I’m having writer’s block.
Okay, I wouldn’t exactly call it that.
This thing is happening where my writing is evolving, in the middle of me trying to bang out my first literary fiction novel. I’m starting to engage more with my characters, I rarely use ‘and’ or qualifying adverbs when I write dialogue and some other small but pivotal shifts in how I approach fiction. The consequence of this is that my word count is mutating.
Writing short stories does things to you. You learn to use poetry as tool the way other people use imagery and the other more gargantuan literary devices. I find myself having to revise whole paragraphs because I employed too much brevity, wrote in a sentence what I should have explored slowly in three. Everyone wants to write a book that is short but profound. I want to write a book that doesn’t feel like sixteen pages. Who says writing is easy?
I’m writing a roman-a-clef. Or if I’m writing the roman-a-clef I would have lived if I was a 21 year old woman. I love this book, it might not be the most original book in the world but so far it is the book I have wanted and attempted to write since I was sixteen. This time I have gone further than I ever managed before and while it is exciting, it is scary. I never realised how much I relied on what I call ‘the bigger picture’ in my short stories. When people read my short stories they tell me they always wonder what happened to the characters before and after the events in the story. Like I gave them a snapshot and I tease that there is a bigger, much more complicated world and narrative to which my characters belong; a world I leave them to have to decipher for themselves. Now in a novel, as much as you can, you have to explain or at least show this bigger more complicated world/narrative. You have to pick up all the threads you leave off and somehow sew them back into the tapestry that is your story. That is where my writer’s block is coming from.
Sometimes I leave the chapter I’m working on alone and just go do something else, maybe knit a sweater or watch a movie and mid-way I get an epiphany about the end of the book or the chapter I’m working on, or even the characters themselves. It’s like they reveal themselves to me. What causes their unhappiness and disillusionment, scathing dialogues they wish they had with their significant others.
A friend told me once after he read the first six chapters of my book, he said ‘Why are you writing a modern romance with a very stereotypical lead character?’ I didnt realise I was writing a romance until he said it. Neither did I realise why my main character was stereotypical. She was I guess, because most people are, Stereotypical that is. The things that happen to us and how we choose to react to them is what makes us special, not our inherent musical tastes or our sexualities or the families we are born into. We all live stereotypical lives at the end of the day, Fela still had to take a shit like everyone else. It was how he chose to react to his tumultuous relationship with the Nigerian government that made him special. I think my friend is smart, and sometimes the smartest people show you things you otherwise would never have seen. I’ll end this with an excerpt from the book. (the lead character’s name is Lucifer by the way. I know, I know.)
The eleven paintings had taken nearly three hours to mount even with the photographer, a braided man with skin the color of wet loam, Kristoff and Sterj. Sterj had been waiting for them in front of the makeshift studio when they arrived, hands in his pockets, angular chin pointed in what she hoped was anticipation. White jute lined the walls and the floor and they were on to the third painting now, mounted on a gilded easel and flooded with white light while Remi Adegbite, the photographer shot with Kristoff’s guidance. She and Sterj stood aside, out of their depths. Sterj had his hands around his waist and an awed expression etched on his face. He leaned in to her.
“I knew your paintings were beautiful but I never realized they were this good.”
Lucifer didn’t want her thanks to ring hollow so she squeezed his arm instead. All the strobe lights seemed to reveal to her were flaws; the extra splotches of black paint on the centerpiece of her exhibition, sitting in the middle of what should have been a decisive white stroke. The paint on the green flamingo had run before it dried, so the flamingo’s beak drooped slightly. She wanted her brushes, and everyone out. She wanted to be locked away in this white room and chained to her easel, forced to work on every single one of her paintings until they became perfect.