megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
A question from the inestimable, inimitable [livejournal.com profile] ladyslvr in this entry: So, those of you who are writers, could you please take an entry to talk about overcoming hurdles within your stories. Not writer's block hurdles, but story ones. How do you recover the plot thread when it breaks?

I think it's a good question, and I'm passing it on to my f-list. Why not take an entry to discuss your process?

My answer under the cut because it might get lengthy. Your mileage from the answer may vary from state to state. )

So there, [livejournal.com profile] ladyslvr, I hope my long rambling and needless metaphors have helped you or at least made you feel better about yourself in comparison. Because, hey, what are friends for if not to make you warm, tingly superior feeling?
megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
I'm back from Florida and safely in New York City. Of course, it's only for a few hours. I'm headed to Hartford in the morning for a week long dog/cat/fish/lizard-sitting extravaganza. It's going to be awesome, and I anticipate that I might get to do a little more work on the Tower!Guy story, as well as my other idea.

Re: my complete indecision about whether to change horses in midstream with the whole Tower!Guy Story project, I've decided that I don't have to decide. There's no reason why I can't work on both, especially since the other idea I have is still in it's beginning stages and Tower!Guy (I promise, I have a better title) is on it's end run. Seriously. This is the last damn draft I'm doing. If this draft doesn't work out, to hell with it.

Bookwise, I hit a jackpot in Florida and got a real bargain on these books:

The Queen's Bastard by C.E. Murphy
Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy (which is good, because I accidentally picked up book two first)
His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

I finished Swordspoint on the plane and started Urban Shaman. I'd type out a real review of Swordspoint but it would basically amount to: Oh hell yes. Alec/Richard for the win. Duchess Tremontaine for the win. Crazy swordfighting and bitchy nobles for the win.

I will say, despite all the awesome, I liked Privilege of the Sword slightly better, for various reasons. But it's like saying which of my favorite flavors of ice cream I like better. I may prefer pralines and pecan to cookies 'n cream, but they're both delicious.

So far, Urban Shaman is a snarky, smooth kind of read like one of those really fancy vodkas with the fruit flavoring. It goes down burning, and makes you like it.

Oh, and I get to indulge in more book buying goodness because guess what else is in Connecticut? THE BOOK BARN! Can this week get any better? I think not.
megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
Since I'm in Florida right now visiting family, friends, and my dog, I'm sort of on a break from the rewrites. And this time around, I didn't do any work in the airport/airplane, either.

Why?

Because I'm wondering if my instincts to stop work and make progress on another story aren't just the usual mid-novel distractions. I'm wondering if it's more than that.

There's a part of me that still doesn't think I have a real, true grasp on what the core of the Tower!Guy story is. I think it's what [livejournal.com profile] lagringa meant when she said that the story needed shaping. I'm not sure how to define "core", except that it's the thing you can point to and say, "This is the story's soul, this is why it has to be told, this is the thing I needed all those words to express to you."

I have plot, setting, characters, conflict. All the fixings. I just can't help but looking at it and going, "Where's the beef?"

Meanwhile, I have other stories who's core, who's intangable essence I have a much clearer sense of. Sure, they need just as much work, and I'm likely to get just as distracted if I went to work on them, but I feel like I know their shape, their soul. Why yes, I am referring to the never-say-die RBverse!story that refuses to go away when I say, "Not now!"

There's a part of me wondering if there is a point at which you abandon ship (or at least shelve ship) and know that the story just isn't fully cooked yet, that the dough hasn't risen, the crust is not golden brown, (insert cooking metaphor here).

At the same time, I swore up and down to myself that I would not stop, that I would not change horses mid stream. I told myself that I was riding this one all the way to finish line, come hell or high water.

What if me being stubborn is actually keeping me from telling a better story? What if I'm wasting time trying to keep promises to myself, meanwhile the story I should be telling (the story that might just get somewhere) isn't getting told?

Of course, what if this is the story? Writing is like this. It's full of doubts and anxieties and pebbles in your shoes. Maybe this is just the annoying grain of sand that becomes a pearl, but right now the oyster is indecisive.

Being an indecisive oyster sucks. Much better to be decisive if you're a bivalve mollusk. Or a writer. Essentially, we sort of do the same thing. We get irritated by some little particle of something, we add a whole bunch of layers to it for a long time, spit it out, and then people decide whether it's pretty or not.

