I’ve only been doing this whole “writing” thing for about two weeks now, so I can’t say I have the experience to have any useful opinions about the craft, but recently I learned an interesting little lesson about one of my own tendencies as a writer: I tend to get irrationally attached to the things I’ve created. Whether it’s a whole piece or just a single sentence, I get attached, and by that I mean I’m unwilling to just throw it away. Now, that’s not to say I’m unwilling to throw what I perceive as bad stuff away (this blog entry’s continued existence notwithstanding), but if I think something is good, or even just average, I have difficulty getting rid of it.
This tendency caused me trouble late last week while working on my latest little project (~5000 words and climbing!). See, I’d written, oh, three or four hundred words of dialog and exposition between a few characters, and the next day, as I sat down before the keyboard, I found it extremely difficult to build up the motivation to write. Suddenly I was worried. Have I lost interest in this idea? Is this a case of that oh-so-dreaded condition, “writer’s block”? What’s going on?
Then it dawned on me: while the bit I’d written the day before was, from a technical standpoint, decent (well, to me, anyway), it was, from a plot development standpoint, basically superfluous. Worse, it wasn’t clear how I was going to move on from the situation without boring
- any potential readers, and
Fortunately, this was a very easy problem to fix: highlight, delete. Boom, nearly an hour’s worth of work gone. Was it a little painful throwing all that material away? Sure. But sometimes, you just gotta make the hard decisions.
Anyway, for any potential writers who give a damn about the things I’m learning as I go along, here’s what I was forced to ask myself:
- Is this passage interesting? And note, if you’re forcing yourself to write it, imagine what someone will go through while trying to read it.
- Does this passage advance the plot in a meaningful way?
- Does this passage tell the reader anything new or interesting about the characters or setting?
In my case, the answer to all three questions was “no”, so into the trash it went.
Sure, it may be a small milestone, but my first piece of (very) short fiction is now complete! Or, at least, the very first, very rough draft is complete. At a little over 8800 words, or nearly 12 pages, it is, I think, the longest bit of creative writing I’ve ever put together. Yeah, I know, that’s not very big (a novella ranges between ~17,000 and ~40,000 words, though technically, it apparently qualifies as a Novelette), especially considering I expect to cut a good 800 words out during the rewrite phase, but given that it’s my first serious crack at creative writing, I’m pretty happy with it, despite the distinct lack of originality it represents (who needs originality, anyway, I ask you?).
So now what? Simple: it goes in the vault. The idea, here, is that once a piece is complete, you set it aside for a while in order to gain some distance from it. Then, when you go back to edit the thing, you can do so with a fresh perspective on the work. And once the rewrite is complete, only then do you kick your baby out of the nest, hoping against hope that it’ll flap it’s wings a little and avoid crashing and burning too badly.
Meanwhile, tomorrow I’ll get started on my next idea. It’s been rolling around in the back of my mind for the last week, so I’m kind of excited to pull it out of the cellar that is my hindbrain and see what it looks like in the light of day. Hopefully it ain’t too ugly…
Well, here marks the end of the first week of my great writing experiment. As a recap, in case you can’t be bothered to scroll down two posts to read about it for yourself, I’m currently attempting to write at least 1,000 words per day (crappy or otherwise), minus a break day (which, last week, was on the Wednesday). Note, this does not, unfortunately, include my blog entries, which don’t really qualify as “fiction” per say (or “interesting” or “entertaining”, for that matter).
Anyway, so far, I think things have gone pretty well. At this point, the biggest failure has been my writing schedule, which suffered from a need to bank hours for a trip (which, as it turns out, was aborted for reasons I’m not going to bother getting in to here), meaning I wasn’t arriving home until quarter to six, and not finishing my writing until nearly eight, depending on how slow the words were coming. Additionally, my Saturday writing got postponed to today, thanks to a busy day out and about (BTW, Zodiac
==pretty decent movie). But other than those minor hiccups, I think I can declare week 1 of the great writing project a, as Borat would say, Great Success!
Of course, I’m not implying anything regarding the quality of the work so far produced. As far as I know, it’s nearly 6100 words (soon to be 7100) of complete and utter crap. But, hey, at least it’s my crap, right? Then again, I’m not sure Lenore will be so cognizant of that silver lining when I foist this monstrosity on her.
- You know, the second 1,000 was a lot harder than the first…
You find yourself in a dark forest, the thick canopy above creating a perpetual twilight. Looking around, you see trees marching off into the infinite distance, their trunks standing in a sea of thick underbrush, the rough bark covered in dark moss and lichen. Here, there is no sense of place or time, no sense of direction or distance. You stand immobilized, trying to decide what to do next, unable to make a decision.
Eventually, you realize you can’t stay here forever. Surveying the immediate vicinity, you see the brush and ivy make some areas nearly impassable. Finally, you choose a direction, picking your way carefully lest you twist your ankle on some hidden rock or divot in the terrain. Some time later, though how long is impossible to say, you find a small stream, the clear water trickling musically in the deep silence. Thirsty, you drink, the water cold and refreshing, and as you crouch there, the dark rocks of the bank slippery beneath your feet, you resolve to follow the stream, hoping it will lead you out of this place.
How long you walked like that, it’s impossible to say. But eventually, after what seems like many hours, the forest ahead of you starts to change, the brush seeming to thin, occasional bursts of light breaking through the trees above. Soon, you catch a glimpse of the edge of the forest, it’s green leaves shining in bright sunlight, and you break into a run. Careless, you trip and stumble, barely catching yourself on the trunk of a nearby tree, the bark cutting deep scratches into your palms. And suddenly you are in the open. Before you a hill slopes down into a great open plain, tall grasses marching endlessly into the distance, their blades swaying rhythmically. Turning your face skyward, you see the sun directly overhead, the sky clear and unmarred.
As the minutes pass, the initial excitement fades, and you begin to realize that you have no more idea of where you are now than you did before. Ahead of you, the plain fades into blue obscurity, the horizon an unbroken line with no feature to recommend one direction over another. In the back of your mind, you discover a small part of you regrets leaving the forest; at least there, the dark trees and thick plants meant you had few choices to make. But here your options are limitless. Overwhelmed, you sit in the deep, warm grass. What now?
<table/note a> a: In case you were curious, this would be my attempt at describing where I am in the piece I’m currently working on. Why didn’t I just stay in the damned forest? —-