First off, I had so many wonderful words of congratulations when I posted about chunking out 8,000 words a day. I figured it was time for a follow up. What do you do with the 50,000 mass-o-words? Well, I got out my big notebook and I drew out a plot sequence, a massive visual outline, so to speak. I know who the killer is, and where to plant the clues, I have the big finale worked out and then I started working on each individual scene.
As I wrote the pages, I was so thrilled, because I had the conflict worked out, I even figured out the “staging” in the scene, where the characters are in the room, who is sitting, who is standing, how that affects their interactions with each other. I’m very pleased with the work and have produced a little over 10,000 words of the new draft.
And then. And then, as promised, I took one of the first scenes to my mother and read it out loud to her. Aye-soos Maria, but did it just sound like crap. The stage directions that I’d been so proud of were clunky and distracting. The dialogue sounded wooden, both characters sounded the same, it didn’t sound like you were listening to two different people. Some of the lines were pretty good, but some of them were just clichéd. Argh!
My first instinct was to let it go, that I need to re-write the full manuscript and get that done and then by the time I’d finished the rest of the 70,000 or so words, I’d be better at this, so when I got back to that crappy scene, I’d be able to fix it. But, then the other side of me said, “how the hell are you gonna get any better if you don’t fix these problems right now?”
As you can see from that paragraph, I’ve been plagued by one of the artists’ worst enemies: The Doubt Malingerers.
But I want to address the Doubt Malingerer. Isn’t he an ugly sucker? Malinger comes from the French and the verb form means: to pretend illness, especially in order to shirk one’s duty, avoid work, etc. The Doubt Malingerers attack when you least expect it. They seem to hit just at the moment when you think you’re finally on to something, that you’ve come a long way and you have worked hard to learn your craft. Then damn it, they suck the life out of your enthusiasm, and leave a nasty poison in your soul which leads to thoughts of: “Who the hell do you really think you are Missy? Oh, you think someone REALLY wants to read this garbage. Go ahead, look at the books you love, is your drivel ANYTHING close to that Edgar Winning writers’ work??? Hmmm. Oh, we think someone has put on her big girl pants and she’s walking the walk…. Oh heavens no. She’s just too big for those britches…. She thinks she’s going to be the next best seller…. No, I don’t think so!
My friend Mark Travis calls those voices of doubt, The Committee. Trust me, we all have a Committee. They are filled with the voices of Doubt and Doom and Gloom. They can be the voices of real people in our lives or from our past. They could be voices of the people we imagine will just hate us, just because. Just because we’re trying to do better, we don’t want to settle for ho-hum, predictable, formulaic pabulum. I think these voices have plagued artists from the get-go. How many times have we heard of painters who abandoned wonderful works of art, simply because those voices drowned out the still small voice that is always there to say: “It’s okay. You won’t get it all at once. It’s okay. Keep working. You will get there.”
This got me to thinking and I remembered that Elizabeth George, yes the wonderful, prolific, amazing Elizabeth George suffered attacks from the Doubt Malingerers. In her book, “Write Away” she begins one of her chapters with a passage from one of her journals:
“ I am filled with doubts. Why isn’t Steinbeck filled with doubts? I think he’s had one lousy day of doubt throughout the time of East of Eden. Is it because he has so many outside interests? Probably. I have so few. I’ve never been a hobby person, and when I start working on a project, all I can think of is finishing the damn thing. And there’s Steinbeck, building desks, carving oars for his sons, buying a boat, decorating his little house in New York. Should a future Nobel Laureate have a little more angst? I’d certainly appreciate it.” Journal of a Novel October 12, 1994
I also found some solace from Julia Cameron, known for her tremendous work, “The Artist’s Way” she also wrote, “The Right to Write,” and here is what she says:
“My own experience is that somewhere around two thirds of the way through a piece I suddenly see what the writing was driving at. I see the patterns that have been set up and I get an idea where everything is heading. This point is a scary one. Now that “I” know what “I” am doing, I begin to worry that “I” might not be able to pull it off. In other words, my ego wakes up. No longer content to let the writing write through me, it suddenly demands control. It wants this book to be “good.” This is the point that I call “The Wall.” All Writers know it.”
Yes indeed. The Wall. The Doubt Malingerers. Fear. Resistance. The Committee. It all comes, no matter how hard you try to prepare yourself for it. Here is Cameron’s solution:
“When we insist on being great, the Wall stops us. When we are willing to be humble, we wriggle our way under the Wall and back to the glee of writing freely. By being willing to write “badly,” we free ourselves to write — and perhaps write very well. “
With that said, I think I have a strategy that might just work when those Doubt Malingerers show up. Maybe they only show up when you have done something good. Maybe they are just jealous because they didn’t come up with that snappy bit of dialogue. Maybe they’re here to mooch, because they never had the balls (or the ovaries) to sit their butts down in the chair and write. Whattaya think about that, you losers?
Wow! I think I’m on to something. Maybe they just need a swift kick in the tuchas. So, give thanks to the Malingerers for stopping by, but I’m sending you on your way. Go hang out with the Pixies and the next time you show up, I’ll be ready for you. Here is my new tool for dealing with you, it is the great sword “I May Not be Great, but I Don’t Suck!” I’ll use it to cut those Malingerers down to size. With this in hand, I’ll go back and write some more, good or bad, but I’ll get it done.
What do you think? Have you had an attack of the Doubt Malingerers lately? If so, you are welcome to borrow my Sword of Non-suckage. It’s cheap, all you need to do is leave a comment and tell me when you’re going to return it.
Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m sorry my posts have been few and far between, but as you can see I’ve had a lot on my hands. At least I do have one hobby, fun with Photoshop. Another good solution to dealing with the Doubt Malingerers is to go and play with your other toys. It helps to stoke up the fires of inspiration.