Trying something new

Trying something new

I mentioned before that there are two short stories that are coming along with some regularity now. What I may not have mentioned is how easily they are coming.  Those two stories have something specific in common that I am learning from.

I don't really have a consistent 'process.'  I've worked with notecards, outlines, mind maps, free writing, sound tracks — I've produced different stories in different ways, often with much tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth over word count.  They usually have an idea at their heart, something I thought was cool that I'm trying to build a story around.  Usually the thing I have worked out is the ending, and I am writing my way toward that.  But whatever the Thing is, I always start with some kind of rudimentary plan.

This approach often leaves me frustrated, when the story I'm writing doesn't match the Cool Thing In My Head.  This does not mean that I won't continue to write stories that way.  I have a lot of Cool Things In My Head that want stories, and maybe some of them have to be planned.

The two I'm working on now are not like that.  I had a first sentence, and a character who I knew almost nothing about, and I started writing.  Next thing I knew, I had a couple thousand words.  I'm finding out about the characters as I write them, and I'm discovering what the stories are about as they unfold.

I have heard other writers talk about this, both novice and professional.  I had never experienced it before.  It is amazing.  It is exciting.  I have no idea what happens next, and I won't until I sit down and write it.  I'm just making shit up as I go.  It is liberating.

And the interesting part is that it doesn't seem to require 'inspiration' to approach it this way.  I open the file, and the next thing comes.  To be fair, those sessions end up only adding 200 words, give or take.  The one I'm writing on my phone, even less.  100, maybe.  I don't sit down and complete entire scenes.  But as Cory Doctorow once pointed out, if you write 250 words a day, in a year you'll have a novel.

People refer to this unplanned approach as “organic” writing.  Some use it as just a descriptor, but I've seen some use the term a little bit sneeringly, as if it's not just a descriptor but also a value judgment; as if anything that isn't “organic” is somehow less sincere, less artistic, more contrived.  But it's a false dichotomy, isn't it, organic vs. planned writing.  One is not better than the other, except perhaps for the individual. One works for some, and one works for others.  Maybe each works for the same person but for different projects.  They're just different ways of getting the stories out. What I'm learning is that I have to keep trying new things until I find the thing that works best for me.

What this approach has *not* done yet is allow the Cool Thing In My Head out and onto the page.  It is very possible that it will, but I suspect that for that to happen I will have to change the nature of the Cool Things file.  That mental file (which has a digital counterpart) has, until now, been where I store things to write about.  But maybe that's not the way to treat that file.  Maybe it's just a file of cool things, that may or may not get pulled into a story that is about something else.  Maybe in the process of discovery I'll think “this is the perfect place to use that idea!” 

I won't know, really, how well this works for me until it produces something finished.  For now, though, the process of writing is a little easier than usual, the sense of accomplishment is a little bit greater (because of the consistency,) and I am having a little more fun committing fiction than I have in recent memory.


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