Sunday, January 16

Today's thoughts....

Since I'm faced with a minor dilemma, I thought I'd spend a few minutes talking about the actual mechanics of writing, at least from a personal perspective.

The dilemma is that I want to make my 10,000 word quote, but I'm about 500 words short and I've come up to the dreaded 'what next?'  I'm not quite sure how to get through the next scene.  This is partially my own fault, I posted a chapter in on of my Torchwood fanfiction stories yesterday, so now I've got Jack and Kam in my brain and I know exactly 'what next?' there, but since fanfiction has no real hope of paying the bills, I want to meet my goal of 10,000 words in the story that has a shot of being published, preferably with enough time left over to go to the movies with my husband before I have to teach class this evening.  (The subject Kabbalah.  The students: witches.  Yeah, not a perfect fit is right.) 

So... what does A have to do with B?

Two days ago, I woke up with a steamy little sex scene floating through my brain: James, Alun and Robin's first time all together.  I even know what leads up to it (a huge fight, mostly between Alun and James, and no, James does *not* cheat on Alun, nor Alun on James, but poor Rob does feel caught in the middle... of course ultimately the 'middle' isn't such a bad place to be, even though it's James who is truly 'in the middle' once the end up in bed together, if you catch my drift...)  So... I could either plod ahead and sort through 'what next?' where I am now, or jump ahead and write what's in my head.  I've got a friend who writes that way and she does it brilliantly (and I have taken a page from her proverbial book and written that way a couple of times.)  But typically, my stories are in so much flux that I prefer to write in a straight line, from beginning to end.  That's what brings us to the discussion about mechanics, because I am also one of those writers who doesn't use an outline.  I've got a vague outline in my head: boy meets boy... or rather, boys meet boy... or... well, they already know Robin, so it's more like boys bed boy, but before that happens James discovers Rob in a demon because Rob revealing himself is the only way he can save James from the cabal of sorcerers who are responsible for all sorts of nasty stuff I'm only just beginning to work out... can you see why outlines don't work for me?  I've started from the end and worked my way back to the beginning.  Very often when I sit down to start something all I have is the seed of an idea, a scene or a snippet... sometimes all I have is the end, I just don't know how it's going to get there (and therein lies the joy for me as a writer.  I might know how it ends, but I want to see how it unfolds.)

There are three ways to write a story (of which I'm aware):

My way, to start writing at the beginning and keep writing until you reach the place that feels like the end (or the ending that I knew all along was destined to happen).  It's very imprecise and you end up throwing out a lot of material (I'd guess that I wrote at least double my final word count, in rough draft words alone, on the first one.  The rough draft wasn't literally twice as long, but I break another rule and edit as I go.  Not extensively, but enough to keep the story ever in flux.)

There's the way my one friend does it, to write scenes as they come to her and put then go back and fill in the blanks as she goes.  This means never really having to deal with 'what next?' because one just writes as the muses strike and then moves on to the next scene, so the story is constantly flowing forward. 
And of course there is the way our high school Creative Writing teachers taught us (which in all fairness is the way their teachers taught them).  You start with an outline.  Then you plot out each chapter, so that each chapter also has an outline (I read that tidbit of advice in an article in Writers' Digest 20 years ago).  Then, finally, you write your novel.  Of course you still have to edit the snot out of it when it's done, that's a part of every method.

The problem for me with outlining is that once I've done all that, I'm no longer excited by the original idea.  My excitement, the very reason I write, in fact, comes from watching the story unfold; once I know everything that happens, I don't want to write it!  (I mean, ok, in a romance novel it is a given at least 99% of the time the couple will live Happily Ever After.  There are a few exceptions, but there is also some argument that unless you have HEA you can't really call it a romance novel--and frankly, after watching Children of Earth, I never want a romance to end without Happily Ever After again.  I know it wasn't really a romance, but, well... no.  I want my happy ending, thank you very much, and when I'm writing it, that is within my control to have what I want.  So there.   ::insert childish foot stomp here::)  But I digress...

Clearly, I'm not a fan of the last method, even though I do recognize that it works for some people, probably the people who are more organized than me (do NOT look at  my desk drawers if you value your life... or at least your sanity.)  And of course the outline method does cure the 'what next?' problem.  You always know what's coming next...but where's the fun in that?

I think the real problem most of us--or at least many of us--face when we first start out writing, whether we're doing fanfiction, selling New York Times Bestsellers, or just pecking away for our own enjoyment, is that our high school creative writing teachers don't usually tell us we have options.  I had one writing teacher who didn't ram textbook ideas down our throats, but most of the rest did (and in fact that is why I never took creative writing at a collegiate level, I'd already been soured.)  There was, it was taught by my first creative writing teacher, Only One Way to Write.  You begin with an outline.  That is simply THE way it is done and if you don't follow the model, you'll never be successful.  Young people, especially young creative people, have enough adults in their lives telling them they'll never be successful if they pursue their artistic dreams.  No, it's not an easy road to follow, but it is fulfilling, even if you're "just" writing fanfiction or pecking out stories for your own enjoyment, even if you're just painting pictures for your friends and family or knitting everybody you know scarves for Christmas or singing in the church choir.  We as humans are complex animals and we need to have joy in our lives.  Art brings many of  us joy, both the admiration of it and the creation of it.

So on the topic of mechanics, I say to write however you like, by whatever method works for you.  Just write.  Paint.  Dance.  Sing.  Do the things that bring you joy and live up to your highest potential as a human being.  Maybe if more people tried, more would succeed and we would live in a better world.

And yes, I have digressed again. 

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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