As I slogged through my horrendous backlog of Google Reader items last week, I read one of the best writing-related posts I’d ever seen from io9.com entitled “12 Secrets to Being a Super-Prolific Short-Story Writer.” I actually know some of these…
- Know how your story ends before you begin it.
- Don’t just write the same story over and over again, or you’ll bore yourself.
- Start crude, then work on refining.
- Have a bunch of stories on the back burner, and keep rotating.
- Don’t be afraid to stare at the blank screen for a few hours.
- Write a bunch of stories in a shared world.
- Some stories are just the turning point in the story, not the whole story from beginning to end.
- Try creating a character study, or a collection of potent images, instead of just a series of plot twists.
- If you’re getting bogged down in a particular story, you probably haven’t found what it’s about yet.
- Try an exercise, like rewriting a well-known story from a different viewpoint.
- Don’t be afraid to take crazy risks.
- Write for different markets.
It’s no secret to anyone that I’m weeks overdue on delivering my Four Horsemen Contest story, for a number of reasons I won’t go into here. But every inch of the teeth-pulling progress I’ve made on the damn thing thus far was made by re-learning these two pieces of advice.
5) Don’t be afraid to stare at the blank screen for a few hours. Sometimes you gotta spend some time chewing over the turning point in your story. Sometimes the ending you thought was so crystal clear when you started out has turned mushy. Sometimes you have to throw out a thousand words of perfectly good story because it rang false and didn’t feel like the direction the story should be going in. There’s no substitute, on occasion, for sitting and sweating it out. Think about the characters, and what they’re actually thinking and feeling in the situation you’ve set up. Think about the themes you’ve established and what sort of resolution they’re leading to. Take the time to visualize the right ending for this story, or put it aside…
I’ve seriously forgotten how to just sit and sweat it out. I’d sit and get frustrated that nothing was coming. I’d make myself scribble some words down. Then I’d hit the backspace key and delete. Then I’d hit Ctrl-Z and put it all back. Rinse and repeat.
It’s a life issue, really. I’ve never had any trouble bleeding, sweating, or crying to keep my momentum going. I’ve had stuff knock me down, and I’ve had to get back up. But when something just stalls? When I’m working and working, and I’m just spinning my wheels? That’s often when I want to give up.
But I’m getting better.
9) If you’re getting bogged down in a particular story, you probably haven’t found what it’s about yet. This is sort of an extension of tip #5, I guess. Maybe you’re trying to make your characters care about what you want them to care about, instead of what it makes sense for them to care about. Maybe you’re focusing on a supporting character, while your main character is wandering around just outside the frame. Maybe the real theme or idea of your story is something you’ve only touched on in passing. The power of storytelling is so great, that when you find what your story is actually about, you may feel it propelling you forward with its unstoppable logic. The characters will be motivated to move forward, the mysteries will feel more and more urgent until someone solves them, and the underlying themes will get clearer and clearer until they form into some kind of potent image. That’s the idea, anyway.
And, I’m almost there.
Part of the problem (and no, I don’t really count the hell my work life has been the past few weeks) is that my writing process has moved soooo far away from starting with an idea. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with “First contact with mutual attraction between the species.” But I had a hell of a time starting with that because that idea, in itself, said nothing to me at first. Given the right germ of a scene, maybe a character interaction or a piece of dialogue, that idea might’ve occurred to me.
But, I’m not bitching! It took a bit of struggle, but I’ve actually found something resembling a theme, related to the “First contact with mutual attraction between the species” idea, that I can sink my teeth into, based on the characters and situations that have already presented themselves in the puke draft. And that’s what I’ve been working on, trying to hammer it into shape in the Forge of Vulcan (i.e. my netbook).
Yep, I can feel my groove coming back, slowly but surely.