Monday, November 18, 2013

Please Stand By

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Rule 6: Stop Trying

     I was a scared little kid. Here is one of the many examples. Many nights I would have the dream that I went to the dining room to get my favorite stuffed polar bear, Marco, and I had to get him quick, or this wicked little devil would appear and grab him away from me. In most of the dreams, I had to play tug-of-war with the stinking creature to hang on to Marco. Some nights I tried going quickly, grabbing Marco really quick, and running back to my room, but it didn't work. Every time I grabbed my bear, the demon appeared and wrestled with me. I don't remember ever winning, just the heartbreaking nights when the demon won and took Marco away with him. I hated it when that happened. Every night I made sure that Marco was with me when I went to bed, so I wouldn't have to get up and get him. Whenever he was with me, he was safe.

     "What does this have to do with writing?" you ask. I don't know. I started thinking about horrors that visit me at night and found this little memory, one of the terrors of childhood. But it does have a kind of application with the rule I was trying to write about.

     When I say stop trying, I mean don't try to force creativity. That's easy to say, but harder to practice, especially if you're-ahem- trying to write a whole novel in the space of a month.

     You can't be creative by forcing it. The more you force it, the more likely you are to come up with something that has already been done, or even done to death. This is where my little childhood memory comes in.

     I sat down, trying to find something to write about since I haven't published in a week. I was lacking inspiration. I figured I would try this, since it pertained largely to what I was trying to do. Then as I typed away at a metaphor, I found myself reliving a fearful memory from my distant past. And now that I think about it, it makes a nice analogy for what I'm saying.

     Your works, your creativity, are like the bear, Marco. You want the bear, obviously, so you're in my place. The demon is the fear that you are not creative, and that most of what you do is in imitation of others. Every night (when you sit down to write?) the demon comes and haunts you, actually threatening to take your creativity away. Then you're caught in a tug-of-war, you pulling your creativity hard toward you, the fear pulling it back. The harder you try, the easier it is for the nasty sucker to pull your creativity away.

     So the answer is to keep that creative mindset with you all the time. Constantly go through the things in your imagination, analyzing them, exploring them, trying to understand them. Don't let the fear get a hold of you. Keep that creative instinct close. Cherish it like it's a childhood friend. Trust it. You can only really be original once you stop trying.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Thought on NaNoWriMo

     We are now five days into the National Novel Writing Month. I was only made aware of the existence of such a month last year, and would like to ask it, "Where have you been all my life?" I'm always unsure and hesitant as to when to start my projects, so this month is useful for getting me started working.

     Even as I race to get all the ideas from my head onto paper, though, I wonder what the point is. I mean, it's obvious even at this stage of the game that my storytelling is very rocky, my characters are not developed (in print), and there are whole gaps in the plot. What's the point?

     I believe it has to do with Rule 1. The point of disciplining oneself to write a whole novel in the space of a month is to get one's ideas on paper, no matter how raw and unrefined they are. That's step one. From there is the usual going back through, revising, rewriting, redreaming things. Eventually you have a nearly finished draft.

     Take the pressure off. I'm a little too perfectionistic for my own good. I need to divide up my focus. First, get the really rough part written, and see what's good there. Then go back through and cut everything but the best stuff. Rethink. Repeat.

     There will always be room for improvement. Right now, the focus must remain on the necessary struggle through decidedly imperfect work to get to the good stuff. To borrow my favorite analogy, use your pickaxe to start hacking through the dirt and hard rock to get to the gold. That's the first step in this great journey of (at least) a thousand miles.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rule 5: Be Wary of First Ideas

     Without first ideas, we writers would be nowhere. That first spark of inspiration that gets a whole story or thesis or whatever project rolling down the hill at a hundred miles an hour, it's one of the most exciting experiences I know.

     But it can't stop at the first idea. Especially in the storytelling realm. And even in nonfiction too. I started this rule to comment on (complain about) some overused plot devices that I found annoying. Now I'm talking about first ideas. Without that first idea, this entry wouldn't exist, but without long and hard thought about it, it would still be an unfinished page in my closet.

     What do I mean about being wary of first ideas? I certainly don't mean to put down any idea you have just because it was the first thing that came to mind. But be careful about those first things. Think and develop on that first idea to see how you could make it more original and unique. Sometimes it works to focus on trying to solve a difficulty with the idea, and other times it's good to let your imagination wander until it finds something you can use.

     Oftentimes, it won't do just to sit back and stare into space. I do my share of daydreaming, and at times it's productive. Other times, I'm just going back through what I've already decided before. That's not very useful at all. In those times, it's good to go through a process of brainstorming. I like to think of it as jumping through these multiple universes and exploring the differences between them until I find which one really interests me.

     For example, a first idea (or first "universe") would be to have Adam meet a girl named Beatrice, fall for her and pursue her, only to be thwarted by the Reaper himself, who takes her home prematurely, and now Adam has to struggle with loneliness and anger at fate. OK, that might make an alright story.

     But what if we hop into another universe and find something else, like maybe instead of Adam chasing Beatrice, she goes after him. That's different, but not what I'm looking for. On to another universe. Perhaps in this one Adam dies, leaving Beatrice only able to wonder what their relationship might have been. Or maybe in yet another world, neither Adam nor Beatrice die, but Adam has to move away because of his job and asks Beatrice to come with him, leaving her with a terrible choice: to leave her home and friends for this guy, or to deny him and stay where she's comfortable. Or maybe Adam doesn't ask, and deals with his heartache privately. Or maybe he quits his job so he can stay where Beatrice is. Or, perhaps he has to move to take care of his dying mother, so his emotions are even more out of control.

     What if, instead of being lovers, Adam and Beatrice are brother and sister? Supposing Beatrice falls for some guy and Adam investigates him, only to find out he's one of those no-good, dirty, rotten...types. How then does he deal with Beatrice and her emotions? Or perhaps Beatrice's sweetheart is a very fine, upstanding individual who makes Adam angry because he wants to find fault with him but can't. Or maybe Adam feels a bittersweet heartache knowing that this guy will be better to her than Adam ever was. What if Adam is the one who's in love, and Beatrice the one who's uneasy?

     Supposing Adam is twelve and Beatrice is seventeen. How do they relate to each other? Are they best friends or mortal enemies? Are they the only siblings in the family, or is there another brother or sister hiding somewhere, eager to appear? We could bring death in here again. Was it Adam or Beatrice who died? One of their parents? Their unborn baby brother? How do they react?

     I didn't tell you this before, but I'm only really writing this because I enjoy thinking through all these situations with Adam and Beatrice. But my point is still the same. Any of the proposed scenarios above could probably make an interesting story. The purpose of going through them all is to find the best one--that which interests you the most.

     Don't discard your first ideas, whatever you do. But think about them long and hard. Don't take them at face value. Ponder the possibilities, wondering always about how to make your work better. Even the mere willingness to do so will improve your writing. Let the first ideas come, then explore them for all they're worth.