Mental Fatigue?

Well, I finished Pipeline on the 10th of April, and here it is the 26th and I’ve only put in seven days of writing on Spree. Granted, in that seven days, I’ve made it to just over 15,000 words, which isn’t all that shabby, but it just doesn’t seem to be coming together like Pipeline did.

I know some of it is Lyle, my protagonist for Pipeline. He was such a natural character for me to write, and he kept insisting on telling me his story. The two guys I’m writing about in Spree—Eddie Jones and Steve Wilson—don’t feel quite as natural to me. Eddie is originally from New Jersey, while Steve is that rarest of people, a native Southern Californian. They’re just the guys I need for this story—when I do manage to write, Steve’s scenes come pretty natural—but they’re telling me their story a lot slower than Lyle did. Add in the cop, LAPD Robbery Detective-2 Brad Ferguson, and it gets even slower. I’ve never been a cop. I was a security guard on more than one occasion, but that’s nowhere near the same. Never even carried a gun on either job. I was supposed to on one, but I got laid off due to reduction in force before my extensive background check was finished.

Anyway, luckily, I’ve read a crime novel or two, so I got an idea how to write about cops. I just hope I do good enough for it to ring true. Guess we’ll see.

I have to wonder if there’s not some mental fatigue going on, too. I spent five months with Lyle, 89 days of actual writing, and it felt comfortable spending time with him. There were times I wanted to tell him to shut and take a few days off, but when he did, I got restless. There was one stretch where I didn’t write anything for ten days, and I was going crazy by the time it was over. I have this condition called creativity, and if I don’t express it on a regular basis, I spend the time when I should be falling asleep listening to my mind compose random sentences and scenes.

I started wondering about this lack of motivation for Spree and pulled out my copy of On Writing by Stephen King. I don’t view him as the god of writing or anything like that, but I have to say that On Writing has to be pretty much the best book, um, on writing, that I’ve ever read. So, I tend to consult it when I have a question about some aspect of the writing life. He manages to cover most aspects very well. Anyway, his recommendation—besides leaving your just-finished novel alone for a minimum of six weeks—is to work on something entirely different. Have yourself some kind of celebration over finishing your novel, maybe go fishing or bowling or whatever, get a little rest, but don’t stop writing entirely. And maybe that’s more or less what I’m doing, resting and shifting gears a little.

Finishing Pipeline gave a big boost to my self-confidence, I have to say. I’d doodled around with lots of things up until I decided to write it, and I didn’t go into it with any great confidence. So many of the projects that I’d started over the years had just played out, not going anywhere after the initial burst. I was worried this one would too. I wanted to get my research done first, figuring that would help. But the story kept demanding to be written. Concepts kept popping up in my mind at all hours of the day. And when I wrote the story “Crosstown Traffic,” that helped. “Crosstown” was a new voice for me, and I liked it a lot. It was casual, more attuned to what I hear inside when I want to write fiction. I guess I just needed to give myself permission to write that way, and it took me a long time to do that. I have to say joining a writing group helped a lot on that score. I don’t know what other peoples’ experiences with groups have been. I’m sure they run the gamut. But for me it’s been mostly positive. I’ve seen how others writing, gotten some quality critique-work on my own stuff, and I believe it’s improved my writing immensely. I certainly never would have dreamed of writing a 213,000-word novel before this. I still look at that number and shake my head in wonder. And I think I keep bringing it up to convince myself it’s real.

So how about you? What do you do when you finish something? Do you take time off, or do you plunge right into something else? Or do you just take it slow for a while? I’d be interested in hearing what you’ve got to say. Doesn’t mean I’ll do it that way, but it never hurts to hear how other folks do things, and it might just help. If not me, then maybe another of my vast multitude (?) of readers.

I ask because, even though I’ve finished three other novels, I spent a long time in between those novels doing a lot of non-writing. I wasn’t as dedicated to the craft as I am now, and didn’t feel any particular burn to write. I think, to be honest, I was sitting around waiting for (imagine this in big, flashing neon letters) inspiration. Inspiration plays a large part in creativity, but I’m discovering that a lot of sweat and effort play a larger part. The inspiration is what gets the story started. The sweat and effort finish it.

It took me a long time to discover that. Far too long, in fact. I hope that, in some small way, this blog will help someone else discover it sooner in their lives than I did in mine.




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