Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dare To Write Crap

I hit a wall like I always do after I finish work on a big story. Most of us do hit walls and the reason is that we’re trying to write too well. After I complete a story, it’s in pretty good shape and usually much different than the sad looking first draft I had. Somehow my ego convinces me that I’m capable of cranking out this final draft quality all the time and when nothing that good comes to me I freeze up.
The ultimate goal at this point is to get something, anything onto paper. We have to have the guts as writers to put any garbage that comes to us on the page. Dare to write crap. It’s the only way around writer’s block. Write the silly things that you wanted to write about when you were a kid. Write the silly things that you want to write about as an adult but never dared. To drop all pretension, aim to make it the worst piece of writing you’ve ever done. Do this for as long as you have to in order to loosen up again. And some of the crap may actually turn out to be pretty good and worthy of a second draft. When we’re relaxed, good stuff sometimes leaks out without us realizing it. The words flow and the writing seems natural.
The very best book on this subject is If You Can Talk, You Can Write by Joel Saltzman. Read it, throw perfection out the window, and go write.
Finally, this: I had an art teacher way back in elementary school (Mrs. Hinchie, I think her name was) who told those of us who were complaining that we couldn’t think of anything to paint that the problem was not that we didn’t have any ideas. The problem was that we had too many ideas. Just pick one. You can get to all the others later.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Back From Beyond

So what happened to me for the last month and a half? The holidays, for one, the wife and kids on Christmas vacation, visiting in-laws, the whole nine yards. I wrote next to nothing in December. What else? Well, about halfway into the month, I got a call from a very prestigious magazine whose fiction department was interested in one of my stories, but wanted to see a longer version. So the first week and a half of January was dedicated to rewrites. It turned out great and hopefully they’ll love it so much, they’ll buy it and you can find it on your newsstand sometime in the future. I’ll let you know how it goes. Unfortunately even though the new version of the story is about sixteen times the size of the original, I don’t count rewrites as new stories, so my count hasn’t changed.

However, besides having a great new story that I’m proud of, I’ve had a breakthrough in the way I work. I’ve had problems plotting for as long as I’ve been writing. I try to figure out where a story should go and then try to squish the action up and funnel it in that direction. What I end up with is characters who do ridiculous things for stupid reasons in order to come with an ending that sounds cool. It sucks and I’ve always known it but I’ve never been able to do anything about it. With Keys to the Yellow Kingdom (#43) and this story I just rewrote, I now know how it’s supposed to be done:

Once I get an idea, I don’t try to figure out the whole story from the get go. I don’t even try to write everything out at once. Instead I imagine scenes that might be interesting that are related to the idea. I don’t try to think them up in order. As things come to me, I try and flesh the thing out in my mind. I’ll write each scene or bit down as it gels in my mind. This happens over the course of days. When that’s dry, I’ll try to put the scenes in a logical order and then see if I need any other scenes to connect what I’ve got. I’ll think about those and then put them in. Somewhere along the line, the ending will come to me. So there’s a lot of thinking involved. That’s a lot of time that seems like it’s not writing, but it actually is. It’s just writing in your head. It may not be the fastest way to do it, but the plot comes out naturally, unforced and most importantly, it doesn’t seemed contrived. This all adds up to a much better story. Try it and see what you think.