Sunday, January 3, 2010

Walk It Off

by Mike Knowles

I mentioned before about how every book I have ever written has started out in a blue notebook that I bought at Walmart. My first book was in a blue notebook and after I found out I had to write two more I went back and cleaned the place out. The book is perfect for writing. It isn’t bound with those metal rings that get all bent and flat when you carry it around in a bag (or, in my case, a satchel or man purse). There are around 360 pages in the book so I never run out of room. And, it can go anywhere. Firing up my laptop to write requires far more stuff to carry and the setup wastes what little time I have. When I finish writing in the blue book, I start typing. This is where the first of many edits get done. So far it has been a good system. The blue notebook has never failed me–that is until a few weeks back.

I don’t think the blue notebook has any special powers, I am just a creature of habit (If you don’t know that already, you must have missed the crazy adherence to using a blue notebook in the previous paragraph. You must be scrolling down screen for someone else’s blog. I recommend McFetridge–if you’re going to blow me off at least do it for another Canadian). I eat the same breakfast, snack, lunch, and dinner pretty much everyday. I walk my dog twice a day at the exact same time. I work out on a very specific schedule. And I write twice a day everyday in a blue notebook. When I am on task, I get about 2, 000 words done in a day. For the kind of books I write, it means a book can be done in super rough form in about a month.

Since October I have been writing in a blue notebook twice a day everyday, but, as it stands, there is no book. I gave up in early December.

It all started with an idea I had in my head for a while that I wanted to turn into a book. In the summer, I started researching like a fiend. Unfortunately, the topic I chose was something that didn’t exactly make research easy. I read dozens of books, spent countless hours on the internet, I even found other non-fiction writers to give me some first hand information.

With the research done, I started writing. I thought about the book constantly. I put the time in everyday. Nothing changed from the way I wrote other books, except of course that NOTHING CAME OUT! I sat everyday for hours and sometimes only got 250 words to show for it. I kept researching and trying to push forward. I refused to admit defeat. I applied a sort of literary "Walk it off" perspective. I wouldn’t let the lack of ideas stop me from staying in the game. But in December, the game was called.

The book ended for a few reasons:

1.The book was based on a good idea, but an idea isn’t enough. An idea should be a link in a chain, but if you’re not careful it can end up being a rope just long enough to hang yourself. Some ideas don’t have a full length book in them. No matter how hard you try, you can’t stretch one idea. Dinner can be the same way. If I’m hungry and I come up with the idea that Mexican would be good, there needs to be more to it than that. Without other ideas expanding my initial thought, I’ll end up eating plan tortilla’s while I stand over the counter (it’s happened more than once).

2. The book was supposed to span twenty years. I like stories like that, but to write them you have to keep in mind the difference in the two time periods. Life in the 80's is nothing like life today. For instance, in the eighties my dad had hair now not so much. It donned on me at about 15, 000 words that there were a bunch of anomalies in the story, and there were plenty of nights spent fixing all of my mistakes.

3. The final reason is simple. One night, I suddenly realized that the story I was writing sounded so good to me because it was exactly like a book I loved that became a movie I loved. All of the scribbles in the blue notebook felt suddenly unoriginal and that shook me loose. There was no more walking it off. Game over.

Now you may be saying to yourself. What was the book on? What was the book he felt like he was copying. I’m not saying. The reason is simple. There is an off chance the blue notebook is still going to work. I may be able to come back to it in a year or two and turn it into something.

And that right there is how deep the idea of walking it off is burned into me. Even when I say I gave up, I don’t mean it. The game has to start again sometime.


Scott D. Parker said...

Mike, I KNOW how you feel. My contemporary crime novel is in development hell for the very same reasons (albeit mine wasn't a movie already). All that time and words written are, I hope, not wasted. I expect to resurrect the content someday. But it's a frustrating and draining feeling to know something failed.

John McFetridge said...

At least you can keep the notebooks and someday maybe you'll use them for parts.

And really, if we stopped writing stories because they'd been done before we wouldn't write anything.

It hasn't been done by you, in your voice, and that means something.

Mike Dennis said...

Mike, I responded to one of your earlier blogs about getting stuck, where I mentioned that I started writing a novel about 15 years ago based on what I thought was a slam-bang idea. After 100 pages, I ran into a wall, unable to write even one word more. No ideas, no plot development, nothing.

During the ensuing years, I would occasionally see the 100-page printout and feel tremendous guilt over a good idea gone to waste.

Then a couple of months ago, I was writing another novel and became stuck again, when it hit me. Incorporate the 15-year-old idea into the new novel and bingo! It worked! The novel is now finished and I'm doing edits on it right now.

Moral: don't throw away those blue notebooks. You just never know....

sarahannnoel said...

I really appreciate this entry. I have lots of ideas on paper, but full stories they do not make. I really agree with @Mike Dennis, however, in that combining old ideas with new ones has been a tremendous help in progressing story forward.

I too can appreciate the use of a brand new notebook--there is no better inspiration.

Steve Weddle said...

Good stuff. First, I live by the hardback moleskine. Best $18 you can spend. Second, McFet's point about spare parts is exactly what I find. A character. A scene. I've often pulled a key element for a novel from a crap story.