A Writer’s Despair

angeldespairI can’t think straight. My mind is in turmoil. I don’t know what to do. Who to talk to. How to move forward. Nothing is working. Feel like I’m suffocating under the weight that’s bearing down on me. It’s relentless. Can’t shift it. Can’t see through it. Can’t call for help cause I can’t trust anyone. I think it might be... all over.

Luckily, these sentiments do not belong to me. Well, not exactly. They’re inside my head, and driving me crazy. But they belong to someone else.

I’m in writing mode. At least, I’m supposed to be. But the main character in the novel I’m currently writing is doing my head in. He is stuck. And I have a deadline of the end of February––11 days––to get this manuscript finished.

My writing process is complex. Sometimes the word flow is prolific. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. My characters are usually good at letting me know where they need to go. And often this is different to where the original plot suggested they should go. And mostly, that’s okay. I’m happy to follow their direction because they don’t often steer me wrong.

But this character is confused. Very confused. He is confronting some very challenging issues and he’s hurting. He is fighting for his survival, and his sanity. I just wish he’d figure it out quicker. Because really, he needs to get out of my head now.

To anyone other than another writer, it may sound like I am losing the plot. But the plot has already been subverted by this character. A few times now. I’m ready to tear this manuscript to shreds. Or plot my protagonists death. A long and painful one. Or maybe I should begin a whole new novel. A nice adventure story about unicorns or something.

I usually have a bit more patience with my characters, and once they’ve established their voice strongly enough, I allow them to direct the narrative arc themselves. But, I’ve been working on this manuscript for a year now; I’m almost at the end. Though it still fits into the YA genre, it’s a bit darker than my previous two manuscripts. My protagonist, Ben, has decided to have a complete meltdown. And a character in tantrum mode is enough to drive any writer mad.

Writing the last few chapters of a novel is hard at the best of times. Really hard. You have to do justice to your characters while maintaining the integrity of the narrative arc, all the while tying up any loose ends around your minor plot points, and resolving unanswered questions––satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily.  You have to be satisfied that the end of the book is worthy of the all the work you’ve put into it. That your characters have been challenged and grown through it and changed in some way. And that they’re ready to say goodbye.

Ben is not ready to say goodbye. That’s the problem. He is holding too tight to something I’m yet to identify. A wall he can’t let down, a barrier that’s still invisible to me. Once he lets me in just a little further, I’ll be able to finish. But the more I push, the further he retreats. He is fighting me all the way. And I am running out of time.

Only another writer would get it. The rest of the world may be concerned for my sanity.

Teaching, writing, fear, and children.

ipad n booksI love teaching writing to children and young adults. There is something incredibly powerful about encouraging a young person to enhance their communication skills.

There is a lot of concern among teachers at the moment about the future of writing. These kinds of discussions seem to come up at the beginning at every school year, and as our school year (here in Australia) has just begun, so too have the conversations. Teachers worry that children are losing the art of written communication, that social media is diluting, if not destroying, the written word. They lament the loss of kids’ handwriting. They see that handwriting lessons at school are often the only time a student actually uses a pencil or pen. They know that kids don’t get the opportunity to practice their handwriting because most other things are done using computer technology – be it tablets or laptops, game consoles or ipods. Teachers (rightly) recognise that typing is becoming a more important skill than handwriting in enabling kids to communicate effectively online. And online is where the majority of all written communication is occurring.

Personally I don’t see too much of a problem with it. It’s just another morphing of reading and writing in the contemporary context. Fear is what usually drives concern. There is a fear that if children can’t use a pen to write, they will lose the ability to meaningfully engage with society. But writing is no longer about just using a pen or pencil. And to engage meaningfully with society in the 21st century, it is imperative that children are able to communicate effectively online, both formally and informally.

Throughout the ages fear has always accompanied change. Way back in 370BC, Plato recorded a conversation between Socrates and Phaedrus where Socrates, a great thinker and philosopher of the time, lamented the loss of intelligence among the masses if the populace was taught to read. He thought that “learning to read would result in the “appearance of wisdom, but not true wisdom.” Just over a thousand years later, the invention of the printing press brought the similar fear of a “dilution of the intellectual capital of the time.” Another thousand years and television was the culprit. People called it the ‘idiot box’ and feared that too much viewing would lead to the simplification of the mind. Luckily, none of these fears have been realised.

In fact, each metamorphosis that reading and writing has undergone has resulted in a greater, more stimulating, encompassing literacy with which to educate, including teaching children to write. It’s exciting to see look back over the bigger picture and see the changes. And see how we, as a society, have survived those changes. And thrived.

I love teaching writing to children and young adults. There is something incredibly powerful about encouraging a young person to enhance their communication skills.