Monday, January 03, 2005

Thanks, Steve

When I blocked out a schedule in my day planner yesterday, one of the things I put in was some writing time. I went with 9:30 AM-noon, since that's between my morning rituals (up at 8, meditate, breakfast, shower) and lunch. So, today I put that schedule into practice.

What I came out with, today at least, was crap. Well, not crap, but not anything I was pleased with. There was some great imagery, but it was clear even to me that I had no idea where the story was going, what the point wa. or why I'd even started doing it in the first place. Despondent, I gave up at 11:00.

After wallowing in self-pity and the Internet for an hour, I decided to turn to a professional for help. Enter Stephen King's On Writing, which I've been meaning to re-read anyway. I skipped the biographical stuff, more concerned with the nuts-and-bolts chapters later on, where he talks about the writers' toolbox. I was bolstered by the revelation that the first two levels of my toolbox, vocabulary and grammar, and to some degree style, were working fine; I was already halfway done. (Although I have resolved to read Strunk and White cover-to-cover tonight after dinner.) Equally simple were the two main directives of "read a lot" and "write a lot." I am and always have been a voracious reader, and even during the slack periods (of which there will be no more, or at least very few, from now on) where I'm not writing fiction, I'm still writing blog entries, letters, posts on message boards, and sometimes just little essays that come to me.

And the next set of tools washed away the rest of the anxiety, not because I'm superb at them, but because upon examination, they're not as hard as I thought they were. Narration, dialogue, and description are the three keys King uses, and while these are areas I need to work on, he explains them in very simple terms that made me realize that most of the worrying I was doing was bullshit. (I hear that particular koan a lot these days.)

Plus there came the great revalation: Plotting is not necessary. And, when speaking of prose, I realized he's right. The best stuff I've done (including the story I sent to Asimov's) has been me starting with a core idea (an elf enrolls in public high school; a depressed artist is visited by an angel) and running with it, seeing where it took me. Whereas stuff I've spent oodles of time plotting out, event-by-event, has quickly stalled.

Aside: When dealing with serial fiction, plotting is more of a must, for reasons described in Denny O'Neill's The DC Comic Guide To Writing Comics. But there should still be some freedom for looseness, to let the story stray off the path and feel what else might be out there.

Another revelation, and another incidence for me kicking myself: the first draft doesn't have to be perfect. *Duh.* Stupid little perfectionist that I am, I get hung up on the idea that if it's not done right the first time, then it wasn't worth doing. (Makes you wonder why I didn't just toss away all those video gamesthe first time I hti the "Game Over" screen, don't it?) I've made shoddy use of the revision process, but I can change that too. It's a matter of day-at-a-time behavior modification. To help, I've turned off the auto-spell-check on Microsoft Word. So, basically, the plan is keep at the 2000 words or 2.5 hours a day, every day, excepting Wednesdays for reviews, until there's a completel draft of something. Then, let that sit for a while and try something else. A while later (possibly when that next thing is done), come back, look at the first thing anew, and revise.

I could go into a lot of detail, and have, but let's just leave it at this: Steve brought me back around to perspective. Good for him.

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