a scene like that would have been out of my reach even a few years ago. And it’s not that I think I’m such a good writer now. A long time ago I gave up trying to assess my talent, a pointless exercise, plus stupid. No, I think the remarkable thing about the scene was not that I’m writing at the top of the game, but at the top of mine.

I recently heard Malcolm Gladwell interviewed for his book Outliers. Tuning it out, I missed his real point—which I gather has more to do with how successful people rise on a tide of advantages. But in passing he said that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. I reflected how I’ve probably written 1,000 hours/year for the last ten years. And this has resulted in my brain wiring itself to write a scene about a self-sacrificing hero who has a very bad hair day. This ability may seem unremarkable to some. But to me it was a cool insight, and may excuse many of my failings in life. (OK, that goes a bit far.) But as I heard George R. R. Martin say once, those parts of the brain that most people use for normal living, we writers use for making up stories.

I’m not saying this is good. Just that it got me out a jam. And too, if you’re just starting out writing and hating your work: 10,000 hours. 10,000 hours.

3 comments:

mjholt said...

Very Interesting. I am so looking forward to these novels.

Jessica Strider said...

You probably don't do memes, but I've 'nominated' you for the Kreativ Blogger on my site:
scififanletter.blogspot.com/2009/02/kreativ-blogger-meme.html

I love reading your posts!

Kay Kenyon said...

To MJH: I would love for you to read them. I tried to live up to the artwork! (Hi, btw)

To JS: I think you're referring to Lou here... He and the young Turks he's gathered around himself are just frighteningly brainy!