Hand Cramps, Gut Bombs, and Bad Ideas

I’ve played basketball pretty much my whole life. I’ve seen countless people get injured. Twisted ankles, bloody noses, and jammed fingers are all part of the game. When it happens, nobody complains or gets surprised or shakes their heads tragically. It’s just the way it is. The whole reason you have substitutions is to fill in when someone gets tired or hurt or is just off his game.

I might need a sub-in for this project.

My elbows hurt from being in a bent position all day at the keyboard. My left hand aches from holding the pen. I spend so much time sitting that my guts aren’t… predictable. I accept those things. Part of the game.

Physical side effects are whatever. But nothing is more maddening than being off my game; knowing that I have an ability, but can’t execute. I play in a men’s league on Sunday nights. I’m ten years older than most guys on the floor, but I can still contribute. At a game two weeks ago, I simply lost the ability to play basketball for an hour. It was an embarrassing circus of chaos. I felt like I was in a huge tumble dryer full of man-sized potatoes. The entire event was a swirling mass of confusion and elbows to the face. And when I shot the ball, it was like using transplanted arms and the donor was a hockey player. The experience was so disappointing that I literally lost sleep over it for a few days. I wondered if it was time to hang it up. As many times as I’ve had off nights, maybe I had finally run out of the bald confidence that allows younger men to power through their doubts.

Now, before you go thinking that this is an overcome-adversity-sports-analogy-for-writing thing, keep reading.

Chapter 6 of Progeny has been bugging me for weeks. I’m not stalled out with zero ideas, it just doesn’t feel good. I know there’s a solution to what the chapter needs to be, but I can’t see it yet. I’m at the point now where the writing is reduced to lines of dialog. There’s very little action and even though there’s some great, revealing information, it’s just chaos. There’s no flow or groove going. I just want it done so I can move on and come back to it later.

Here’s where you sports analogists will say, “Stay with it! You can do it! Watch Rudy for inspiration!” But the problem is that basketball isn’t an analogy for writing. Last week I went back to play and played great. I moved well and shot the lights out. Afterward, everyone laughed about the difference from one week to the next. That’s sports. Everyone has off nights and when your game comes back, everything is forgotten.

In a writing project, it’s very different. Once the mojo is gone, the whole project is derailed. What seemed like a great story a few weeks ago is now a stagnant rehash of everything better. You get desperate and start cramming in ideas that fill holes in the plot, and if you put in the wrong idea, the entire story becomes infected. But it takes you weeks to spot it. By then, you’re off the path, lost in the weeds.

Why am I saying, “You?” It’s me. I’m in chapter 6 after writing 5 chapters that I like. I know what happens next, but I can’t seem to write the story to get there. It’s connective tissue and it’s faulty. There’s a bad link in there somewhere and I need to find it before the rest the of story is ruined. Is it because I’m forcing a reveal too soon? That would make sense since I’ve been impatient with the story all along. Or is it that my main character isn’t active in his narrative? Kind of true. Stuff just happens to him and he reacts by staring and saying, ‘What is happening?” a lot. All of the above, probably, but is there a way to solve all this without the whole thing falling apart?

A movie is a series of scenes. If you lose steam on one, you just jump to another and come back later. In February of 2009, I wrote two 90 page screenplays in 13 days straight. Naturally, there were re-writes, but there was no stress in the process. It’s like the they wrote themselves! I sold one a couple weeks later and made the other one into FORGE. I love it when the story and structure just fall into place. But this book… I don’t see how I could skip ahead since I can’t get my chapter breaks figured out in advance. They keep shifting. Maybe since long form writing is uncharted territory for me, I’m more rattled about getting stuck than I would be with a screenplay.

Even though I’m a competitive person, basketball is strictly for fun. Writing is much more than a passtime for me. And I take it hard when it doesn’t work out.