Frustrated Writer: Finding a clear path through life

This is a tough novel I am working on. It’s nothing like I’ve ever attempted before. I have said this before but I will say it again mainly because I am still trying to process it all out and come to grips.

If this was just another novel I would be hitting my stride right now. I’ve done that before, written novels. But I am trying to do something new and different here. That is to say, new and different for me. I am challenging myself and I like that aspect of it, even though it is frustrating.

I am a big one for telling my writer friends they should push other things out of the way so they can concentrate on story. But sometimes that’s just impossible, even for a person like me who has made Pushing People Aside So I Can Write into an art form. Sometimes you  have to bow to outside pressure and that’s part of the problem. Outside forces and influences have impinged themselves collectively upon my time and it’s hurting this nascent creative work on the novel. I haven’t found my voice yet for the book or completely wrapped my mind around what I want it to accomplish.

Again, if this was just another novel I wouldn’t be having this problem. But this is a different thing for me here. I am really pushing myself to understand what the novel is about and how I can write it the way I have envisioned it. Tough. Hard. Difficult. Especially when life’s vicissitudes get you by the throat.

One good thing, however. Next week it appears I will finally be left alone to work on this novel. Now I can start pouring all my energy and thought processes into the novel and let it germinate properly. I hate having to be interrupted at this delicate time of starting a novel. If I were deep into the book already it would be different. I’d have the voice down, tone, pacing, and could juggle things a little better. But this is the creative process.

I don’t want any interruptions at this point in my life! Let me get this thing straight in my mind and understand what it is all about, then you can bother me with your unimportant problems.

This is what writing is about. It’s hard enough without people around you making it even harder. To be fair, they’re not doing it on purpose. They aren’t writers so they don’t understand how delicate this phase of creativity is, especially when you are trying to write something that you know is already a challenge.

But that’s why I want to write it. Because it is a challenge. I want to see if I can do this or not. Maybe I will fail. It wouldn’t be the first time. But I want to at least have the chance to fail.

Writing is a solitary exercise. At this point in the creative process it’s a necessary element. For me, anyway. And even during the best of times writing is 90% mental. So I need the alone time to hash this all out and understand this darn book.

I just want to get out of the blocks and onto the track. Once I’m running I can deal with interruptions better because I will feel more confident about what I am working on.

I guess we will see how it all pans out.

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Hell on Wheels – The Great Transcontinental Railroad on a TV Budget and a Slack Script

It’s hard to tell a lot from a single episode of commercial television without becoming dependent upon generalities to describe what you’ve seen with Hell on Wheels. But since the episode was made of generalities then I don’t feel so bad about it.

First off, it looks good. The people look sufficiently grimy, the backgrounds and offices and everything else looks decent and believable. There are artistic touches as well. The grass is extra-green and the sky is ultra-blue to give a sense of unspoiled space. Then here comes the railroad to sully everything and everyone. So far so good.

But we do have generalities we have to deal with and it’s a problem. I don’t know if it’s due to this program being aired on commercial TV or what. Maybe the program would have been better served if it had been picked up by HBO or Showtime or something. But AMC is what we have to work with, which means all the constraints of commercial television. So let’s get to it.

Like I said it looks good. But you’ve seen these characters before. There’s the Jonah Hex character (a disillusioned Confederate soldier on a path to vengeance), the rapacious and Machiavellian railroad magnate, the bitter ex-slave, the feminist trapped in a stifling male-dominated culture, the fervent preacher, the saucy whore with a gleam of fun in her eye, and others. Not to say they aren’t characterized well even if they are familiarly drawn. Everyone does a decent job (given their capabilities) and all the characters are likeable (I suppose I mean watchable) as far as it goes. I mean, it’s hard for me to become emotionally invested in anyone after less than one hour of commercial television.

So there’s that.

All in all, nothing came across to me as over the top or maudlin or mawkish even though we are only exploring one facet of this huge enterprise. The creators have determined to focus their attention on a rather narrow aspect of this part of history. I may not agree with it but I can only watch what they give me. The acting wasn’t great, though. But I’m jaded about that. I never expect superb acting from commercial television. Therefore I am rarely disappointed in that regard.

Hell on Wheels refers to an itinerant camp that follows the railroad as it moves across the Old West. I suppose the creators didn’t really want to concentrate on that aspect so much because the series would be derivative of Deadwood and would immediately be judged that way. So all in all there are many good aspects to this series so far. It looks like we have the usual suspects and plot lines to investigate in coming programs.

But there are two main problems so far that, if uncorrected, will at the very least force me to find entertainment elsewhere. First, the writing. Nothing spectacular here at all, I’m afraid. It’s serviceable but that’s all it is. All right, I admit there’s only one David Milch, but I don’t get a sense of any one artistic driving force behind this series. I don’t see a vision here at all. Again, it’s early days and we shouldn’t expect too much from a single program. But I am a writer and good writing will always keep me watching (or reading) no matter what the subject matter. I don’t see that here, and I’m only saying if I don’t see it soon I will bail.

The second problem with the series was no sense of grand scope or panoramic undertaking. If you are going to write a series about a great engineering enterprise like the building of the Transcontinental Railroad then I expect to see that. Now I do admit I liked very much the juxtaposition (or attempt at juxtaposition) between the tiny engineering camp and the open expanse of prairie. But I thought the group of people working on the actual railroad was a little thin. Believe it or not the Transcontinental Railroad was built by more than, like, twenty guys.

I don’t expect TV to show me thousands of laborers working themselves to death. Historically, it is believed one life was given for every sleeper laid on the Transcontinental Railroad. I know television isn’t going to show me that. I know there are budget constraints. But we get no sense of how extraordinarily huge this project truly was. All we ever see is the tiny camp moving across the open prairie and the railroad tycoon passing his fat, pallid hands over maps in a loving manner.

There’s a lot to like in Hell on Wheels if you’re not expecting much to begin with. And a lot to be worried about. I have no problem giving this series another two or three episodes to see what direction they ultimately decide to move into and concentrate on. One thing that interested me was the lone Cheyenne riding after a white woman at the end, tracking her down after she killed a member of his tribe during a massacre. That might be good interpersonal conflict later on. We can only hope.

But I have to be honest. If the writing on this series doesn’t get much better I will hop off at the next train depot and shank’s mare home.

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