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If you followed a link here from a comment I made on somebody's google blog, I would love to have you visit my blog, but this is no longer it. While I may occasionally post things here again once in a long while, virtually all my content will be at from here on out. If you were curious enough to come this far, why not give me one more click?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Breakthroughs and too much to think about

I often find myself thinking, in the course of a day or week, "Gee, I should blog about that." Then the next time I'm getting ready to post an entry I feel like I've had so many of those moments they've either jostled each other out of my head, or I feel too fatigued to even do them justice. My blog posts tend to be long anyway . . . I don't want to make them longer!

I just finished the first draft of a short story I've been wrestling with, it seems, forever. I--seriously--began and abandoned it four separate times before I finally got a story I could live with. The first time I got 542 words in before I figured out it was crap. The second time, 3694. Third attempt: 430. Fourth attempt, a whopping 4672 before I figured out it was going nowhere. And finally, over the course of just three days, I pulled together a draft I'm happy with at 5132. Hopefully when I revise I'll get it under that magic 5000 barrier.

But first, 9338 words of crap.

You don't go through that much failure without learning a thing or two. At least, I hope not. Let's see if I can articulate what I did learn. I set out with the hope of taking some of the lessons I'd been learning over the past year and coming up with something shiny and new that showcased my progress. Despite that, I found myself writing dull stories about unlikeable people. (Part of my problem is that I think stories should be entertaining first, but I also want mine to be meaningful. It's challenging to pull off both.)

Then I came up with a premise that had a lot more potential, but my next attempt suffered, I eventually concluded, from being too contrived.

I think this is a new realization for me. I tend to have a pretty good idea of where I want a story to start and where I want it to end, and sometimes I abuse the crap out of it to get it from point A to point B. It was as though I were working with a living thing that was resisting the contortions I was trying to put it through. I've talked about killing darlings in the forms of phrases and scenes, and yeah, that's hard for me, but one of the lessons I think I needed to learn here was to kill my darlings among the plot points too. There were some arbitrary things I was cramming in my story that were making it not work, and I was getting writer's block trying to force myself to write something broken.

When I finally threw my story away for the fourth time, kept the premise I liked, but totally reimagined what I was going to do with it, I immediately came up with something more streamlined. For anybody into Swain, I wrote it in scenes, and pretty much glossed over the sequels to keep it short. I had the disaster at the end of each scene immediately pose the new goal, and no angsty deliberation on what to do next. Maybe it's just a fluke, but I've read successful short story writers talk about the point where they got it, where they figured out what kinds of ideas could be fleshed out in five thousand words and which could not. When I came up with that sequence of scenes, I knew I had it. I knew I could write it, and I knew I could write it in about twenty pages. Nothing seemed too contrived, and I was eager to sit down and get it all down. All that trying and failing, and the final story took three days to type.

So maybe I've had my a ha moment, at least in that regard. Only time will tell.

I also found, as I wrote this story, that each time I started to go off in a boring or meandering direction, I figured it out within a paragraph or too. It may be that I've written so much crap that I've finally become attuned to what JoeCrap smells like, and I'm getting better at recognizing it before I generate too much of it. God I hope so.

My wife doesn't understand why I've been focusing on short stories, when I have a completed novel ms, and when there's no money in short stories. Here's why: my biggest problem as a writer, I think, is my verbosity. I need to learn to write tighter, not for the sake of my shorts, but for the sake of my novels. Just because you've got a hundred thousand words or more to play with doesn't mean anybody wants to read a bunch of stuff that doesn't move the story, that you were too undisciplined as a writer to leave out. I'm focusing on short stories because if I can master the art of getting a complete, engaging tale told in 5,000 words, my novels will get better.

So I've got this story. I'm just happy it's done, and I'm happy it's not overlong. I like to think it's good, but flush from writing the thing, who am I to say?

I'll put it up here in a day or so, encrypted, when I've had a chance to clean it up. If I know you--that includes people whose blogs I've commented on and people who've commented on mine before--then you're welcome to read it and give me your thoughts. Just drop me a line when the time comes and ask me for the key. Then you can tell me if it's any good or not.

Getting back to the idea in my first paragraph . . . that's not all I wanted to talk about in this post, but I'm going to stop here for now anyway, because if not it will be too rambly.

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