Another one in the can / Tips from On Writing

It’s hard to think of interesting blog posts to write when you’re actually making progress writing.  I’ve been trying for a couple days and most everything I’ve put together sputters out before I get through the title.

Not so with fiction writing, fortunately.  I finished my first draft of the short story tentatively titled “Pigeon House” and I’m pretty happy with it.  Now I’m letting it marinate for a while before I revisit.

In the meantime, here are a few things I learned:

  1. Any story I write tends to go through a “this is crap why bother” phase about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way through.  The difficulty in breaking through this phase is directly proportional to how long the story is, and the only way through is gritting your teath and barrelling through.
  2. Once you get through that phase, it’s more or less smooth sailing to the end
  3. DO NOT succumb to the temptation to go back and edit before the story is done.  This may not be the case for everyone, but certainly for me, going back to edit has led to too many stories dying on the vine.  I get bogged down in it, and I keep editing my edits, and then the story itself stops cold.  This time, I plowed ahead and I’ve got a finished story.  It has some rough patches that I need to sort out–but it’s done.
  4. Similarly, creating progress and momentum when writing the story seems to be a very effective way to keeping myself going.  Taking too many days off in a row leads to the story drying out and it’s hard to get back into it.
  5. Constraints are your friend.  This was more a takeaway from “Elvis” but it applies here too.  I love writing a story and just letting it take off, but keeping yourself limited to a certain word limit can be freeing.  For me, it focuses me on simplifying my language (I can get rambly) and helps keep me in bounds when I’m pantsing through a story.

A lot of these lessons were not solely the result of writing “Pigeon House”.  They were the result of me putting into practice certain suggestions I picked up when I recently reread On Writing by Stephen King.  This time I took away something different from it.  I was a little more skeptical of his whole “The story is a fossil, just find it and let it tell itself to you,” philosophy.  And yet…

And yet I was really affected by his emphasis not on rules about backstory or exposition or genre tropes, but on just writing a story.  In a way (actually, in a fairly literal way if I recall correctly) he gave me permission just to ignore all that and write.

I think maybe I’d sampled too much of the bullshit that’s out there in the vein of “what rules should new writer’s follow”?  All of the authors I’ve met in real life have been very focused on the nuts and bolts publishing side of things:  what genre is your story?  Your story should do X, Y, and Z for it to be a hit.  And on and on.  That’s all well and good, but my biggest takeaway from On Writing and from my writing experience is that that just doesn’t work for me, at least not at this stage of the game.  If I think about all that other stuff, it gums up the gears.  I’m not discounting it.  It’s valuable stuff to think about.  But for me, I had best leave it to the editing phase.  And yeah, that can create it’s own challenges, but I’m finding that if you trust your intuition–and you’re practiced enough in reading and writing–perhaps not as many as you might think.

That’s the way I used to do it way back when I was writing prolifically (around the time I first read On Writing).

Maybe that’s why I didn’t notice these lessons until now.


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