Thoughts on Writing
By JG Faherty
For me, I think there have been two 'aha!' moments: One that was precise, and one that was more general but no less important. The first happened 13 years ago, before I'd ever written any fiction in my adult life (I'd tried my hand at some comics and stories as a kid). I was working as a freelance writer – resumes, proofreading, articles, test questions for standardized tests – and I got a job to write an entire test prep practice book for third-grade language arts. That meant having to write the reading passages as well as the questions that went with them. Half the passages were supposed to be fiction. I did a few of the usual: kid at a baseball game, kid with a birthday coming up, blah, blah, blah. Then I had an idea for a kid who stumbles through a magic mirror and lands in a place where animals talk. It came so easy, and the editor said he'd love to see more of that type of fiction in the prep books. And gave me a four-book extension on my contract. That was the moment I discovered I could write fiction, that I had the ability to take all those ideas in my head and create actual written stories from them. Since then, I haven't stopped.
The second event happened just the other day. And dozens of times in between my first attempt at a horror story (also 13 years ago) and today. I suffer from the belief that the things I write now are not as good as what I wrote 2 years ago, or 5 years ago. And I fall into bouts where I start one project after another and then toss them aside as crap. This goes on until I get to the point where I feel like I should just stop writing forever. But I never do. I bull through. And sooner or later, something hits me, something rattles my brain and clears the fog and I see that I've been doing something wrong, gotten into a bad habit. Too much conversation and not enough action. Too much pre-story at the beginning. Plots that don't make sense once the details fill in. Or perhaps just plain old too predictable.
As I mentioned, this happened just a couple of days ago. I've been working on a sequel to Carnival of Fear, my first novel. And I was stuck. As in, stuck for several years. Each time I pulled it out, I'd get a couple of pages done and then hate it. Last week, I tried again, with the same result. I couldn't capture the feeling of joy I had when writing the first book, yet I knew I had a great idea in my head for the sequel. While thinking, I remembered that for Carnival of Fear, I wrote the entire thing long-hand in notebooks on my lunch hours. And then I had that 'aha!' moment. Recreate that feeling. So I grabbed a couple of legal pads and started writing. Not the whole book, but more than an outline. A one-page summary of what should happen in each chapter. The moment I put pen to paper, everything started to flow, the excitement returned, and in 2 days I had the entire book summary done. Approximately 60 pages or so. And, in the process, I identified several plot twists and events that were just wrong, and I changed things up so there was actual tension and suspense. It meant killing a few people who I'd originally wanted to keep alive, but that was okay. That's how it should be.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is, writing isn't an 'aha!' moment; it's a continuing series of them, just like life. You learn, you grow, you change. You overcome obstacles. And so does your writing. Because when the time comes that you are just relaxed and coasting along, not working and fighting and struggling and putting your all into it, that, to me, is retirement. And in writing, that is the equivalent of phoning it in. You've read those books, you know what I mean. The same old plot over and over again from the author. The contrived endings that let you know the author had nothing and just tossed out some crap to be done with it. The moment when your favorite series jumps the shark. Writing isn't easy, and perhaps it shouldn't be. But those 'aha!' moments do make it a lot of fun!
JG Faherty is the author of THE BURNING TIME, CEMETERY CLUB, CARNIVAL OF FEAR, THE COLD SPOT, HE WAITS, and the Bram Stoker Award®-nominated GHOSTS OF CORONADO BAY, along with more than 50 short stories. He writes adult and YA horror/sci-fi/fantasy. His works range from quiet, dark suspense to over-the-top comic gruesomeness. He enjoys urban exploring, photography, watching both good and bad horror and sci-fi movies, hiking, playing the guitar, good wine, and Guinness – not necessarily in that order. As a child, his favorite playground was a 17th-century cemetery, which many people feel explains a lot. You can follow him at Twitter, Facebook, About Me, and My Personal Site.