Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Finding Your Way

I had a post all ready to go for this week and I decided to hold off on it because something came up.  I'll put it up next week.  It'll be called "What's your Point (of View).  Please stop by and check it out.

Now, on to the something that came up.

About two weeks ago, I think I found it...I found: The Way.

More specifically, I found The Way that works for me when I write.

There are countless books and blogs and forums dedicated to finding The Way.  Stephen King, in his brilliant "On Writing", says that whenever he gets asked about how he writes, he replies "One word at a time."

While this may seem like Smart-Assery, if you've read the book (and I highly recommend that you do) you find out that's exactly how he writes.  He doesn't hold to outlines or advance plotting, he just sits there and lets the characters tell their story one word at a time.  It's called "Seat of the Pants" writing and it's a very viable writing style with its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

Rachel Aaron (the creator of a Wonderful character named Eli Monpress--you really need to check him out) has a fantastic series of blog posts about how she writes.  You can find them here...go ahead, I'll wait.

Good Stuff Huh?  Outlining is another good writing style that has its own peculiarities.

There are more variations on those themes than you can shake your writing stick at.  What's more, they are all perfectly valid styles.  Remember, there is no "Magic Bullet".  No one right way to do this.

There is, however, only one right way for you.

This may sound contradictory, but I'm speaking from experience here.  I've tried Seat of the Pants writing, and I've tried outlining.  I've grabbed at as many straws as there are methods and, in one way or the other, they've all fallen short.

That's not to say that I'm incapable of outlining or just writing from the hip, but after a while, it starts to feel like a pair of shoes that are just a bit too small.

When I write by the seat of my pants, I get off to a really good start (minus my tendencies to try and slip back and edit...but that's another post) up until I don't know where the story is going to go.  That hits me like a wall and I'm stopped.  I start thinking of ideas, and discarding ideas and not actually writing and it gets frustrating and it becomes work and then I notice that the dishes need doing or I really need a snack, or I need to clean the dog, walk the house, etc.

Initially, for me, outlining is a lot of fun.  You're creating a story and worldbuilding and getting down there in the dirt of your universe designing swords, magic, technology, spaceships, psychic abilities, time travel, and politics, and religions and...and then it gets to be too much.  I get hung up on a name for somebody, something, etc and I'll start kicking ideas around while another part of my brain is scratching at the door, wanting to be let out to play.

Eventually, for me, it becomes a "You've got to eat your veggies before you can have dessert" kind of thing.  It becomes work, and I suddenly remember that I've got to go water the truck or mow the goats, or milk the garden, etc.

The funny thing is, I don't really know how The Way came to me.  At one point, I was tinkering with a story and I just said to myself," Why not write the damn thing like you were telling it to yourself, or a friend?

So I did.

I called it a synopsis, but it isn't.  For one thing, if I turned in this 3000+ word monstrosity as a synopsis, any editor or agent would probably return it to me wrapped around a brick.

What it is, is me sitting down with myself and saying "let me tell you a story..."  Its a word of mouth kind of thing.  I don't bother with the details, just the broad strokes.  And it works.

Yesterday, I finished the "Synopsis" of my book.  I didn't let myself get bogged down with names, or complexity, but what I did end up with is the essence of a complete story.  I've got a beginning, a middle and an ending and a fairly good idea of how to get from one to the other.

Now, I can sit down and start writing the actual prose without worrying about what comes next.  I already have a good idea of what comes next and that's all I need to keep me going.

And now, I'm going to tell you the same thing that everyone else that writes about their writing styles will tell you.

This is what works for me.  No Magic Bullet, sorry.

If anything in here helps you become a better writer, then I'm glad to have helped.  This is what it's all about for me here.  If it doesn't work for you, then it doesn't work for you.

What I want you to take away from all of this is that if you keep looking and keep trying things, eventually, probably when you're not really expecting it, you'll find what works for you.  You'll find Your Way.

Now go write...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Back in the saddle again...

First off, welcome to the new home for the Story Forge.  Glad you could make it.

