All Thinking and No Typing Makes Me Not A Writer

I had a blog post written for this week. Several actually. They’re still waiting to be re-read and polished into something coherent in Microsoft Word. But, somehow, I couldn’t muster up the will to actually re-read anything that I’ve written, let alone, clean up a draft. Lately, I’ve just been in the mood to type type type all the random (and not so random) little things that flit through my mind, and though I know this is my blog, and I can post whatever I want on it, I respect the general blogosphere enough not to throw out word vomit just for the heck of it. Believe me, no one needs to see what my unfiltered, newly awake, pre-coffee mind is capable of. (No, it’s not anything negative or controversial. I just don’t want anyone to question that English is my native language.)

Unfortunately, my type type type disease hasn’t translated to my WIP2 very well. In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. I will re-read and tinker with the bits that I’ve already written, and yet d.r.a.g. my metaphorical feet to get to the next step in the action. It’s not procrastination. Not really. Nor is it a “what happens next?” thing. I think honestly, I over analyzed the story, and now I’m too bored (for lack of a better word) to continue.

I like my story. I know I do. But, I think that I’ve spent a little too much time thinking about The Story and writing about it via plotting methods of all sorts that I’ve lost touch with my MC, who, I admit, is the main reason why I like my story in the first place. After all this time, MC started to feel like, well, a character and not a real person. Well, I know MC isn’t real, but I started to think of the story as scenes that would lead to other scenes, and things that MC would need to do to get to those scenes, etc, that I lost sight of my recently learned lesson: story comes from the choices that the MC makes.

Random Interjection By My Brain Elves

Thinking about cardboard characters kind of reminds me of the flannelgraph stories I used to sit through during Sunday school.

The teacher would change the main elements of the story on a flannel board as she told the story. So, I would sit there, listening to her words, and yet, mostly stare at a static scene. Sure, sometimes she’d wiggle the characters if they were supposedly walking across the room, or a desert, but ultimately, the characters were lifeless, and no amount of moving by the teacher convinced me of the actions they were supposed to convey from the story. (Story time is definitely best served with an animated voice fueling a listener’s imagination, no visuals necessary. My two cents.)

Anyway, that’s how I’ve started to feel with WIP2. That I’m just pushing this cutout of MC around varying backdrops, which all amounts to a big, fat “So what?”

/End interjection.

Looking back, I can see where I’ve tripped myself up. I probably should have kept working on it privately first, before letting alpha readers give me initial feedback. After all, the Almighty Stephen King proclaimed that writers should write first with the door closed. That first drafts were a time for exploring and uncovering the story; a time to wallow in back story, adverbs, and tense shifts (oh my!). First drafts are supposed to be a free-for-all creative time, without that nagging feeling of “I hope they like this” poking at me.

And, for me, the “door closed” would also apply to reading anything to do with the publishing industry at all. It’s too discouraging to see books being sold and/or released that are too similar in concept to anything I’m working on. I know, I know, I’m supposed to read a lot and research widely, etc, and I do, believe me. But, I shouldn’t during the “door closed” phase. I know this about myself now, and I won’t waste time trying to convince myself that many books with similar concepts are published all the time, blahblahblah. It’s easier just to avoid news of that sort all together. Besides, there are plenty of non-adventure, non-science-fiction books out there to satisfy my reading addiction. (Sidenote: currently reading Kirsten Hubbard’s Wanderlove. LOVE IT. It releases March 2012. Mark your calendars!)

Another thing that I must must must remember: even though I enjoy planning and organizing my day, week, month, year, and have been encouraged to do so in my pay the bills job with extremely positive results (no surprise, running a business requires thoughtful planning and preparing for the unexpected), when it comes to writing a novel, pre-planning just doesn’t work for me. It’s hard for an uberplanner like me to admit that, but it’s scarily true. I hit my stride with my story when I just wrote it all out, no outlines or anything. I was always able to push through a “writer’s block” by thoughtfully considering next steps, and then writing them out. But, thoughtful consideration should not equate to plotting out my novel scene by scene. My muses, aka the above-mentioned brain elves, simply don’t work that way, and I have to accept that. I need to stop trying so hard to conform to a random ideal of how I should work, and instead, embrace the process that works for me. Because, this trend of barely writing a (ridiculous, word vomit-y) page during each writing session is getting really tiresome, and it’s not moving me toward my goal.

One highlight in all this self-reflection is that I re-discovered my original author role model, Dean Koontz, whose writing process and mindset resonates with me greatly. He shared this on his website:

On good days, I might wind up with five or six pages of finished work; on bad days, a third of a page. Even five or six is not a high rate of production for a 10- or 11-hour day, but there are more good days than bad. And the secret is doing it day after day, committing to it and avoiding distractions.

