This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series dear self

My guess is that many authors (especially those who write series) will find lots familiar in this list.

1. If you ask me a question about some particular plot point in the Wilderness stories, half the time I won’t know which book it happened in. So if you say — ‘you know that time Hannah amputated a leg? — I’ll remember the amputation itself, but not the book it’s in.

2. Hundreds of minor characters, the majority of which only show up once or twice — I forget their names, too.

3. If I pick up one of the early books and open it to a random page, I often have absolutely no memory of writing what I read there. I often am surprised at a turn of phrase. I have asked myself: where did you get that from? And not been able to answer.

4. There are scenes in various novels which I really dislike, and would cut, if I could. In a similar way, I sometimes listen to one of the books on tape and cringe (although not too often) at a word choice.

5. Sometimes an author gets tired of a character. In these cases, a heart attack or carriage accident comes in very handy.

6. Sometimes authors vent their frustrations on characters by giving them a really unpleasant case of hives or a head cold. A character who won’t shut up is easily dealt with by means of a bad case of laryngitis, or simply by getting lost in the woods for a day or so.

7. An author who is sure of his or her audience can explore some of his or her darker impulses and get away with it. Stephen King, for example, has a fascination with nose picking and the products thereof. There are whole paragraphs about this in some of the Dark Tower novels that go to such extremes that I got distinctly nauseated. My personal promise to myself: if I ever get to the point where I am compelled to put stuff like this in a novel simply because I can get away with it, I will quit writing, or see about having my meds changed.

8. When you write a long series of books, you run out of names you like to use for your characters. Sometimes in a fit of desperation you decide to name a new main character Harvey or Harold or Geraldine. This is something like what happens (or used to happen) in big Catholic families, where the first kids were named Mary, Ann, Jean, Carol, Betty, Susan, etc etc and then the parents just gave up and let the older kids name the youngest ones. I personally know somebody whose name is Coco, for this very reason.

9. It’s really hard to keep relative ages and dates straight in a big novel or series of novels. The Mathematician makes charts for me but sometimes even that isn’t enough. So if you think there’s some weirdness about somebody’s age or a date, you may well be right.

10. Anybody who writes for a living reads a lot, and most likely started reading intensively at a fairly young age. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books. Thousands of stories, characters, conflicts, resolutions. Every author sits in front of the blank piece of paper and reaches for the right words to describe what’s happening. How Connie feels when she finds a page ripped out of her high school year book, how Mark reacts when a telemarketer interrupts dinner. Every author reaches for something unique, but simple arithmetic indicates that a lot of what ends up on paper has been there before. A truly original way to describe a sunset? I doubt it. You can work toward a way that’s particular to your character at that moment.

But here’s the thing: Sometimes I worry (and I would guess this is true of most authors) that the really solid image I just put down, or the bit of dialog or description isn’t really mine. My subconscious grabbed it out of the distant past, from a book I read twenty three years ago at age twenty, riding the Clark Street bus on the way to work, a book that I might see tomorrow in the library but not recognize.

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13 Replies to “confessions”

  1. I often have difficulty calling myself an “author” because I am not published — but, then again, every published author was an unpublished author at one time, right? Or, perhaps, you can’t claim the title of author until you are actually paid for something you’ve written. Not sure about all of that — I AM sure that everyone has their own opinion on the matter.

    I have had to go back through old chapters because I brought up a minor character again and couldn’t remember the name. Or I’ve gone back because I know a character is a year older than they used to be but I can’t remember the age they were before. I have disliked characters that have come out of my own head and who have given me no reason to dislike them. I wonder, at times, why characters behave the way they do even as I realize, once again, that I have created them. I have grown to love characters that I was supposed to hate. I have loved a few of them way too much and endowed them with too much perfection, too much insight, too many lines. I have written something and, then later, have read a passage in a book by another writer and realized that I’ve written something a bit similar. I have read a chapter I’ve written and felt a small rush of pride. I’ve been taken down a notch because the next chapter is pure ****.

    It’s an ongoing process for all of us who write, published or not. Thanks, Rosina, for putting all of that into words.

  2. Fascinating post. I always like the posts like this where we get to see inside the process or how you relate to it on an everyday level.

  3. “You can work toward a way that’s particular to your character at that moment” like that, very helpful, thnx Rosina :D

  4. Thanks for sharing Rosina, I agree with Danielle it’s fascinating to see the other side of a story. I appreciate you sharing your fears too.

  5. I’ve reminded my Mom of something she said to me once when I was a child, something that really stuck with me. I’ve thanked her for it. Later, she’s admitted, she has no clear memory of ever saying that to me, or to any of her children. And she just had five. No point in feeling bad about it, I believe it’s a fact of humanity, we don’t come with crystal clear photographic instant-recall memories, and there is a lot to be said for how wonderful that really is. Sounds like writing your children is the same as raising them.

  6. Rosina, these notes are so interesting. It just reassures us that you’re human like the rest of us. It’s frightening, isn’t it? These days, an unconscious reproduction of something long since read and forgotten could land you in trouble with another author. And about Stephen King, I’ve only read part of one of his books, and I distinctly remember a nose-picking scene. Your mentioning it had me choking with laughter.

  7. I very interesting post Rosina, for those of us who do not write and can’t in their wildest dreams imagine what it would be like to do so – it is a fascinating insight into what it is like. Thank-you!

  8. … the bit of dialog or description isn’t really mine. My subconscious grabbed it out of the distant past, from a book I read twenty three years ago at age twenty, riding the Clark Street bus on the way to work, a book that I might see tomorrow in the library but not recognize.

    I’m outwardly of the opinion that you shouldn’t worry too much about this, but I have to admit that I am really reluctant to read fiction and have been for several months and this is the reason.

    Right now I am in the middle of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” saga. Sort of. I pick it up, read a couple of chapters, put it down, and avoid it for a while.

    It should be a safe read because Pullman is British and writes in British English, he uses an omniscient POV that changes from character to character in the midst of scenes, the story’s main characters are children, and the setting slips through parallel worlds, which is absolutely nothing like what I’m working on — but still, I worry.

  9. Most series run together for me, as well, especially if I read them one right after the other and didn’t have to wait for the next installment to be published.

  10. I would think that the time between writing something that might not really be yours and its going to the publisher would be long enough for you to realize it’s yours or not.

    I’ve always imagined a series is just one book to the author, conveniently ending a novel and beginning the next where it might make sense to the reader, but is actually a somewhat artificial break by the writer.

    Thanks for the nice thought-provoking new post.

  11. Oh my that is so funny about Stephen King!! I couldn’t read the Stand because he seemingly only wanted to talk about snot and mucus!

  12. Kathy — it’s really bad in the Dark Tower series. He expands his descriptions to fascination with pimples, and at that point I couldn’t read any farther.

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