The Mark Blog

Losing Control

I can write. What I mean is that I usually have no trouble sitting down and stringing words together. Sentences beget sentences, and eventually, when I’m lucky, I find a crumb of a story. The hard part isn’t the writing, but maintaining control of it.

In Making Shapely Fiction, Jerome Stern says, “A beautifully complex story is often complex not because of a complicated surface, but because of an impressive depth.”

When writing, I tend to let the whims of the characters lead me. I follow their actions and conversations to give them life on the page. But the longer I do this, the harder it becomes to expose those hidden depths. I’m too busy playing, rewriting scenes when they’re not working––sometimes over and over––and leaving almost nothing of what I started with in the first place.

This reminds me of relationships, the way people get caught up in the fun and excitement of the early stages but leave as soon as things get difficult. They find another person and repeat the process, making the same mistakes all over again.

In his notes on the first story I turned in, Antoine wrote: “Some writers keep their hands too tight on the steering wheel, telling us what to feel all the time, while others let the car drift… This story had me worried I’m going to end up in a ditch on the side of the road.” Me too, Antoine. This, perhaps, is the curse of finding words easily, because then you've got to settle down and sift through them in order, finally, to tell the story.

This week I’ve been rewriting a story that now barely resembles its first draft. I keep getting caught up in sub-plots. I fear I haven’t found its heart yet, but that doesn’t mean I should stop. I do think that as long as I’m writing, eventually I’ll find it. Depth can’t be forced, but I can guide myself as a writer, avoid taking the easy routes, and slow down when the difficult stuff comes up.

It’s a little tricky because life is not a straight narrative, especially in cities like LA, where most of my stories take place. Every day we’re sideswiped by random people and fall into situations that are out of our control. I feel this quality should be reflected in my work. To me, when a story feels too controlled, when you feel the writer pulling all the strings, it's just less interesting. In other words, the writer should steer the car toward a destination, but allow for side trips here and there––as long as the car keeps moving.

But how long will it take to get there? Weeks, months, years? Sometimes it feels endless. Will I ever be done? Or will I rewrite for the rest of my life? Could I work on a story forever?

Sometimes you've got to let your hands slip off the steering wheel, lose control, and let the car drift off a cliff. Then you rise from the wreckage, brush off the ashes, and get back to work on another story.