I’m Not Giving up on You

Lesson learned today. Since I’m a sort of hopscotch writer (I jump around from story to story depending on which one calls the strongest that day, which isn’t very effective in the long-term I suppose, but it works for me for the moment.), I can’t help having a whole slew of stories that just sit unfinished when I boot up the computer and sit down to write. It’s the nature of the beast. But that also brings about its own sense of frustration.

There are those moments when I want to sit down to write, yet have no idea what to write at all. Nothing I say comes out remotely workable. Many call this feeling “writer’s block.” Well, I’ll let you know my stance on that thing later. But that’s not the thing I’m facing recently. Not really. It’s like one of my stories is begging me to pick it up and continue to make it grow into a full-length piece but its voice is so far away and hard to hear that I can’t really figure out exactly which one it is, and when tossed into the middle of a crowd, it’s even harder to figure out.

I went through three or four different story files today just trying to figure out which story I could most easily write tonight. Turns out that it was the story I haven’t taken a look at in literally months: The one I promised myself I’d get into a full first draft before the end of the year. It’s July now. I’m a little concerned I won’t be able to do it, but whatever. It’s a goal and I can work toward it at least.

So personal lesson #23420978: Don’t give up on searching for that story you feel most like writing at any particular moment – it will be there somewhere.

And yes, I totally just picked a random number out of the usual place. Deal with it.

Exploration and Experimentation… or the writer as mad scientist

I don’t know if it makes me a good (read: dedicated) writer or just a bad student, but I tend to spend most of my time at work writing page after page of story rather than paying attention to my trainer. Though it’s all by hand so the going is slow, I finally finished the first chunk of story last week. Amazed that it was so short, I figured that I’d have to go back and throw in more details just to make the images more clear since I’m writing about things that people wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t normally see. (Honestly, how else does one write about the afterlife except by making it up?) So details are a must and I’m notorious for not putting enough in thinking that everyone can see exactly what I see when I’ve got a scene laid out on the page.

Imagine my surprise tonight when I looked back at the scenes in my head as I had written them out only to realize that the parts I’d originally intended to put in weren’t there. Not even a trace of them. This story is going to fight me, I already know it, but that doesn’t stop me. It’s just like a really stubborn video game stuck on hard mode. The story is worthwhile, the characters interesting for me to explore and the world is something that will take care to build and explore. It’s a challenge I look forward to finishing.

I can’t speak for other writers. I’m not them. But when presented with the opportunity to experiment with how I’ve written something, I sort of grin inside and enjoy the challenges presented to me. It’s like playing a game where there is no walkthrough or FAQ up to help you through it, so you’re exploring it on your own bit by bit and seeing how everything works. In a way, I miss when that was the norm, when it was talking to other people who shared your enthusiasm for that particular story and seeing how they handle it because they play differently from you and seeing if something that they do will work for you.

It’s truly… open-ended.

I am an Elder Scrolls fan. Readily admitted, though I haven’t had the chance to play Skyrim yet. I want to. I’ve also played both the first and second Deus Ex games. I fell in love with playing Morrowind and the first Deus Ex game simply because I could explore for hours upon hours and redo areas over and over again figuring out how best to do them for my unique play style. There was no “overall best” way to play when I played them, just the game, just a world to explore and figure out. Characters to tweak and re-tweak and play. Can’t play this area with this skill that low? Go someplace else and level it or figure out a way around that difficulty. And nobody told me how best to go about it, so it was frustrating but so very satisfying when I finally did succeed. What I miss about those games was the exploration and how organic the worlds felt. Despite the graphic not being anywhere near as realistic as current games, I felt like those worlds were a bit more real and enjoyable than the ones created now. It’s almost like the developers stopped caring about the story itself to a degree and focus more on the flash and pomp, though that isn’t to say that there isn’t a market for that. It’s just that I care more about the story and the motivation for going about doing one thing or another. But I’ve dragged this comparison out for too long. Suffice to say I enjoyed (still enjoy) the open-endedness I had in those games and treasure the hours upon hours spent exploring and experimenting.

Now, I’m sort of applying that to my writing. I have a scene, or even a set of scenes. I have what led up to them though that isn’t displayed to anyone but me, not even in the text itself. Now I’ve the time to go back and experiment, to make this scene work the best it can for me. Because at the moment, even if inspiration is derived from without, I’m not writing for anyone else – just me. Then again, for this piece, I suppose inspiration is only partially from without, mostly from within. Odd little thing that inspiration…

Anyway, back to work with me. *grin* Take care.

Writing to Heal or Healing to Write?

