Archive for July, 2009

Jul 27 2009

writing process and trust

Had a great conversation with a friend the other day online, about when to let stories go and when to push through and finish them. Conventional writing wisdom I’ve encountered often describes the “wannabe” writer as someone perpetually working on that first novel (but never finishing). Given how many writers attach parts of their ego to their created works or their creative process, it’s not surprising that many feel a sense of failure from not finishing a particular work.

Good writing advice I’ve seen elsewhere does take the time to remind a budding writer that the hindbrain processes are strange and mysterious, you’ll have more ideas than you’ll ever have time to write, and you can often learn more from your writing “failures” than your blissful successes. Here are a few of my own current writing aphorisms I’ve found useful:

Along similar lines as “trust your process” recommended elsewhere, I’d say that “trusting your process is trusting yourself”. The more I let the story’s needs dictate how and when writing happens, the stronger the stories seem to become. When I try to impose external “shoulds” on a particular piece of work (such as, this should be done in this way, or I should be further along on this than I am), I’ve found that almost inevitably I will have a less pleasant and rougher road working on that piece than I do on the ones where I trust the process of creation, however quirky it looks viewed from out here. Sometimes things will take longer than they “should”; assuming you’re not working to a deadline, at this stage in the process you’re the only one passing judgment on you. Are you precognitive that you know the exact creation time-line of each work you envision?

One I have to repeat to myself regularly on the novel and occasionally on shorter works, is “it doesn’t matter if it’s good, it matters if it’s a draft. Drafts can be fixed.” This is a good one for quieting the internal editor that makes you want to go back and polish the beginning bits to perfection before, you know, actually getting to the end; or to barely write because your sentences must be award-winning quality the first time they hit the page. My first drafts are some cringe-worthy, cliched, one-dimensional things, more often than not. However, I’ve noticed that cliches can often be secret code or thought cues when later reviewing the draft, and my revising mind can come up with much better prose more clearly and quickly if I’m following my own hindbrain’s shorthand. My stepmom and first editor Mary Bass says that even a final work is never “done”, in that you always have the option to go back and change or improve your own work. (Whether or not you “should” is a different panel.)

A more recent realization that has been helpful is “just because it’s generally good to finish things doesn’t mean that everything started must be finished.” Just like a musician has scales, or a dancer has stretches, a writer will have bits and pieces of elusive stories lounging in the trunk. Some of those will eventually grow into finished works; many or even most will simply exist as snippets of almost-was. It might be helpful to view them as writing exercises, or brain warm-ups, rather than personal failures.

Similarly, “done doesn’t always mean finished,” whether you mean “I am so done with this POS!” or as another reminder that a finished product isn’t the only marker of success, just the one most obviously recognized as such. I like going back and looking at my writing idea one-liner posts to myself; I rarely find anything I want to use (yet) in a story, but I do enjoy seeing how clever (or sometimes so very not) I am even when just brainstorming or idea-churning. My hindbrain seems to insist on hiding them under half-a-dozen different tags, but that just makes finding them a bit of an adventure, which seems to be part of the fun.

What, if any, are your experiences with any of the above ideas in your own work? (Oh, and I’ll be away from net connection next monday so no writing post then, but feel free to comment in the menatime on this or any of the other ones, I should have phone and limited email access.)

One response so far

Jul 19 2009

setting thoughts

Fourth Street Fantasy Convention was great this year (and promises to be awesome next year, add it to your reminders now!), and though I didn’t get to attend all the panels I got a lot of tasty thoughts and ideas from those I did attend.

One idea might have come from either a panel or one of the good discussions that happened throughout the weekend. I was reminded of the importance of setting in science fiction and fantasy stories. This, coupled with Ella’s sound critique, have caused me to revisit and refine where and when in space and time my novel exists. I spent much of my first draft slogging out what and who, and I’m quite fine with having delayed further development until now. On the other hand, I think not working out those when and where details now will make extra work for me in later drafts, and I do so try to avoid extra work where I can. (Extra work isn’t the same as more work, which I hardly ever avoid, so wipe those smirks off, smartarses!)

Someone at the con mentioned that in a fantasy work, the setting not only affects the characters and the plot, but in many ways is developed and acts like a character in its own right, in terms of its effects. I think this holds true for many sf settings as well; the same characters and basic plot will very likely turn out differently if I drop the characters into 1950s-style space opera instead of hyper-urban New Calcutta fifty years from now.

For those reading interested in cool discussion, I’ll start off with this question: What are your experiences where social, temporal, geographical, cultural, or other contexts significantly affected a particular event or creation? I’m finding for this novel, so far, that the cultural and ethnic heritages of the characters and the location in space-and-timeline of various events heavily affect the development of characterization and plot points.

One response so far

Jul 08 2009

Learning experience (or, revising really is fun!)

