the trench


There is a story —

Behind this. But I won’t tell you that now. I will tell you after.


The Trench

I am going to bring this up now because this is about the point when some stories start to look impossible to finish, deal with, there are too many pieces, you start moving them around, none of them seem to fit —

I know this point in the story very well. I hit it every single time I am working on a script. And I have been working on scripts for over 15 years and have literally lost track of how many scripts I have written. [This may or may not be comforting, hmm. But at least know you are not alone.]

When I was in my teens, I used to do a lot of line art. And I was considered a pretty gifted artist. Here is the thing about line art. Every single time I was working on a drawing, there would come this moment of what I guess I can only call despair. I’d be partway through a drawing and it would look awful. None of the lines looked like they were ever going to become an image. It all looked like a terrible mess. I’d stare at the page and think, Oh this can never come together. My impulse would be to rip the hell out of the page and just give up.

Here is the thing though. You can’t do that when a model is sitting there for you to draw. You’d look too damn stupid. So I would keep going. Not because I thought it was going to work. Because it was too embarrassing after an hour drawing a person who was sitting there for you to rip up the page and say, Oh this won’t work let’s quit and go home. And then, something magic would happen. I’d keep adding lines to that drawing. And, at some point, it would take form. The tangle and mess would disappear. And there would be an image that made sense and was beautiful and did work.

After that happens enough times, you start to take it on faith. You start to know, even though you just hit the trench where all those lines look like they are never going to come together, when everything looks hopeless and overwhelming and like it will never work? If you just ignore that and keep going, they will, ultimately come together.

The trick is, to keep going.

Writing is just like that. With every story, it starts out an idea. And you start putting words on a page. And at some point in there, you will hit that trench. It will feel like everything is out of control, like it will never all come together, like it is too overwhelming and nothing makes sense and there are holes all over you will never fill.

The trick is, to keep going.

If you stop there, you will never finish. If you keep going? It will all come together.

We’re missing some Week Six assignments this week. I figure that means a few people are in the trench.

Don’t stay in that trench. Keep going. I promise, if you keep going, you will get out.


Okay, the story — My Gotham classes are ten weeks long. Every class, about Week Six, some students start crashing. It’s tough to go ten weeks. It is more tough to go my class ten weeks. And it is a beginning class so a lot of new stuff at students thrown all at once. Last week we were hitting Week Seven and there was some crashing going on — that is what I told them.


where the art work comes from :
that is from jeremy pierce

0 Responses to the trench

  1. Every writer needs to read this piece.

  2. Oh, max, you have no idea how much I needed this tonight as I sit here in the trench, wondering if I’m going to pull this book to its finish. I can see what the finish ought to be, and since I’m doing something different and reaching for something heartbreaking and devastating, this trench is an entirely new trench and it’s scary. But I, too, did a lot of line art (and charcoal and oils) and you’re right–there’s always that point when it doesn’t work and then it does.

    Thank you.

  3. Synchronicity! I was just talking about this very thing to a friend last night.

    It’s funny how in spite of knowing this, it’s still easy for me to get stuck in the “it’s not going to work” trench.

    But thanks for posting this!

  4. Well timed. Having never written anything, I’m writing a play. I know a technique in collage where everything is spread out everywhere. Or making a painting, where it sits for days and days until the missing thread lands. Keep going. Good post.

  5. max

    I think there is a perception that people who have been writing for a while never experience this but I do not think that is true. I know it is not for me. I have been there too many times to think it is ever going away. The difference is, if you have been there before, you know you will get out — even if it doesn’t feel like you will — because you got out before. With the new kids? They don’t know that because everything is new to them.

  6. I did not give up in the trench. I finished the novel. I revised, and revised, and it is good. It is unique, suspenseful, and good. Really good. It would even make an excellent movie. I am not the kind of person who tends to say that about their own work.

    I gave up on trying to get an agent to read it. That trench was more like a canyon. So, I gave up. I will still write, but I don’t bother to submit.

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