Thursday, January 28, 2010

Resonate

I kept hearing the same thing: To succeed in writing, I needed to do it regularly, to plunk myself down every day and (to swipe a corporate slogan) just do it. I took that counsel to heart and eked out an hour or so of uninterrupted compositional time in both my schedule and mind for every day of the week. During the appointed period, I filled pages, pecked them into the word processor and then filed all my ideas away in some dusty corner of my head when the clock said I should move on. It was textbook, exactly what the manuals commanded, disciplined, daily and segmented. And it got me nowhere.

Why not? Invariably, I would face the same problem -- a dearth of ideas. The well would run dry only two or three days into a new project. The hour would produce only a dozen rewritings (and re-deletions) of the same paragraph, a paragraph that in most of its iterations read suspiciously like whatever novel I’d recently picked up. I didn’t get it. Why wasn’t it working? What was I doing wrong?

The answer seems obvious now. I only had half of the equation. Yes, we need to ration our time, to dole out portions and pieces of our schedules to the physical act of writing. Nothing will ever happen otherwise. But we ought not to ration our writerly thoughts. After all, most of it happens in the mind, in the interplay of meditation and association, supposition and application. Such a creative spirit ought to always be bringing us the next nascent plot point or character trait or setting detail. It needs to hum so loudly inside of us that when we finally get our allotted hour it fairly resonates its own way onto the page.

(Picture: CC 2007 by
linoleum jet)

17 comments:

Ben-M said...

True enough. But a beginner such as myself can't discount the value of writing regularly. Learning to speak onto the page concisely, in a clear voice, the first time; this is a skill that needs to be there so that when that theatre is playing in my head, it gets to the page as cleanly as possible, the edits are as short as possible, and the next story starts as soon as possible.

Loren Eaton said...

That Bradbury link is great. And who else but him could sit down and pen a new short story in three hours every morning? "Writing is with the heart and the ganglion!"

I do take comfort from this bit of the Jeff VanderMeer piece: "I think you’d also have to factor in that as a writer in your twenties and, to some extent your thirties, you are still getting comfortable with your writing. You don’t know how to do a lot of things and so some of your time is spent puzzling out how the pieces fit together, how this or that technique works, why this doesn’t, etc."

pattinase (abbott) said...

I get most of my ideas for stories when walking, on the bus-times when my mind is free to roam. If you build it, they will come. It's a mindset that takes a while to tone up. I never got ideas for stories until I was ready to write them--which didn't happen for me until I took some classes at a university and joined a writing group.

Loren Eaton said...

A lot my ideas come while I'm driving and listening to music. Guess there's something about repetitive routes that lets the mind wander. I keep a little commonplace book to jot them all down. Pleasantly, I'm finding that I have more ideas than time to write them.

I'd love to find a writing group, but there don't seem to be a lot down here in south Florida.

B. Nagel said...

I found a small group of writers etc. at a community theater. We'll do readings and discuss, but it's less of a critique group and more of a 'hey, we're all engaged in the creative process.' My critiquers are mostly spread throughout the internet. Folks that I've known that have moved away or that I've met in the ether.

Sometimes local libraries will have meetings, or at least know the head of a local group. you never know what you'll find in a library.

(I can't emphasize that last part enough. Bluuuhhhh. But that's a different topic.)

Loren Eaton said...

Your group sounds about like my speed. I was participating in an online critique group, but it was a little too formal for my taste. A lot of rules about length and quantity of critiques.

Whenever I think about bad behavior in the library, I think about this post of yours.

B. Nagel said...

as do I, Loren, as do I.

Scattercat said...

Heck, I've always said this. It's why I do Mirrorshards; just my way of stirring the pot, making sure nothing burns and sticks to the bottom and ruins the flavor of the whole gumbo.

I think the "every day" lesson is more about getting practice in self-discipline and focus. Sort of like martial arts and how you have to do some exercise and at least a few forms or something every day to keep yourself in the game, as it were. (I think revising or polishing during forced-writing sessions is a bad idea; the goal is to practice achieving output volume and learning how to unkink the hose on demand.)

RE: the comment discussion that somehow turned to writing groups and critique sites, I make use of Critters.org and ReviewFuse, but in all honesty it's more because I get to rip things into bloody shreds than because I get much useful feedback. Critters is more helpful than ReviewFuse for that; the volume of responses is usually high enough that you can start to see trends and will often have at least one or two non-idiots with some insight into the piece. (Not that all or even most Critters users are idiots, but when something is free and more or less unfiltered...)

Anyway, I would DEARLY love an in-person (or even realtime chat) writing group, but all the serious attempts I've joined have fallen by the wayside. The last meatspace one, I was literally the only regular attendee other than the founder. The last couple of online ones ended up falling apart, again, because I was often the only one or one of only two people who submitted to it regularly and were meticulous in providing feedback. It's downright discouraging sometimes.

Loren Eaton said...

Critters was actually how I found your stuff, SC. Its quality made it stick out. I just had a difficult time keeping up with the required critique schedule in order to get my stories looked at. In between blogging and writing and studying for my MBA, I ran out of steam. I think it would be easier face-to-face, but your experience sounds pretty typical; it's hard to form faithful, coherent groups.

Scattercat said...

I did some math; I'm technically "paid up" for Critters for the next year or so. My six months of working overnights at the hotline (the one where we got to surf the Internet) really came through in that respect.

Now that I've got only one or two actual days for writing (on the computer, anyway) per week, I'm not sure what I'll do. ReviewFuse is just too much effort for too little return to be a primary source of first-reader reactions.

Loren Eaton said...

That is a really smart idea for Critters. I wish I'd thought of it. I was playing catch-up from the get go.

Scattercat said...

Well, bear in mind that I had three nights per week at twelve hours per night and maybe four hours of work to get done, if it was busy. There were several weeks where I critiqued everything that wasn't a Request for Dedicated Readers or mangled beyond legibility by the word-to-text program. When you have thirty critiques in three weeks, it takes a while for the average to catch up to you again.

Ben-M said...

Yeah, I did an RFDR and an MVP on critters to end up 40 points ahead. It took a bit of dedication but I learned a lot from it too, and now I only have to crit one story a month for the rest of the year to stay above 100%.

Mind you, if you can find a good writing forum of semi-pro writers who are just starting to get published, the signal to noise ratio can be much better. Plus a forum gives you the chance to have a little by-the-water-cooler chat now and then, which critters doesn't (so far as I know).

Loren Eaton said...

SC,

I hate that word-to-text converter. Seriously. I went through and did all of mine by hand to make sure they were legible. Which probably contributed to my burnout.

Loren Eaton said...

Ben-M,

Got any particularly excellent forums you'd be willing to share with the rest of us? [waggles eyebrows]

Ben-M said...

The problem I see there is what seems particularly excellent to me might not be everyone's cup of tea. Some time ago I stumbled upon the writing forum at Orson Scott Card's website. Even if it doesn't appeal to everyone, you might find among the threads there discussions on writing forums that do appeal, however.

Loren Eaton said...

Ah, Orson Scott Card! That looks like quality there. Thanks for the link.