Writing as an Act of Faith: A Case Study

I have to admit, over the past year writing fiction has been much more difficult that previously. Months ago, I thought I was days away from finishing my novel—only I couldn’t quite seem to get those last few scenes written. I wasn’t sure exactly how they would play out, which made it extremely difficult to actually sit down and write.

However, I promised my son I would do NaNoWriMo with him this year—which means I am sitting down to write for an hour every day whether or not I feel like I have anything to say.

As a result, I’ve rediscovered a truth about writing that I’d managed to forget during this past year: Writing is an act of faith. If you sit down at the page—even if you feel like you have nothing to give—nearly every time, your Muse will produce something remarkable.

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Case in point: yesterday, I had a pen and notebook and was brainstorming a scene while waiting for a dentist appointment. I was early, so I knew I had some time, but I had ZERO inspiration. Nonetheless, I started writing:

Scene: in mine.

They go down the ramp and it’s all cool and exciting. Otto’s distracted; Elliot feels weird because he has the urge to shift. Maybe the SD is bearing down on Webb first and Elliot figures what the heck, if I have to shift, make it count… How do you write a good climax? Maybe the key is to have your theme pull it through—winning by conquering your inner demon blah blah blah.

At this point, I put down my pen, looked up at the ceiling, and said to myself, why am I bothering with this? I have nothing to give here. I’m writing worthless gobbledegook—what’s the point?

Because, another voice answered, writing is an act of faith. Every time you feel this way, if you just keep writing, you’re surprised at the result.

So, with a martyred sigh, I picked up my pen and kept writing whatever (stupid, I thought) words happened to come into my head.

1. Down ramp. 2. Seeing the mine. 3. Generator. 4….

And then—something shifted. I caught a snatch of conversation and the scene came alive in my head. My pen raced to capture the events I imagined unfolding.

“Oh, there’s something I should possibly have mentioned,” Otto says. “There might be some sort of Guardian down here.”

[He casts a spell to protect them from the approaching monster—an invisible sphere? Or maybe a wizard’s hedge like earlier]

“Where’s Webb?” Otto demands.

“He’s outside! You have to let him in!”

“I can’t,” he snaps. “Not without taking the entire thing down.”

And just like that, I had my answer to the scene problem. Okay, the prose isn’t beautiful, and the scene probably makes no sense whatsoever without context, but I’d been stuck there for quite some time with no idea how to get from Point A (the scene’s beginning) to Point B (the next planned event). Actually, I won’t be going to Point B because the writing process often takes you in unexpected directions, and in this case the unexpected direction is much better than the original plan.

Writing requires faith: faith that it’s worth it, faith to keep writing even when you’re sure you have nothing to say, and faith that the ugly prose that first hits the page will, someday and somehow, transform into a story worth telling. When I remember this, I keep writing.

What about you? Do you think writing requires a leap of faith?

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In case you missed it, I’ve been writing about how writers can collaborate with others (writers, readers, spouses, fans) to supercharge their creative process. You can read previous posts here and here. If you’re working with other people, coordination is key   e_monk, Flickr There’s no question about it: collaboration has its downsides. It’s tough […]

Comments

  1. says

    Oh. My. Gosh. Does it ever!!! You know what I love? Is when things like that hit when we least expect it. I’m so glad you worked through your bump.

  2. says

    Hi Julie! Glad to hear I’m not the only one :). I think the surprise gifts of creative inspiration make up for the frustration of feeling stuck!

  3. says

    Oh, Lord yes! I often say that so much of figuring things out for fiction happens in the writing, the trick is getting yourself to write. Of course, I have to remind myself of this all the time!

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