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Measure Twice

I keep thinking: I remember when this was a whole lot harder. This book-writing thing. When I didn't know if a scene had low tension or even a purpose.

It is also strange to me that I write on intuitive auto-pilot these days, and only have to pause now and then to take a compass bearing. It's not as hard as it once was to find my way out of the middle of a novel. Now, granted: it helps to write MG novels of significantly less complexity than a George RR Martin spectacle. But you know. It's not the only thing I write, and I still don't struggle like I did.

I just don't know when it all changed. When I stopped floundering and realized that I could a) notice problems; b) analyze them; c) fix them. While I still need editors, copyeditors, beta readers, and critique partners, they are more there to speed up the process. I could probably get to a Pretty Good Book now, on my own, given five, ten years to really think it through--and that's without skill increases! (Thank god for editors, copyeditors, beta readers, and critique partners!)

When I was a kid, and I wrote both for fun and for the emotional outlet, I didn't worry much (any) about craft. I let intuition guide me in every particular. I copied what I liked from writers I read often. When I first tried to become a working writer, I tried to expurgate the fun and the emotional outlet, and to Write Properly. I think I saved me from myself pretty early on in that process, but I think about how many intellectual stories I lunged after, that I had no real connection with, I think: "What was I doing?"

But it was part of the learning process. It was requisite for me that I intellectualize the process, so that I could learn how to make it effective for other people to share in my fun and in my emotional outlets.

So, I had a big dither over a scene tonight, and had no forward motion on the book for pretty much two nights in a row because of this scene, and I finally wrote at the end of it: [Reconsider this scene; either cut or punch up. Can the horse jump over the wall without ripping off THE BLUE SWORD too much?]

The scene is boring, as is, but I think it might be necessary to have a similar scene right here for the pacing. And for my character's growth. And for certain kinds of tension. But I'm not sure how to rewrite the scene so it is not boring, and has character growth and just the right amount of tension (I think I've got the pacing part figured); and the only thing I've thought of to happen is something Robin McKinley thought of 23 or more years ago, so that's just out. You've got a wall and a girl and a magic horse. She wants to get inside. How do I not rip of McKinley, specifically when Harry jumps Sungold over Jack Dedham's fort wall? (Or maybe Sungold just does it. I don't remember. I refuse to go read the scene, either.) --I'm not actually asking anyone but myself, btw. I know how. I just don't know how yet.

Thing is, as I stared at the scene where my girl is on the horse outside the cloister walls and just waits patiently last night--and wrote around it, and edited some other stuff, and did some spot research--I didn't even have the "ripping off McKinley" option in my head. So, that's forward progress. Right? I mean, my brain is moving.

I'm not frustrated. I know it will come to me in time. I might not need the whole scene anyway, since it really shows the internal power struggles of a group of characters who are seriously non-essential to the story I'm telling. I mean, the reason my main character is stalled at the gates is because they're arguing inside about whether or not to send aid with my character. (Just like THE BLUE SWORD, I freaking guess, yay, I'm already so close, no wonder this occurred to me.)

In the end, it probably needs to wait until I see the rest of the shape of the book, even though it pains me to leave a scene so completely wrong and have to come back to it. It's not the scene itself that bothers me, it's the ripple effect of what might change as we go forward, if I have this scene too wrong, too off the anticipated future mark.

Anyway, there it is. This weird confidence: It struck me, the weirdness, today. That I can analyze something that I'm so attached to, and not mind analyzing it. And I'm okay with it not being perfect, though I want it as close to right as it's possible to get--begin as you mean to go on, and all that, and measure twice, cut once.

I've had this confidence a lot lately, and it freaks me out. The angry little Puritan inside of me says, "You should be suffering more." And the angry little Fitzgerald inside of me says the same thing. There are a lot of voices that insist on suffering in exchange for pleasure, success, or art. Sometimes I think: well, maybe I already suffered a lot, so I'm getting a pass, for now, for this one thing. Then I also think: do I even believe those voices? I don't, so much. Maybe in my core beliefs, more than I should--I did some time among the Puritans--yes, that's a metaphor--but I work every day to change my core beliefs, to challenge my assumptions of the world.

So maybe, the work is the work, and it's rewarding. Maybe that's all there is to it.

Well, that went pretty far afield from "Hey, it feels weird that writing competently is so much easier than it was when I started."

Clearly, "measure twice, cut once" only applies to novels, not journal entries.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
behindpyramids
Apr. 14th, 2011 04:22 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting this--it gave me a lot of hope, that maybe if I keep going and thinking about what I'm doing, I can get to a point of confidence. Right now I fluctuate between yayyHAPPYFUNFUNFUN without thinking about craft or, craftcraft and it's not fun.

I keep hoping it's like high school speech team (but get derailed by the people who insist writing is all about having the creative spark). The first year was fun but not such a great speech. The second year was lots of hard work but not so fun. The third and fourth years something clicked and I just knew what I was doing.



afterglowey
Apr. 14th, 2011 11:55 am (UTC)
This was super interesting, thanks for posting. It really resonates with me. I was the same as a kid - that thoughtless outpouring of joy when writing a story, ripping off favourite stories... and now, pushing myself to be more serious as a writer, still (always?) learning the craft of writing. It's much slower me now, putting a story together.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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