Laying On The Gas Pedal; or, What I Get From Writing

I’m lucky. I really enjoy my job(s). I love teaching because I get to interact with students, work with literature, and I love the performance aspect of the job.

But what is it about the writing that I love so much?

To be honest, a lot about writing can be frustrating. There’s the fact that, comparatively, I spend less time writing than I do with other writer-related things. Indeed, the raw-act-of-creation-type-writing is about one tenth of the job. The rest of it is outlining, pre-writing, rewriting, revising, editing, proofing, copyediting, writing back copy, promoting, et cetera. These things aren’t entirely frustrating, and oftentimes they lend themselves to their own types of pleasure. But the fact remains that writers actually write comparatively little when set against everything else they have to do in order to be published.

The way I get through the minor frustrations is how most people cope: I focus on the joys. The fact is, that one-tenth of the time I get to create-write is such a pleasure. I love sitting down and thinking up new scenarios that will shed light onto character’s hitherto unacknowledged darknesses. I love dreaming up conversations in which characters say all the things I wish I could say. But even better is when I go back and ruffle those conversations up, to make them more realistic and less of a fantasy. In doing so, I get that initial chance to be stunningly articulate, while later acknowledging and accepting the limitations that make up reality, at least as it is perceived by me.

Oftentimes, I admit, I work through things that are bothering me, touch upon memories that are either precious or that hurt, or I imagine things that I would like, one day, to happen. Of course, I then have to make these experiences and fantasies not-mine; I have to make them into Jane’s, or Iris’s, or Grizelda’s. In doing so, I can often play devil’s advocate to my own perceived ambitions or desires. I can work through, imaginatively, what it would be like to get what I wanted. Oftentimes, I discover that what glitters is actually dusted with those crappy sparkles that stick to everything, and never wash out of my hair.

I also get to “read” my characters, to a certain extent, as I imagine my readers do. Sometimes I want Jane to do one thing. Halfway through the scene, however, I realize Jane would never do what I want her to do, she’d do what Jane wants to do. That was absolutely the way book three ended, for me. I had no idea you-know-who was going to do you-know-what to you-know-who. She just did it, and I was like, “Holy shit!” and she was all, “Hahahahaha! You thought you could write me, did you!”

When that happens, there is much joy. There’s also horror, as I realize I now have no idea where books five and six are going, without you-know-who in the role I thought she was playing. But mostly there’s joy. Because if a character can feel that real to me, I’m hoping she feels that real to my readers.

So that’s a few of the things I get from writing, and I do take huge pleasure in it. In fact, I’m most chuffed when I receive a note or a review that says, basically, “I like reading your work because I can tell you like writing it.” I know I’ve felt that way about certain authors I love: I can practically see their gleeful little faces all lit up with pleasure behind their writing.

Have you ever felt that way about a particular writer, as if you could feel their joy in their words?

Posted by Nicole Peeler

Author, Professor, Lover, Fighter

17 thoughts on “Laying On The Gas Pedal; or, What I Get From Writing”

  1. "Because if a character can feel that real to me, I’m hoping she feels that real to my readers."

    I have been thinking and hoping this since the very first word I wrote on my soon-to-be-done-with-the-first-draft first novel. My character is so real to me, he pulls me out of my synopsis and takes me where the heck he wants to go. He laughs at the synopsis and laughs at me for writing one.

    You have proved to me that characters don't just feel real because of all those dreams of getting published clouding around the writing and character himself. Characters who feel real before pub, stay real after. And I hope this works this way for me, too! I hope he feels as real to my potential readers as he does to me.

    Thank you, Nicole, for an inspiring post!

  2. Such a brilliant post. It's so refreshing to hear about the actual writing side of things, for a change, rather than all of the editing and 'what you could do better' posts that seem to litter the 'net. As interesting as those can be, to hear what you really love about actually writing is so much more uplifting. You truly can tell how much you love your work.

    It's also nice to hear that I'm not the only one who can't control what her characters get up to. 😉

  3. Thank you, Rory! Glad to be of service. 😉

    Rebecca: We can be a whiny bunch, especially with all that's happening in the business side of publishing. I think it's easy for authors to lose sight of the writing. That said, I think I'm partially able to stay so blithe because I DO have two jobs, and it's really my day job that pays the bills. It's a tough industry, and it's just getting tougher. But it's still a joy to write. 🙂

  4. It hadn't ever occurred to me to compliment writers on obviously loving writing — but you're right, it definitely does show up in some folks' work. Or, at very least, you can tell when the writer is having *fun* writing. I think you, Molly Harper, and Ally Carter give off the feeling of really having a great time as storytellers in the voices of your characters.

  5. Loved this post. Reminded me of "reader response" criticism as applied to writers… Good writers (like you!) are active readers of stories that aren't yet published. The teaching gig can really affirm and cultivate that, though all the preps and grading can sometimes pile up and feel like it's getting in the way of things. And I totally identified with that "automatic writing" feeling, where the character does what they want. I think I >keep< writing to recapture that feeling in my gut where it all seems to flow without any interruption from me. Though I'm always skeptical of mystifying these processes, it's true that we're like mediums or something.

  6. Hi Mike! Nice to see you here! 😉 And I think teaching is like writing which is like every job . . . there's always the things that aren't so fun you just gotta do (like grading, or proofreading, or whatever).

    I totally pinged when I read the "skeptical of mystifying the process" thing because I feel the exact same way. I totally make fun of people who DO mystify the process and yet there's a part of me that recognizes it does appear, at least, to be partly mystical.

    But maybe it's what you're hinting at, that it's not mystical: it's having spent a lifetime really engaged with reading. We understand stories somewhere in our bones.

    Wait, was that mystifying it again?

  7. I do have lots of authors that bring me that type of joy when I read. You are most definitely one of them-I do feel like Jane is true (heh) to herself and the you-know-what was definitely unexpected (SO MUCH FUN when I don't see it coming), but still felt right. I "got it" if that makes any sense, and now I'm even more excited to see where the story goes.

    I think Elizabeth Peters does that with her Amelia Peabody series-I especially love how Amelia speaks in first person (with her skewed and completely biased idea of how everyone sees her and her family) vs. when her son speaks in first person (he sees him mother's eccentricities really clearly and is completely terrified of her sometimes, though he never shows it). JK Rowling did that. I feel like Kat Richardson does that.

    The characters just kind of have a life on their own and it's always so fascinating to me when an author admits that she couldn't make her character "behave" and the story wound up changing-and usually for the better. Gives me a lot of respect for writers!!

Comments are closed.