Counting legs

There are days that I feel like that proverbial centipede – the one who could walk, nay, run, until the moment when someone asks, “How do you DO that with so many legs to control?” At which point the poor animal starts thinking about his locomotion on a leg-by-leg mechanical basis, what each leg is supposed to be doing at any given moment, and quickly collapses in a tangled heap because it’s overthinking the whole thing and doesn’t know how to walk any more.

When I was young, or even just youngER, I used to write with gay abandon – like that centipede running, with joy, with faith, with a purity of storyteller spirit that picked me up and floated me on top of the story soup and all I had to do was lean over the side and dip a hand in the waters andlo, the stories would leap out at me like golden fish asking breathlessly what my wish was so that they could fulfill it.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still that. There will ALWAYS be that.

MOST of the time.

But there are days when I grind to a screaming halt, and I am thinking in terms of mechanics. This scene doesn’t work, that sentence structure is wrong, this character is acting out of, well, character – you get the picture. So I surrender to the overwhelming urge to sit and nitpick and try to get it damned perfect before I can go on and it USED to be perfect anyway or at least it looked that way before I started unravelling the thing down to its molecular structure to find out just how it works, what makes it tick, what makes it live. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is an autopsy because I”m poking around post mortemĀ  in a thing that’s already dead.

And the story, like the centipede, is in a heap in the middle of the page, whimpering.

It gets worse after you get published and kind of hope and expect to KEEP being published, because not only are you second-guessing the basic mechanics of writing but also of marketing – why am I writing this, will it even sell – and things can come to a fine pass sooner than anyone ever expects, and you’re left sitting there with a block the size of the wall of China staring you in the face without quite knowing how you came to grind to a halt.

I’ve got a chapter that’s bedevilling me that way right now. It’s sitting there mocking me – I can see the shape of it in my head but it won’t let me in, it won’t let me knead it and shape it and bake it, it won’t let itself live.

I have to stop counting legs.

That chapter is going to get battered into submission this week. Today. Dammit. I have the rest of the novel to write.

This is the centipede, slowly and deliberately untangling itself, and swearing to recapture the pure magic of just walking. And who knows, it might lead to running. Or flying.

See you on the other side of the wall.

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Author Information

Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander is a novelist, short story writer and anthologist whose books include High Fantasy ("Hidden Quen""Changer of Days"), historical fantasy ("Secrets of Jin Shei", "Embers of Heaven"), contemporary fantasy ("Midnight at Spanish gardens") and YA (the Worldweavers series, the Were Chronicles). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two cats. Visit site.

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