I suspect oysters may have a higher success rate, though.
megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
Over at Storytellers Unplugged, [livejournal.com profile] matociquala had a very good post about her writing process and her struggle to "to stop thinking in detail about [her] writing, and just let it happen".

It's a good post, but there was a comment that caught my eye as well. In that comment, someone laid out that there were four steps in any learning process, and those steps were:

1. Unconscious Incompetence
2. Conscious Incompetence
3. Conscious Competence
4. Unconscious Competence

I think that [livejournal.com profile] matociquala's post is, in the context of the comment, basically a struggle to get from number three to four. And I know she's at least at stage three because, well, I've read her books. The woman is nothing if not utterly competent about how to lay down a story.

I think the steps basically are the life cycle of a writer. I can't think of anyone I know who's journey through writing hasn't roughly gone through these stages. Maybe there is someone out there who's supremely gifted who got to rocket straight to stage four, but I think those writers are rare. As for myself, I think I'm pretty typical among writers.

I started out writing because it pleased me, and though my work was atrocious, I was happy with it. I was in love with all my stories, and thought they were the best thing since the invention of the internet. But, as with most writers, you keep writing and you gain an audience - even if that audience is just family, friends, and a few unfortunate teachers - and you begin to take the craft more seriously. Time distances you from the first flushes of love, and you realize that your works were not as flawless as you thought.

Thus, you've moved from stage one to stage two. And let me tell you, stage two is miserable, because you realize you suck, but you can't do that much about it, except keep sucking until you don't. It's counterintuitive, and what's worse, is you're never quite sure when you move from stage two to stage three - whereas it hits you like a bomb that you've moved from stage one to stage two.

I can't speak on stage three, but I've seen it in a lot of other writers who I admire. And it seems that you retain most of the self-loathing from stage two, but you temper it with the ability to judge things and to accept criticism in earnest, the ability to know yourself, your limits, and your talents. It also seems to be the stage at which you begin to publish, if you're lucky.

But I don't think there's a stage four at all, because this magical zone of unconscious competence, in which you became able to let things flow, and do things more naturally. It seems like stage four is actually just a return to stage one, where you shed the self-loathing and the constant second guessing while retaining all you've learned. It seems like artistic Enlightenment if you will.

And I don't think that exists. First, because I've never seen it in any artist I know. Not just in writers, but in visual artists, musicians, comedians, actors. Even the artists who I consider to be the very top of their profession, the very height of talent, don't seem to have ever achieved stage four.

Whenever I read what these people have to say about their creative processes, they're constantly saying things like, "oh this part isn't working the way I want" or "I know that I have a tendency to do this" or "I think I'm doing this sort of thing wrong". They are always intellectualizing what they do.

I think this is because - with all due respect to [livejournal.com profile] matociquala - there is a point at which driving a car and writing become two different things. You need not be talented, nor even all that smart, to drive a car competently and without thinking too much. If you're of a reasonable level of mental ability, you can do it. Because in it's boiled down essence, driving a car is just teaching your body to do something. It's teaching your eyes and hands and feet to move in certain ways in response to certain stimuli. And that's something that animals have been doing since...well, since there were animals. That's why you can unload it onto your animal brain and free up your higher consciousness for bigger, loftier pursuits.

Any animal when it repeats an action long enough will become unconsciously competent. Take monkeys. We can train monkeys, for instance, to do all sorts of things that seem amazing, but are really just repetitions of stimulus and response.

Well, you can't train a monkey to write a novel. You can offer bananas and punishments, you can read it stories, but the monkey will never have that insane, untenable, very real spark of creativity which makes it digest that story and churn out something new. Writing novels is a 100% intellectual exercise. You can't unload it into another part of the brain, it has to stay where it is.

I think that there is no such thing as letting a story come naturally. I do think that there is a point where some of the anxiety can be taken away from the process of creating. I do think think there is also a point at which you can turn off the inner-editor, and you put things down on paper without so much discomfort. Every writer experiences moments of creative zoning, where the words just come in a nice neat order and you're not constantly struggling for what comes next. But honestly, those passages written under the divine influence of Writing!Zen don't come across as being better than those you fought for.

Because the zen is just an illusion, a feeling. It's just when your anxieties and heebie jeebies and distractions drop away for a little while.

But there is no writing naturally, because writing isn't a natural act.

Alrighty, that's my jabbering for this morning. Things to be done before the heat sets in. Expect a progress report later in the day.

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