I’m frustrated. With myself. sigh…
I am a writer. I love to write. But I also love to read. These days I find more of my time is being spent in reading about writing, reading blogs by other writers, and reading for my own pleasure and research than I do actually writing.
Who would’ve ever thought my love of reading would keep me from writing?
The second half of my frustration with myself is the fact that I love to create stories and characters. You wouldn’t think that would be a problem for a writer, but I’m here to tell you it’s becoming a major distraction. I have so many characters, settings, and stories floating around in my head that I’m struggling to focus on any one at a time. How am I supposed to write my medical thriller when four little German girls are screaming for my attention? I want to develop a 1960s setting for a murder mystery, and I am totally distracted by an idea for writing a novel in journal form of a family in WitSec. In case you lost count, that’s four separate novel ideas. And I have more.
Then there are the novels I have read this month. Four. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as my goal is to read a novel per week. Good writers are good readers. Writers must read a wide variety of genres. And reading makes me happy. It also gives me ideas. Ideas about the stories and characters. Ideas about the authors and their writing and research processes. Ideas about what I might have done differently with those plot outlines.
After reading The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the themes I see repeating in her novels are there intentionally. For example, betrayal. Do authors sit down when they outline and say this is a theme I want to explore, or is it a subconscious thing that sneaks in? Or is it just that I was trained to find and teach the literary elements, and therefore look for themes because after all these years I can’t not see them. That led me to thinking about my own works-in-progress. I know what I want the themes to be, but now I worry that I might be forcing it in, or that it’s not subtle enough.
Then I read Undone by Karin Slaughter. Can you imagine a more perfect last name for a murder mystery writer? This is the third book I’ve read by her, and I think she’s a master at creating flawed heroes and multi-faceted characters. I always finish her books thinking I could have done without some of the blood, gore, and gritty reality, but then I think longer and realize that there isn’t anything I would leave out. Every scene seems to propel the story or develop a character. I also love how much information she provides to her readers about serious real world topics (kidnapping, anorexia, etc.) without coming across as lecturing or preaching. I’m always afraid my past career as a teacher will cause my readers’ eyes to glaze over.
In one sitting I read The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. I can’t even figure out why or how it sucked me in, but it did. I couldn’t put it down. There were so many disparate themes and plot lines: grief, dogs, animal abuse, mental illness, and more. The novel felt at times like stream-of-consciousness rambling, but yet there was a solid coherence about the whole. The first-person narrator seemed unreliable, which only underscored the impact of his grief, anger, and perhaps guilt, but by the end of the novel I believed the narrator was completely reliable and had told me everything I needed to know. Perhaps this technique exemplified how that one year of grieving is so unpredictable yet healing. The literary analyst in me could write an academic article over all these points, but then the writer in me is demanding to know if Parkhurst is a pantser or plotter. How on earth do you plot something like this? But if she pantsed it, how did it all wrap up so neatly.
Do you get why I’m frustrated with reading? Reading makes for a better writer. Reading keeps me from writing. Reading gives me ideas and techniques. Reading overwhelms me with ideas and techniques.
And I haven’t even touched on how all the writing I do keeps me from writing my novel(s). Writers are encouraged to not only write their books, but blog posts, journals, keep a presence on social media, and participate in the writing community. I can easily write 2,000 to 3,000 words a day without even touching my work-in-progress.
In all the books, blogs, and articles I have read about the literary life, and the business and craft of writing, I have yet to find any guidance on how to juggle all the above. And yet I know there are very successful authors out there who have figured it out.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you struggle with the same frustrations? Do you have any tips or suggestions for balancing the job of writing with the actual writing? I haven’t any answers, but I know that admitting I have a problem is the first step in solving the problem.