Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Process and Emotion

I’ve been thinking about the role that my emotion plays in writing.

Now I’m not the overly emotional type when it comes to writing. I’m horribly pragmatic about it. So pragmatic that few things irritate me more than folks asking about Process with a capital P.

(This is different from
process, which just means, how do you get your thoughts on paper?)

But there are those who mean Process. And that irritates me because Process implies glamour, genius, and weekly dates with your Muse who gushes about your prose and how you surprise even her.

Capital-P Process is a horrible concept because writing is really just ... writing. It isn’t glamorous and you rarely feel like a genius. In fact, you learn all the ways in which you are far from genius. Your Muse arrives only after you’ve been pounding out dreck for quite some time, hoping to discover the heart of a scene.

Even then, she’s a little tetchy and asks for a cup of coffee because you can’t expect her to look at your work until she’s had a bit of caffeine.

The process (lowercase p, mind you!) of writing isn’t always euphoric. As Nathan Bransford blogged, it's often more about
willpower than anything else.

And yet...

I’m learning that the best part of my stories are the ones that engaged me on a deep emotional level. I know I’m on the right track when I’ve gone over a scene a million times, and hit the point where I care.

We all have those scenes that wrote themselves and just
sing. But I also have just as many scenes- scenes necessary to the story- that are easy to leave at good enough, at merely well-written. I’m learning to do some unglamorous digging until I find that one aspect that moves me to curiosity, anger, or compassion.

Because, really, if I was bored writing the scene, why won’t a reader be bored reading it? Yes, writing is about the process of getting (and keeping!) your butt in a chair. But the point of that work is capturing scenes that speak to the heart and mind.

Writing should never be an choice between work or emotion. It should always be about both.

So what about you? What role does emotion play in your writing? How do you keep at it day after day until things are just right? I’d love to know how you do it. It’s amazing all the different ways we get our stories on the page.


Tess said...

oh, if it were as easy as a few words to explain this ... you've done well here, Sarah. But, I can't say how I marry the two. Some days it comes on its own, some days I pull it kicking and screaming from the recesses of my mind. But, I think -- in the end -- it doesn't matter how it got there. as long as it is there. oh, lordy lord ... I hope it is there!

Sarah said...

I hear you, Tess! I don't care how the good stuff gets there as long as it shows up. Goodness knows I go through quite a few drafts searching for it.

And speaking of good stuff... Michelle and I were talking about With a Name Like Love today. Can't wait till that comes out!

Christine Fonseca said...

SO SO SO true! Love this post!

Steena Holmes said...

Boy did you hit it on the head! I tend to write, delete, write, delete, drink a pot of coffee and then eat chocolate only then to come back and rewrite everything I previously wrote. I'll leave it for a bit and then BAM - 2:00am and it hits me ... except I forget about it at 9:00am and I have to redo the whole process over :)

Sarah said...

Thanks, Christina! Can you tell I'm in the middle of sorting through a particularly difficult chapter?

Steena, I'm so with you about going over and over something. How could I have forgotten the role of chocolate in all of this? Thanks for reminding us of that crucial aspect of writing. : )

Michelle said...

Steena, I do the write and delete cycle too! During NaNoWriMo, I had to tape a piece of paper over the screen to prevent me from reading what I had written. It worked! (Oh, and I had a dish of chocolates on the desk the whole time!)

KM said...

If only I could surprise my muse and make her squeal with delight. That doesn't happen. I can be emotional in my writing in that I have a love-hate with any of my WIP's - sometimes, I can't get enough of them and other times, we're not speaking.

You described this really well. Great job!

Sarah said...

So true,Katie. I can swing between love and hate in the same period of time. I'm learning that writing is often that way with me. I'll hate the revision I'm working on up to when I discover what I should actually do about it. Then, of course, I'll be infatuated for hours. : )

Amy Tate said...

What a Powerful post! (Capital p) So true. Writing is a balance between willpower and emotion, and when those two collide, great things happen.

Andrea Franco-Cook said...

Great post Sarah. It is spot on. On days when my muse has taken a sick day, I find writing is like pulling teeth. These are the times when sheer willpower gets me through. Like Steena, I do a lot of writing and deleting.

Sarah said...

Thanks, Amy and Andrea!