The perks of being a writer

I’m struggling with Vestal. Actually, struggle sounds noble compared to what is really going on. Self-Portrait-White-BackgroundStruggle implies battle, as though I’ve been charging headlong into the pages, and even if I’ve suffered losses (time and mostly more time), that I’ve also gained ground. Reality is more along the lines of sequestering myself in the art room with my 50-pound binder of notes and trying to write something that I believe matters. Then, when the words refuse to flow, turning to a Thesaurus and getting lost discovering new words, or rediscovering old ones that I once enjoyed and then forgot about.

And then Facebook. Woe betide the writer stuck in a creative mire who has Facebook accessible. It’s not Facebook’s fault that it’s there and my dumb brain is stupidly stuck.

I know what it is. It’s the first person. I’ve never written in first person. I can count on one hand the number of books that I truly enjoy that were written in first person. And mostly, the ones I did appreciate, were more owing the story than the writing. I seem to have this block when it comes to first person.

My solution was to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Catcher in the Rye back to back. I’m not sure whether it worked; I haven’t had time yet today to knock out my requisite 1,000 words. But am I feeling confident? Not so much. I did, however, enjoy The Perks of Being a Wallflower a lot more than I thought I would, even if I’m embarrassed about adding a book with a movie cover to my library. That sort of writing, that sort of story, will never be my cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of recognizing something that’s well done. And it’s not as if I’m going out on a limb saying so, since it’s already a popular and fairly well known book.

The truth is, in order to make first person work you have to truly trust your character. So much that your reader will trust them as well, even if they don’t like your protagonist. I love my characters. Emily, my protagonist in Scourge of the Righteous Haddock, is as close as I’ll ever come to having a daughter. And when I look back on the finished product, I would argue that I trust her. But did I trust her when it most mattered, when I was still in the process of telling her story? Probably not. Because that really meant trusting myself. And I’m in my head enough to know that it’s not a terribly interesting space to occupy. It’s actually kind of terrifying. Most of the time it most resembles a Hogwarts class in which the students are learning to use “expelliarmus” but with really large objects, so desks and people are flying about at random, and sometimes an owl swoops by and takes a shit as it goes, just because it can. Some of the time, it’s dead silent and a tumbleweed goes tumbling by. My brain is simply too barren for the tumbleweed to do anything other than tumble. That’s how sad it is.

But I will not acknowledge defeat, mostly because I can’t shake the idea that this point will come in nearly every book I’ll write. I’ll have 50,000 words on the page and suddenly the ground beneath my feet will be gone and I’ll be thrashing in a foreign sea and, worse, I’ll have forgotten how to breathe. Moving on to the next book doesn’t erase the sea. It merely delays my next encounter with it, which might sound positive, but as long as the sea exists, it’s going to stand between me and my goal: finishing this book. Publishing it. Giving Scourge of the Righteous Haddock a sibling.

The photo by the way, is a self-portrait by Colin Rigley. I was in the house while he took it, and somehow never noticed that he had stuffed a bunch of pens in his ears and mouth and god knows where else. Thank the spaghetti gods I’m not the only neurotic crazy type in the house. I truly wonder what projects the cats undertake while we are gone.



  1. I love this post; it is so inspiring to a fellow writer, and someone with a literary blog! You really bring up some great points about the writer’s lifestyle, points I can definitely relate to. Great post!

  2. I’m also writing a book in the first person. I find it very difficult to bring the character to life. I like what you say about having to trust the character. It’s a great tip about paging through a dictionary; I think I should do that more!

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