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Writing, revision, and resistance



Here's the situation, summary-style. I studied writing in college. I wrote a few short stories, and did not suck at it relative to the other beginners in my class. Over the next few years I wrote a few more, but a couple of attempts at writing novels later - both of which ended when I reached the middle of the draft and realized that I didn't have a useful plan - I was discouraged enough to think about other life-path options. I'd discovered along the way that I was pretty damn good at creating art, so I shifted over to the form of creative expression that came more easily to me and offered instant gratification. I did that for ten years or so, with occasional attempts at writing a new short story whenever the mood struck. There was no point when I entirely gave up on the idea of writing fiction, and I know this because I kept buying books about writing. It took me a long time to accept the truth that was written in every one of those books:

In order to be a writer, you have to write every day.

I guess my 20-something self thought that I could get out of that, skipping over the work and going straight to greatness. Ha. There's no greatness to be achieved in writing, or anything, without consistent practice. Earlier this year, feeling the need to write fiction again, I finally accepted this thing that the respected and published writers had been telling me all along: Every day. Butt in chair. Really. Yeah, human beings take breaks, but more days than not, butt in chair.

My time to write is limited to an hour or two a day. Since I started writing every day (ish) in March, I've written two long first drafts of stories that might be good once they are revised. My plan is to write a rough draft of a story, put it away for a month or two, write another rough story or two, go back to the first and revise it, and then alternate between writing new stories and revising old ones until I have stories worth showing anyone. I've learned that my standards for my own fiction have risen, so that's good. I struggle with being resistant to writing due to perfectionism, but I'm teaching myself to write the roughest rough drafts I can, to have something to revise later. I still need to learn how to revise well.

(I hope no one thinks that the blathering voice of my journal entries is anything like what I try to accomplish with fiction.)

I'm writing this now because revising the short story I wrote in April is overwhelming. I feel like I don't know what I'm doing at all, but I hope that knowing what I don't know is some kind of sign of competence. The story isn't ready for input from anyone else. I'll have to experiment and attempt to regain a sense of playfulness while doing so. There are moments when it's fun, and moments when I'm too impatient, too ambitious, and too hard on myself.

More on this topic later, I'm sure!

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
eljaydaly
Jun. 26th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC)
Congratulations on getting back to it, though! (I know exactly what that's like. I quit for 15 years before I went back.)
nayad
Jun. 26th, 2007 02:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It's oddly reassuring whenever I hear that others have taken a while to get established at writing, too. Not that I'm really established yet, but I think I'm getting there.
webfarmer
Jun. 26th, 2007 02:22 pm (UTC)
You might consider trying to get into a decent workshop at this point. If you work is science fictional in nature, there are many -- such as Clarion -- to apply to. I suspect there are other workshops but I'm largely ignorant of those.

Glad to hear that you're getting regular with your writing habits. That is indeed the key act by most expert reports. It's a discipline that I lack presently (although I'm hoping blogging is a transitional effort).
nayad
Jun. 27th, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC)
I would love to go to Clarion West, but it'll be a few years before my boys are all big enough for me to go away for that long. I'll be on the lookout for shorter workshops, closer to home, within a year or two.

In the meantime, it would be a good idea to join a writing group, I'm sure!
webfarmer
Jun. 27th, 2007 11:33 pm (UTC)
I'd be surprised if there aren't some decent writer workshops or groups in Mad City. The place is infested with cultural creative types. ;)

Do you know Meg Turville-Heitz? She's a local writer who might be of some help to you. A quick google sez she lives in Cambridge, Wisconsin.

We chat occasionally on the SFF.NET IRC chat. You might find that of some interest too. Thursday night is a big night typically. Terry McGarry occasionally frequents the place and she draws a crowd. Party starts around 9-10 pm typically.

http://www.sff.net/help/chat/
ex_maehymn
Jun. 26th, 2007 02:47 pm (UTC)
unmarshalled thoughts
omg. i hear you on all of this. why is it that the thing you want to do most is the hardest to do sometimes? weird, that.

moments when I'm too impatient, too ambitious, and too hard on myself.

Those are the worst, when you totally lose all perspective. if you ever need an outside perspective, or when things do become ready, i'd love to read and/or discuss your work or ideas with you! :)

a good friend of mine is a writer and his dad said to him: 'live for a while first, so that you have something to write about', which was how he went through his 20's without much actual writing practise.

i think it's a good thing that you feel like you don't know what you are doing. that's a sign that you are doing something different, not just hashing what's been done before.

nayad
Jun. 27th, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)
Re: unmarshalled thoughts
if you ever need an outside perspective, or when things do become ready, i'd love to read and/or discuss your work or ideas with you!

That would be great - thanks! It's good to know people who understand the creative process. I'd like to talk about your work, too. :)
roguebitch
Jun. 26th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)

I've always been resistant to any advice that is draconian enough to not take into account real life, which is why I *don't* think you have to write every day to be a "writer". Then again, I don't consider myself a "writer" per se, although I've written quite a bit. *shrug*

I don't know what I'm trying to say here, although I'm glad you've found a method of creativity that works for you.
nayad
Jun. 27th, 2007 04:24 pm (UTC)
I've always been resistant to any advice that is draconian enough to not take into account real life, which is why I *don't* think you have to write every day to be a "writer".

Hmm... I don't see it as not taking real life into account, but maybe that's because I mentally write "within reason" into everything. Of course there will be emergencies and illness and all, but generally speaking, a would-be professional writer has to put the writing high on the priority list - and why not, if she wants to write?
roguebitch
Jun. 27th, 2007 07:54 pm (UTC)

I guess it's the punk in me that kicks against anything that says "you should" or a "real" anything "does x". And if any of the books about writing *did* put in "within reason" I might actually consider taking instruction from them.

I'm a writer because I write. Not because I write every day, or write professional-grade stuff, but because it feeds my soul to write when I'm inspired, when I'm moved, or when I need to. But this is what works for me. If it works for you to write every day to nurture your discipline, then great! But I think all methods are worthy, if the end result is satisfying.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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