When stuck on a book, Anne Lamott writes about letting your characters speak, giving them the opportunity to work their way forward, and even showing you what the climax should be.
For myself, stuck in the middle of a book that refuses to move forward, I have occasionally in the past used a kind of monologue from various characters to give me some better understanding of their 'thoughts' and 'aspirations.' So it's worth considering what Lamott has to say, since my book has been stuck for some months.
Immediately I sit down to let my characters speak, the You Can’t Do This voice arrives. I ask, Who are you, and what position do you hold in my writing world that allows you to put your oar in the moment I try to write something on this book?
Okay, well firstly, I’m not one of your characters, so you can’t treat me as though I can be bullied into a plot at your whim.
The truth is you are one of my characters because you don’t exist outside my head. So sod off before I put you in the reject file.
I’m not one of the characters in your piffling book, the one no one will want to read. Wait, are you saving any of this? I don’t want what I say to be lost.
Good grief. Saved.
Right. Now. Every time you sit down to write, I believe you must go back and re-read the entire draft, you must check your synopsis, and your structure, because if you don’t have a structure there’s no way this book is ever – and I mean ever – going to work, and only then think about moving forward and doing some supposedly productive writing. Just because Anne Lamott mentions authors who start to write from the middle of nowhere and think they can get a book up and running doesn’t mean you can. I’m mean, are you seriously published? Do you think a few sales here and there identify you as a writer? You’re pathetic. I hope you just heard the word I used: pathetic. P...A...T...H...E...
Are you going to rattle on all day like this? I'd like to give my real characters some room to speak.
They’re not going to talk to you. They’re sick to death of being stuck in a so-far-undescribed room, or virtually forgotten since chapter seven, while you say,
nah I won’t finish this,
yes I will finish this,
nah I don’t know what to do,
yes I have an idea,
nah that doesn’t work.
Make up your frigging mind! The characters have had it up to here. They're contracting themselves to other authors because they need a job. They've given up on the so-called author who can’t get his act together.
You’re talking piffle. No one else would have them because they belong in THIS story.
Don’t you believe it. They can go where they like, even if they have to change their looks a little or bend the arc of their character. They’ll get jobs, don’t you worry.
So you’re saying they're good characters?
Good? Nah, they’ve got the ability to do a bit part in someone else’s novel, maybe, but they’re not going to get anything big in a real book that needs characters crammed with personality. They're cardboard copies of whatever first came to your unimaginative mind. You probably think you’ll get away with calling the load of bollocks you’ve got there a ‘shitty first draft’ a la your mate, Anne Lamott, but that’s not cutting any mustard with them. They want something polished and finished, and you’re never, never going to get around to doing anything like that. You wouldn’t even know where the bottle of polish was. Throw your stuff down the toilet and go and do something worth doing. Don’t ask me what because I haven’t a clue, but no doubt there’s some menial task you can do with a piece of paper and a pen…the easy crossword in the morning newspaper, maybe.
Hmm. I still have a couple of heavies sitting around…they've tried out for a role in the second half of the book…
Rubbish! Now you really are making things up.
That's my job. They’re going to grab you by the elbows, lift you two feet in the ear...air…
See, you couldn’t even remember how to spell air.
And march you off to the dustbin where you belong. I would get them to flush you down the toilet, but I don’t want it blocking up.
You don’t scare me. I'm the only real voice you've got here!
You’re just a voice without a body, without any physical presence whatsoever, and what's more I don't trust you. So quit your insistence on standing in the way of my getting on with the book. I’ve already wasted ten minutes writing time listening to your rants. And that's only today.
[Author whistles up the two heavies, who are glad to get something to do earlier in the piece than they'd expected. They oblige the author and remove the anonymous voice which seems to think it rules the writing-landscape. With a couple of cheerful 'Watch 'er, mate' mutters out of the sides of their mouths, they lift the voice off its feet, as recommended, and carry him/her/it babbling to the dustbin.
'Babbling to the dustbin.' The author immediately jots this down in case he wants to use it at a later point, and feels as though the day may not be a total disaster after all.]