Back and recovering from the trip like a tired, aching thing. Still much work to be done, just doing what parts I can do while sitting around and resting for today. Now on to the interesting stuff…

I’m entering in the last round of edits for “…Elmer the Cat” today in preparation for sending it off. This has been a profound learning experience from start to finish. In the first draft, I had the voice of the narrator so clearly in my head that writing the story was quick and much more linear than many of my stories. It’s been through 6 readers and several revision rounds, including an awesome workshopping that I think I already mentioned, with Steve and Nathan (and Kendra sitting in) up at 4th Street. Had another deep session with Nathan on the plane back, and I think one of the biggest signs that I had to be done with working on it for now was that in some of my own editing suggestions, I’d moved far enough away from it that I was starting to lose the voice that had come through so clearly in draft 1. Happily, Nathan caught most of those and I do think the result is a tighter story. I certainly hope I can get this one published, and already have three or four places lined up to send it to, so we’ll see how it goes.

While I’m trying to remember to take the time to appreciate my accomplishments, there’s more writing to be done! Already a full to-do list today, with catching up on emails to be written at the top of the list. (Also, trolling the trunk for salvageable stories, and jumping the next hurdle of brainstorming so that I can move on with the novel work. And updating the to-do list, hehe.)

Another experience in learning my writing attitudes and routines recently has been quite nifty. I stopped working on the novel for a bit to focus on “…Elmer the Cat”, and thought (rather casually) that I was having a slack-off moment on the novel, being a lazier writer than I really want to be. However, since I’ve been working on letting my head move more at the pace it wants to go, I didn’t struggle too much to self-castigate and just enjoyed the short story work — and my, did I enjoy it! Even as much as it pushed my limits I loved every bit of this latest short story, from brainstorming to drafting to final-for-now revision. (Though I agree with my stepmom Mary, that there’s no such thing as a final draft, you can always go back and revise or rework a piece whenever you feel it needs it.)

And in the process, figured out that the reason I was hesitating on the novel work wasn’t slacking off at all, but a wall needing smashed in regards to a (very good) editing suggestion I received from the marvelous Ella, that I needed more definition of time/space/place. And I agreed with her thought, and realized that not having some of that defined was part of what was slowing me down in this second draft — and that the faster I got to codifying that, the less of this draft I’d have to go back and re-write from the ground up later. Saving future me work is definitely a goal of mine, so my other learning experience this week was a more subtle layer of trusting my writing process/hindbrain, that even apparent laziness might actually be a useful break to regroup and rethink. Also, knowing which hurdle it is that I’m jumping this time is invigorating to the desire to dive back into the work.

For anyone reading who wants to join in, feel free to comment on any of the above or jump into this discussion: What sort of experience have you had with your work or craft recently where your own process surprised you by working outside of your expectations?

2 responses so far

Jul 02 2009

travel break soon, writing ramp-up

Published by under Life

About to embark on the last major trip I’ll have to take for several weeks, yay! I really enjoy traveling, but would prefer a bit more time to recover in-between major jaunts whenever possible. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. I am so glad I’ve been in such a physically healthy place lately; not only did I make it through the winter without a major illness for the first time I can remember, but my stamina has held through this last crazy month-and-a-half of running around the country.

My writing projects to-do list has tripled in the past week, as I come up with at least three new things to be working on in addition to the novel-in-progress. I’ve been doing fairly well at continuing to write regardless of whatever else is going on in my life, and I’m testing my (current) limits a bit under the theory that the more writing in various venues I do, the more likely it is I’ll start to earn some income from it. Not to mention continuing to increase my name recognition wherever I can. Also, my breadth of writing ability is being tested, and I’ve never wanted to be limited to just one or two genres anyway.

I’m currently excited, writing-wise, about:

  • My novel-in-progress (yes, I get frustrated just as often as excited, here, but today excitement reigns)
  • My next novel (I already have most of what I need to jump right into this after the current wip is drafted–plus, it will hopefully be my first series!)
  • cleaning up the old to-do list (finally found my notes to finish up a couple of old projects that were put on hold when things imploded several months back, which will be a psychological weight lifted)
  • a regular column idea (this one looks to be endless fun)
  • an academic-style paper (research for this will hopefully speed the wip along, too)
  • sketch comedy work with a friend (the invitation for this came along on the same day that I was talking to Nathan about wanting more experience writing humor, yay!)
  • whichever short story comes next (only a couple of idea seeds here, not rushing this since there are plenty of other projects to focus on)
  • trolling the trunk (printing out mostly completed story pieces and going over them to see which, if any, can be brought up to my current standards enough to send out)

Whew! I’d say that’s a decent chunk of writing projects. Now to manage the trick of working on several at a time while NOT dropping off work on the novel. At the least I’ll learn more about where my current saturation point is, and I’ll post about my progress here as it develops. I currently have three stories out looking for a publishing home, and I’ve decided that’s my new minimum preferred standard for number of circulating stories.

For those readers able to work on more than one major project at a time (in whatever field), how does that process work for you? I know every person approaches their work differently, but I’m always curious about other folks’ processes.

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