Even though it’s been a few months since the “mascara hit the fan” as my mother so oddly puts it, it’s only in the last few days that I finally feel as though I’m healing. Yes, my days feel more empty if not outright hollow, and yes, I miss the Stray terribly, thoughts and memories and dreams often floating to the surface of my mind. But the thing is, I’m not entirely miserable anymore. One step at a time, I’m moving forward.

So maybe a massive fight where we both backed off from one another for various reasons (most likely not wanting to put up with angry attacks and refusals to apologize for attacking, not to mention the pain of feeling like nothing more than a huge disappointment) was a good thing, at least for me. Okay, maybe not. I still feel the void left behind, but I suppose there is something that can help fill that. Like my writing or taking on my newest everyday adventure: audio books while driving. Seriously, today alone I killed a third of a pen from writing this story I’ve had in my head for a while. This is a good thing! And I enjoyed my drive to and from work so much more with a story playing in the background than listening to the news.

I went most of today without daydreaming of things that may never happen or reliving memories that will never again come about. While at work, for the first time in a long time – or so it seems, though I’m terrible with my temporal cognisance – I felt almost happy. I have a bunch of really neat people around me, supportive and experienced in different walks of life. We’re all working toward the same goal – survive the damned training course. And as long as some people don’t throw temper tantrums over nothing again, it’s mostly stress-free. In fact, I came to realize just how at home I am in a classroom environment. I like having people around me who are working toward the same goals without really competing for the same single position or promotion or whatever. I like having the teacher droning on and on about the same three or four things for hours on end. I’m most productive during such periods. My few pages from today are a testament to that.

But I suppose it’s even more amazing because just last night I tried to write something, anything and nothing would come out. Everything I tried felt wrong or bad. Nothing was good enough. Judging by how easily this story came out today, I’d say that perhaps I’d been trying to write the wrong story and need to step away from it a bit. I think I’ll do just that after I finish the sequences of events I have already worked out. (Alice, you’ve never seen the Wonderland I’m painting you.) I’ve heard tale that when you’re starting out, it doesn’t matter WHAT you write, just that you do it, and that you eventually finish it. That last part is tricky for me.

But writing might just be what I need right now. I feel better when I do. I just need to keep reminding myself of that fact.

Just a Thought

What is the best gift a writer (or aspiring writer) can hope to give to someone they care about? What is the best way to show that you love a person? It’s simple. Write a story for them. Tell them what you think, what you feel, and try your hardest to convey it all in the words of a story. Sometimes the wording may not mesh exactly right. Sometimes a phrase becomes mangled. But usually, if you’re careful and you put everything you have into it, you can get the feelings across. And that’s the important part.

I screwed up. I screwed up the same way a person developes an illness. You don’t mean to get it, but it just happens and there’s nothing, if anything you can do to stop it from happening. The only thing to do is to pick up the pieces, hope they can fit back together, and get better.

“Woo me,” they said with a smirk on their face, as if I haven’t been trying from the start. As if I hadn’t been called the Best Girlfriend Ever multiple times just for being myself and giving thoughtful treats that were well received.

Oh yes, I screwed up. I didn’t mean to. And we’re back to that space before the starting line all over again, it feels. But you know, there are moments, a few very special tender moments, when I realize that maybe it’s not so bad to go backward like this every so often. When was the last time I felt such a thrill from just the thought of a hand upon my cheek or so grateful for a single hug that I know will feel warm and safe? When, before this mess started, did I stop appreciating the person before me?

Sometimes, we all just need a little reminder of what we already have and how wonderful it can be.

Creative Writing Courses or The Attempt to Produce Cookie-Cutter Writers

Okay, so, today was not a particularly good day. I had serious downs. And in terms of my writing, well, blogging has been it, pretty much. While I have escaped my own mire, I’m not trusting myself to get out of my own head and into my characters’ heads quite yet. But that won’t stop me from plotting and planning later tonight.

Anyway, the title of this post has to have you wondering by now what the bloody blue blazes I mean. The topic stems from a bit of personal growth I discovered during a relatively calm discussion with one of my friends today about her creative writing courses. She and I went to different schools, so there will of course be discrepancies in how programs are run, but to my slight dismay, I found that isn’t really the case.

See, when I attended my university, the focus was purely on this ambiguous genre of fiction called “Literary,” which while I know by the examples given of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Chaucer, Hawthorne, Austin, Wolff, and many more covered in courses more in detail. I didn’t understand what made them “Literary” when things like “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Peter Pan” were also “Literary” (to say nothing of Asimov and Bradbury). The former are what everyone always strove to be in these programs, or at least what would receive the highest marks, but the latter would get passing but not much better marks. So what was this “literary”* they were demanding so much?