It's been a long time since I’ve posted anything to this blog.  There are a number of reasons for that, but the primary reason goes back to a previous post called "Failure is not an Option Part 2"in that Life knocked me right out of the saddle and onto my ass so completely and so thoroughly that I started to wonder if it hadn't knocked me out of the game altogether.

Let me tell you a story.  Like most stories, this one starts out small.  It begins with a dog.

For those of you that know me, this might not come as a surprise.  For those of you that don't know me, let me begin by saying that I have spent most of my conscious life around dogs.  I probably always will.  It's not that I have anything against cats.  Indeed, I've got 4 running around the homestead (2 indoor and 2 outdoor…giving the mice no safe haven), but, for my money, dogs are where it's at, and I can say with a fair degree of absolute certainty that I will never find a soul quite like hers again.
Her name was Muse.  Here's how I remember her:

She'd play tug with you forever, and she was as swift and as sweet as a stolen kiss.  She'd sit with me on the couch and she'd lie under my desk and sleep on my feet while I was working.   It was a rare day when I could walk through a room with her in it and not stop to scratch her ears.

We lost her.

I can remember with crystal clarity the last time I saw her and I can't remember any of the 72 hours following her death except in distorted flashes.  I was a complete wreck for weeks and, in some ways, I still am.

Like I said: Knocked on my ass.  Completely. Thoroughly.

Why am I writing about it?

Part of why I'm writing about this is that for some folks, writing about loss actually helps with the healing process.  I don't know if that will hold true for me.  Right now, some parts of this feel like I'm picking at a scab with a chainsaw, but I'll let you know how it goes later on.

The biggest part of why I'm writing about this is that this is a blog about writing and that little dog was a part of my writing life that is now gone—sort of ( I am neither exaggerating, nor am I shitting you when I say that I can still feel her sleeping on my toes as I type this).

I see a lot of articles about writing, and even a few about navigating the dark times such as this, so I thought that I would describe my experience, hoping that someone might find it helpful.

Like I said, The first 72 hours are gone.  I was a passenger in my own body.  When I first managed to pick myself up off the metaphorical ground, I didn't feel like writing.  Not even a little.  Hell, I didn't even feel like eating.  Sleep?  Sleep was an escape.  It was all I wanted to do.  In the face of such a complete shut-down, not wanting to write wasn't so unusual.  The words were still there and I knew that they would be waiting for me, so I let them lie…

After a while (a couple of weeks, in fact) I started to get the itch to start writing again, but I was afraid to get back to it.  I was afraid that the magic wasn't going to be there anymore.  I was even more afraid that it was still going to be there and what that meant.  She was my Muse after all, and even though she wasn't there every time when I was writing, she was there afterwards.

More time went by…

Gradually, I began tinkering with stuff again.  I couldn't help it.  There were these short bursts of work that felt like I was trying to coax a dormant engine into starting.  This period lasted a couple of weeks.  My mind kicked around ideas—priming the pump so to speak—and, every so often, I'd sit down and try the ignition.

Finally, something caught.  That day I was at it for about an hour before I ran out of steam, but it was something, damn it.  Was it the best I'd ever written?  Nope it sure wasn't, but it didn't need to be.  What mattered was that it was there.

A few days after that first bittersweet hour, I started thinking about this blog again.  Did I have anything more to say, or did I just want to close up shop?

As it turns out, I felt like I did have more to say.  Several weeks went by where I tried to compose entire blog posts in my head at the worst times (day job meetings, and just before bed were the worst of the worst), and that sealed the deal for me.

So here I am, back in the saddle again, trying to bend this post into a more “writerly” direction.
The long and the short of it is this: Life is going to happen, whether you want it to or not.  Eventually something will come along and really knock you ass-over-applecarts.  There's no avoiding it, and what I'd really like you to take away from this post is the following advice from my perspective:

When it happens, do whatever you need to do to deal with it in a healthy way, and don't guilt yourself into doing anything before you're ready.  If you're wired to tell stories, then sooner or later you'll find yourself in front of your keyboard, or with your pen in your hand, maybe wondering how in the hell you got there in the first place.  As long as you're there and your dog is sleeping on your feet (if only in memory) why not see what happens next?

Now go write…