Saturday, May 26, 2007

Check-in Connection

I really haven't done well with the posting lately. It's not that I don't have anything to say, just that I'm less and less confident that what I do have to say will be either informative or entertaining to anyone else. This is because lately I've been getting into my head about writing processes, and posting about that might be interesting to some writers but probably not a whole lot even then. Or I've been ruminating over various hot topics in the writing and publishing worlds that have been hashed out much better by others with more experience and/or knowledge. And all the while I'm craving community, so chances are my posts would be either over-reaching to try and place myself within certain internet communities or very clipped links to the voices in those communities. No one wants to read a strong undercurrent of my need for validation in the writing world or my increasing sense of disconnect from the world in general. In fact, I'm rather sick of listening to those threads in my own mind.

So, what does this mean? It means that I'm on a personal crusade to see if I can kick this addiction to external validation and various and sundry other evils associated with requiring the respect and attention of others for feelings of self-worth. This may mean I'll post more often about whatever happens to cross my mind. This may mean I'll post only weekly on the fun Drewbie tidbit of the moment. I dunno. I'm not even sure how this crusade will manifest itself in my need for community. All I do know is that, starting now, I'm embracing wholeheartedly my recent endeavor to examine my writing process.

Let's talk some more about that last one. I set aside Shadow of Zehth last year in favor of short fiction so I could keep writing without the pressure of a novel during the move to AZ and into our house. I set aside SoZ again this year when I realized that I had some serious plot issues to unsnarl before I could get back to draft creation. So since September of 2006, I haven't written more than 2000 words in a novel and instead have written around 30,000 words of short fiction (including revisions). In writing the short fiction, I managed to take a closer look at craft and how I approach it. I've also examined my career goals when Mark's job was threatened, looking at ways I could increase my chances of bringing in money faster with my writing (I might talk more about that in a later post, but the examination is not quite finished, so the post might be delayed a while yet).

Basically, I've refined a decent amount of my thinking on writing and my identification as a writer. Part of that refinement is a desire to pay more attention to how I go about creating a story from the first whiff of an idea to the last revision. That desire stems from a serious aversion to reaching 82,000 words in SoZ and realizing I needed to start from the top again, maybe keeping some of those words. Maybe. I'd rather not go through that again. The desire also has roots in a growing frustration at the length of time it takes me to write anything. I know I am capable of being more productive, and I want to be more productive so I can increase the chances of ditching the DDJ that much sooner. Place this desire against the general Sage Advice of writing personages that I respect, and I found myself in a bit of a dilemma.

The standard recommendation to budding authors is to keep at a draft until you reach "The End," then worry about fixing things. The reasoning behind this is valid and sound: finishing a book is hard, starting a project is easy. Most would-be novelists get caught up in an idea for a while, tinker with it until the fun runs out, then move onto to the next Shiny New Thing and repeat. I don't want to be that sort of amateur (a hobbyist, really), and I think the fact that I did see my first novel through to "The End" and through two substantial revisions beyond that is a mark in my favor. I have, however, started three novels since then (and gotten to the 30K mark in the first one, 40K mark in the 2nd, and 80K mark in the 3rd). But I've also completed three novelettes and three short stories.

(All told, I've written around 300,000 - 400,000 words so far in my writing endeavors; the figure could be as high as 500,000 as I haven't accurately tracked the new content word count of my revisions. Add in my blog post word counts, and I'm well on my way to writing the million words one author recommends to new writers. He also recommends then burning said words; he may be on to something.)

So while I've been futzing around with short fiction, I've been trying to find a way to get back to SoZ and complete a draft by year's end so I don't become That Amateur. It hasn't been working. I thought I had hit the breakthrough I needed the other weekend when I was chatting about SoZ with my father-in-law, and I realized how I could tweak the plot so the conflict didn't just fizzle away into nothing right about half-way through the book. I was excited, I was energized. I had Plot! Viable Plot! To get me to "The End!" So I sat down to do my fuzzy, organic writer-style outline and realized that I actually had two plots going on. This wasn't a new realization, but after all the craft realizations I had during my short fiction endeavors, my two plots realization suddenly showed me the complexity of what I was trying to do.

And I realized I wasn't quite ready to do it yet.

That is, looking at writing through the lens of short fiction, I came to realize just how little I understood about writing. Sure, I know a lot about writing, and I've read a lot of books and examined all manner of writing styles and elements, and I've become a rather accomplished critiquer, but somehow I had kept all of that knowledge in one area of my brain and never actively digested it and applied it to my own writing process. This is not to say that my writing hasn't improved, that none of the knowledge I picked up worked its way into my writing. But there's so much more to be transferred.

Enter the project THUMB. No, I'm not going to explain this project, other than to say that the "U" in the acronym is variable depending on my mood and the status of the project. Today, I think the U stands for "undeniable." By the time I'm finished with this project, I hope that the U will stand for "ultramundane" (a rather cool word that doesn't mean what you think it means). Anyway, this is an idea that's been gestating for about a year and a half, the product of a writing prompt that collided with another idea that I had thought would be in a different book but didn't fit. I'm going to use this project as a means to examining my writing process and seeing if I can better comprehend and utilize all the fine writing knowledge I've been dumping into my skull over the past five years.

After more than a decade focused on science and math and going to great lenghts to be aware of my thinking process in those areas, it was an undeniable relief to just cut loose and write and let the story and words flow where they would, trusting in my muse and my subconscious mind to keep me on track. It worked more than not, but it's not how I want to spend the rest of my writing life. I've moved beyond that. I want to feel more engaged with my writing, more connected with that part of myself.

Now we're back to the whole point of this post: connection. I'm hoping that, in writing THUMB and taking an active role in my writing process, I'll divorce myself from the need for external validation as a means to self-worth in writing. And I'm further optimistic that by doing so, I'll trigger ways to connect with the world around me that isn't writing as well.

It's strange. I used writing to heal myself in a number of ways for the past five years. It anchored me when the identity I had invested in for more than a decade unraveled. But I think I managed to use it more as a crutch than as an integral part of myself. Now rather than use writing to heal myself, I'm not going to "use" it at all. I'm going to make it my own.

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