Knowing Your Story and Yourself

One of the worst mistakes I made in my writing career was following someone else's timetable.

I'm not talking about deadlines - of course every working writer needs to do what he/she can to meet deadlines if at all possible. This is more about process than time.

A while back, I signed up for a two-year novel-writing course. It took you from idea, to worldbuilding, to plotting, through writing and editing. As mostly a SOTP writer, it was the most pre-planning I'd ever done for a novel. But this was my first major foray into fantasy writing, and I loved the guided help as I set up my storyworld.

Soon, though, I knew it was time to start writing. I was ready to go. Scenes were starting to write themselves in my mind. But everyone in the forums said no. Writing wasn't supposed to start for about a dozen more weeks. Hold off, they said, and my story would be that much stronger.

Stupidly, I listened.

I continued with the planning exercises, but instead of being helpful and insightful, they seemed meaningless and out-of-touch. As the weeks slowly slogged by, my passion to start writing my story faded every day. Eventually, I set the class and the story aside. The magic was gone.

I can only imagine what my story would have been like if I'd ignored instructions and started writing when I knew I was ready to. Sure, it might have been choppy. Sure, I might have needed to add and edit some things once they came up in the course material. Sure, I might have gotten some backlash for not staying with the group. But the magic would have still been there.

I did eventually pick up the story again, but the passion never returned in full force. This time, it was hampered by a dozen ways of "how to write a novel" drilled into my head by well-meaning blogs and books. The words slowly ground to a halt, and years later, the story still sits, unfinished.

I know myself better now. I'm more content with being a rebel. I know that I'll never be able to turn off the internal editor completely, so I'll edit my work as I write. I'll ignore how many drafts others say I need to do, and not see my story as half-baked after my light revisions. I'll shell out the money for a good editor who can help make my story the best it can be instead of wallowing in cosmetic changes. I'll mash together the genres I want to mash together, write the length that feels right for the story, and view both traditional publishing and self-publishing as equally viable options.

And so I'm going back to that 2-year course. I'm building another world. And this time, when I'm ready to write, I'LL WRITE.

And magic will follow.

Off-the-Rack Advice Won't Fit Every Writer

I have to laugh at some of the writing advice I read online. It might be great for some people, but I know it doesn't work for me. Two pieces of advice in particular have cropped up multiple times in the past few weeks, and they're starting to irk me now. Why do these people think that their advice automatically applies to every writer? Am I so atypical, so in the minority, that my opinion doesn't count?

Piece of advice #1: Clearing your desk before you start working (some say every day, others only for a new project).

I'm a messy person by nature. Nothing kills my creativity faster than a perfectly clean room or an empty desk. I know, because occasionally I've tried working on ideas or prose in these environments, and my page and mind stay as blank as my desk. I don't know - perhaps if I always cleared an area to work before I began, I might eventually get used to it. But it just seems so . . . sterile.

It's not real. Life is messy, and writers will always have things pressing in on them while they're writing (unless they're rich enough to go away for a few weeks and do nothing but write in a remote cabin). I think it's better to get used to clutter and noise, and find your writing sweet spot amid all that, then to have to waste precious time preparing your location. But I do know some people who are as bothered by clutter as I am by emptiness, so if that is you, clean away!

Update: Just came across this article about noise firing up creativity. If it works for sound, perhaps visual noise accomplishes the same thing?

Piece of advice #2: If you want to boost your creativity, stop or severely limit your TV watching.

I created a TV blog, so you can guess part of the reason why I think that advice is hogwash. But all TV is not created equal. I don't mindlessly turn on the TV to see what's on. I don't let it play in the background while I do other tasks or try to write. I don't watch reality TV or talk shows or competition shows or even the news. I stick with live-action scripted shows pretty much exclusively, and I watch them for the story and the characters. I only watch "my" shows, and I drop the shows with poor storytelling.

I know you can learn more about writing novels from reading novels than you can from watching TV shows. Mastering things like POV and internal monologue are important, and you can't learn those from TV or movies. But dialogue, plot arcs, setting, and characterization can all be boosted by watching great TV.

There has to be balance, of course. For many years, I read hundreds of novels and watched next to no TV, so I'm content with the ratio being inverted for the time being. But if you find your TV watching to be negatively affecting your writing, by all means, cut back (or find better shows to watch!).

Rant over! Back to your regularly scheduled programing. :)