As my conversations with Writer B progressed, I began to see how his lightning bolts of inspiration could hinder as well as help him. His few poems and stories were almost all little gems, and I was happy for him that he could apparently pluck excellent work out of the air.
Furthermore, when he wasn’t writing (“taking dictation” was his description), he was often being blitzed by ideas and insights. These were miniature lightning bolts, which he worked diligently to capture.
After he retired, he first began to organize his voluminous handwritten notes—all those ideas and insights—by typing them into his computer so that he could quickly search them. This huge task required years, however, he thought it should precede most of his writing on the first draft of his novel.
This seemed logical to me, since he’d often told me that the novel was to incorporate his lifetime’s worth of reading and thinking. Two or three years went by, and the only progress Writer B reported on his actual writing was, “I see things all in a whole, like a painting, so when I write, I fill in a little here, and a little more there.”
Occasionally he mentioned that he didn’t yet see how to start, nor how to escape mere “talking heads” that weren’t characters, but a thin cover for his message. This stage continued so long that I began to wonder if he was ever going to progress beyond it.
Then came the conversation, similar to my moment of revelation about Writer A’s central struggle, in which I began to understand what was probably holding Writer B back.