Because I don’t do a quick first draft and then revise it, I have plenty of time to let the subconscious work; therefore, I am led to surprise after surprise that enriches story and deepens character. I have a low boredom threshold, and in part I suspect I fell into this method of working in order to keep myself mystified about the direction of the piece–and therefore entertained.

The part I truly loved reading (apart from his tireless work ethic) is the idea of a low-boredom threshold, and keeping himself entertained by being mystified about the direction his story is going. Knowing that, was an A-HA! moment for me. I realized that I stopped looking forward to working on my story because I took away the fun factor, that motivation to keep working on it.

To that end, I have reverted to earlier versions of WIP2, and have reacquainted myself with that MC and storyline to recapture that sense of mystery again.

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Do You Have Any Writing Advice For Me?

 Writing Advice

I was deleting old emails from this blog’s contact form, and stumbled upon an email from a young lady stating that she hoped I was a friendly variety of writer, and asked, “Do you have any writing advice for me?”

I checked my email archives, and was happy that I wrote her back. Her question, after all, was very easy to answer, since I feel like I have to continually advise myself every day I write. My emailed response to her was this…

 I don’t really have much advice in the way of writing, since I’m still learning myself!  The best advice that I’ve read for any writer is something that Stephen King said: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” That’s pretty much all you need to know and do, especially while you’re still in school.  Read as much as possible.  Read read read.  While you’re reading as much as you can, write write write. When you surround yourself with words, you’ll be able to use them more creatively.

On my blog, I chronicle my writing journey.  Feel free to poke around there, and glean any learnings as I stumble around on my own writing path.  Though my goal is to be a published author one day, the skill/art of writing is a talent that I believe needs to be strengthened and sharpened continually.  It’s like a muscle that way.  You use it or lose it. My blog is my way of keeping myself accountable to “using” my writing skill.

Oh, one more thing: as you write, remember why you’re writing.  I truly enjoy creating stories, and I love getting lost in the creative process.  Sure, it gets frustrating sometimes, and I get tired, but in the end, I write because I love it.

…and re-reading it now, my advice wouldn’t change if she asked me again. The best part? Seeing my old words, “Sure, it gets frustrating sometimes, and I get tired, but in the end, I write because I love it,” and knowing they’re still as true today as they were six months ago.

Friendly Variety of Writer

There was one point in her email that stuck out to me that I didn’t notice the first time I read it six months ago. (Possibly because I was still amazed that anyone would ask me for writing advice, and was distracted by making sure my answer made sense.) (Also, what a great argument for letting a manuscript rest before revising it.) The young lady hoped that I was a “friendly writer.”

Of course, because I’m me, I’ve wondered all morning if she had encountered many unfriendly writers to have phrased her sentence that way, and moreover, if I lived up to her expectation of being a friendly writer.

Anyway, I didn’t write this last part to garner any words of sympathy or encouragement. Only that the realization gave me the opportunity to reflect on my writing journey and public persona, and to hope that I can be a support to my writing peers. (After all, writers provide me with books, my drug of choice, and I need to support my addiction.) 🙂

So, what one piece of writing advice do you share the most? What recent epiphanies have you had that caused you to reflect on your writing journey?

PS: One of my favorite author role models is Beth Revis, and she wrote a blog post HERE that stayed with me long after reading it.

Behind Closed Doors

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”

Stephen King, On Writing

My hubs has teased me before about shutting him out of my writing; that I don’t want him or anyone else to read my writing. It’s not that I care if anyone reads my work (I have a public blog, after all), nor that I need or want to shut anyone out. It’s more like I need to shut myself in. I need to keep all these ideas and glimpses from flying away from me, and so I need to have a way to focus and get those captured into words before forgetting.

It’s a bit like describing a dream when you just woke up, which is the reason why I call my creative process active dreaming, or describe my writing as dreaming up my words and worlds. When I’m able to capture it via stream of consciousness writing, I feel so much better that I was able to get those words out. They are now in the real world, maybe not whole, but there, and I can flesh out ideas later.

But, when I’m not able to put those thoughts into words, and they go to limbo never to be remembered again, I feel like I’m dying inside. You know that feeling when you’re having a conversation with someone, and you forget what you were just about to say? You shrug it off during the conversation and say that you’ll remember it later, but then the whole time your friend is talking, you keep saying, “what was I going to say?” and the whole conversation becomes this meaningless exercise in remembering what you wanted to say. The frustration you’re feeling is a fraction of what I feel, because I don’t eventually remember what it is I wanted to capture. And, I feel like I failed my world in a way.

Though I know it will take a lot of work to create the scenes that I need, now that I have the story plotted, I feel like it’s more anchored in this world. I can be interrupted more, because it’s easier to recall and play with things that are “real.” I can pick up where I was interrupted because it’s right there in front of me, like a photograph, and all I need are better words to make it three-dimensional.  It has changed from being subconscious to conscious.  And, shaping and re-shaping something is a whole lot easier than starting from nothing.