Thursday, August 13, 2009

Working Out the Kinks

I just read through my previous posts. Wow. Was I really that big an arrogant prick only a few days ago? I guess I was. Apologies to anyone who has had to swallow my crap about being "as good" (whatever that means) as the other writers. So much talk about people wanting to prove themselves, and I was the chiefest of sinners all along. Oh, well. At least I've realized how silly some of my perceptions were at the time. The GOOD part about those posts is that they preserve the enthusiasm I felt that week. I'm glad to be able to revisit that when I'm feeling burnt out and uncreative.

I've been having a lot of negative feelings about writing since I got back. I wish I could be the kind of person who just lets the past be and moves forward, but unfortunately, I always have to rehash old events to discover what meaning they might have in the present. Once each event is named, I can shelve it and move forward. But not before. So here we go:

Before boot camp, my writing schedule was very loose. I wrote stories as they came to me. I had the vague hope of publication in some hypothetical magazine somewhere, sometime, and a distant idea that "one day" I would attempt an impossible, distant, unattainable Novel. I didn't write for a particular audience, and I usually didn't have the story hammered out in advance.

In short, boot camp SQUASHED my old way of doing things. There is no place for the kind of aimless wandering I was doing in the life of a writer who hopes to make writing their career. (It's late, am I making sense?) And now, I have seen my own mistakes picked apart. I've seen other people's mistakes picked apart. Over and over, the problem was not language. It wasn't nifty ideas. It was STORY INVENTION. I never realized how unwilling I was to spend the time to thoroughly hash out a story and it's implications. Orson Scott Card said something in passing that I really latched onto. He referred to writing as "creating an intellectual property."

WOAH. I had NEVER thought of it that way. I had always had this vague idea that you just wrote, and if you were lucky, you sold the words you wrote. The idea that in writing you are building something almost tangible in its detail hadn't crossed my mind. Sure, I paid lip-service to the idea that writing was a "craft" just like carpentry or masonry, but I didn't have a clear idea of what that actually meant. The sad truth is, if I had put the time and practical, accessible story detail into my stories that I put into my stupid Dnd campaigns, I would have been published already. WHAT. A. WASTE.

So if I sound like a whiny, little brat who can't make up his mind about how to view this whole writing business, just chock it up to growing pains. Once I've written some stuff and had the chance to try my hand applying all this new knowledge and perspective, I'll mellow out. For now, I'm trying my hand at invention. I'm putting forth an honest effort to "craft" a story that I won't have to use the language equivalent of the "blur tool" on just to make it look good. I'm trying to be the biggest, most cynical bastard you can imagine, while still enjoying the "making stuff up" part like I did when I was a kid.

Oh, and I made a new rule for myself. "No more books on writing until I've finished a novel-length work." This is a big step. It's easy to be afraid that you don't know enough, and start reading "writin' books" as a procrastination aid. You get a lot of good advice and precisely ZERO writing done. If I want instruction, I'll read good fiction for pleasure. You learn more instinctively from a good book than you do from a half-dozen writing books. So enough. Here's another good one: "Stop nit-picking the language. Period." Also good advice. Just write, neither needlessly verbose nor needlessly sparce. Just write. If you have a good story, it will turn out alright.

Holy crap, I think that's actually true. Back to work, then.


  1. My wife and I were just saying that any writer who isn't constantly beating themselves for a shoddy job--must not have written very long.

    It's hard to find a writer who respects the art who doesn't find his work horrible--and constantly in need of approval.