The problem with writing is that you seem to spend the majority time doing things other than writing: research (the great thing about writing a novel about King Arthur is that watching Camelot counts as research), plotting, and most of all, not-writing. I spend a great deal of time not-writing. Like the other night. The other night, I not-wrote for hours. I hear the question coming, wait for it. . . Ah, here it is: what’s not-writing? I’ve never heard of it.
Relax. You haven’t missed anything. I only coined the term myself a couple of hours ago.
Not-writing is when you open your document and scroll to the bottom of the last page. You read the last few sentences to remember exactly what has already happened in the scene. Then you freeze. My character just sat down, you think. What could he possibly do after accomplishing such a climatic task? You stare at the screen, hoping that if you squint long enough, the nine Muses will materialize in the room and tell you what to write.
You realize that you’ve been sitting there for five minutes and the document title at the top of the screen still says the manuscript is unmodified. So you type ‘the’. Good, that’s a good beginning. You’ve written, you’ve broken past the blank page syndrome. Life is looking good.
Then it occurs to you that something has to come after ‘the’. But what could happen? The what? Maybe you write, ‘The man got up to fix himself a sandwich’, or ‘The army of goblins stormed city hall’.
But wait. You haven’t mentioned armies of goblins yet, so you couldn’t write ‘The army of goblins’. It would have to be ‘An army of goblins’. So you delete ‘the’ and type ‘an’. Good. Now you could write about your goblins. Mind, you haven’t decided that you will, it’s just that you wanted to leave that option open.
There’s still only one word.
So you think this isn’t working very well. Maybe you should start your sentence with a character’s name. How about the main character’s kid? You type his name–Sonny–and feel rather proud of yourself. See, now you have direction. You know what this sentence is going be about. Um, maybe you don’t. You know who it’s going to be about at least. You still need ideas, so you scroll up through pages you’ve already written. Maybe you’ll get some inspiration, or least encouragement. You spot a typo–a missing apostrophe–and insert the correct punctuation. Now what were you doing? Oh yes, trying to figure out what your sentence is going to be about. Obviously, this tactic isn’t working, so you go back down to the line with the ominous blinking cursor that tells you it’s waiting for letters to type.
You stare at ‘Sonny’ for a long minute, then glance back up at what happened earlier in the scene. You notice that you just used the name Sonny only two sentences ago. You can’t use it again so soon, that would be repetitious. You delete ‘Sonny’ and type instead ‘The kid’. Much better. You haven’t used that sobriquet in–you scroll back up to check–eleven pages. Now you only have one problem: What does the kid actually do?
You chew your lip. You ruminate. You get up and grab an Oreo. You switch your iTunes playlist from Owl City to Five for Fighting. You open spider solitaire, telling yourself it’s only to keep your hands busy while your mind concentrates on the problem. Suddenly you hear John Ondrasik sing a line about naivety. Ah, you’ve got it!
You type, ‘The kid smiled naively, unaware of Rudy’s intentions.’ Ha! A period. You have now written an entire sentence. You start to feel rather proud of yourself. Perhaps you can write after all. Then you look down at the clock, see that it’s thirteen minutes to midnight, and realize that one sentence took an hour and a half.
You wonder if this ever happened to Shakespeare as you carefully save your one sentence and shut the computer off.
That’s not-writing. Of course, I don’t do it all the time. After all, I wrote this, didn’t I?
Namarië from the Tale-Weaver.