I guess I could put it as “true to life” writing. Stories that are plausible for the world we live in, be it current times, an age long past, or an age yet to come. The stories of people who go on living day-to-day lives and face the challenges of what that entails. But that alone would be boring. No, literary also has something special attached – a conflict that shows an issue, be it family issues, racial, gender, sexual, or just the issue of appearances. There are subtexts.

But the question remains as to why our two schools chose to focus solely (and some might even say restrictively) on this “literary” fiction that so many find terribly dull. I came to realize at least part of the answer as I spoke to my friend about it.

“Literary” fiction as covered in school is boring. It is our lives put on paper trough the eyes and ears and touches of characters. It is our thoughts through their mouths, but given the decency of creating a different persona for the characters so that we can avoid a certain responsibility for saying such things. (Hint: We’re still given credit for them though, so don’t run from that. It’s impossible.) It’s boring. But it’s useful.

This form of fiction has only the most basic of basics in it to make it work. It has a focus on the characters, plot, conflict, setting, climax, action, pacing and so forth. There are no gimmicks like magic or world-creation rules or fantastic science that modern science has yet to discover. There is only a character or two, their lives, their problems, their dialogue – if any – and a classroom filled with editing piranhas ready to rip your story to shreds just as they would have you do to theirs. “Literary” fiction as had by college courses is essentially the fiction of nuts and bolts, the basis for everything else. To learn this and learn it well is to learn how to create a solid foundation for any type of writing you could possibly create down the line.

Now, that being said, their insistence on ONLY writing this way leads many to believe wrongly that anything outside of this genre is lesser writing. I have my own experience in this. My counselor in the English department assumed that because I didn’t like to read the classics that I didn’t like to read at all and thus wrote me off. I did try to clarify that I liked reading fantasy and light sci-fi and such, but she wouldn’t hear of it. According to her, I didn’t “read.” Students who don’t like writing “literary” fiction are writing “junk” and this opinion comes not only from the teachers but the other students who DO tend to write this elitist fiction and get outstanding marks.

Just like there are students out there who learn in different ways (the different modalities: Visual, listening, speaking, doing, etc.) there are writers whose brains simply struggle to think in terms of “literary.” It’s simply much easier for some people to write Science Fiction or Fantasy or Romance (smut edited out for classroom distribution) or whatever genre they find themselves gravitating toward. So why are these people looked down upon? These stories have the basic nuts and bolts that “Literary” fiction has, it’s just they have something different added to it.

What I have found I’d love to see more of is the classes where the students are asked to try out the different genres, even if they fail, just try it out. Mystery, Romance, Horror, Mythology/Folk Lore/Fairy Tale, etc. There are so many. Spend a day each going over the major genres and what standards they follow like Mystery focuses on very detailed plot and setting while Romance focuses more on the characters and their interactions. Go into some of the larger, more popular subgenres as the larger ones are discussed, like Science Fiction is very focused on the technology and human interaction with it while Steam Punk (a subgenre) is a specific kind of technology in a more historical period, usually Victorian.

The reason many of my fellow writers chose to enter into creative writing classes in the first place was because they wanted something out of it, usually some guidance on how to get better, but most of what I’ve seen is a lot of condescension, a silent battle between genre-fiction and that “elite” “literary” faction that people seem to value so highly, and a whole lot of miscommunication. Just like “Literary” does not necessarily mean “better,” “genre” does not strictly mean “junk” or “trash.” The whole point was to create a story that the reader would enjoy: TO ENTERTAIN. Each person is different, so let them write what comes most naturally to them and stop looking down your nose at what comes out if it’s not “literary.”

Creative writing courses were not created to produce cookie-cutter writers. The End. Full Stop.

**I would like to say this right now, though: I do not take sides in this conflict. I read genre fiction, the Classics that constitute Literary fiction (now that I’m not having it forced down my throat in class), and I read “literary” fiction. I enjoy some authors from each and dislike others. I enjoy them equally for the ability to immerse me into another person’s life and world for a few hours at a time and make me care about the characters. What do I write? I’m still trying to figure that out. Right now, I do a bit of everything. But for the longest time I had a strict preference for fantasy. Then I tried something new because it was MY idea. If it had come from anyone else, I wouldn’t have done it. It has to be my idea for me to enjoy it. I guess that means I’m wired a bit oddly. I write the stories that my characters either tell me or need, be that in a fantastic make-believe world or a realistic one. To each their own.

So now I open the floor to you: Do you have any ideas that I haven’t covered here as to why this “literary” genre is the sole focus of the creative writing programs that my friend and I have explored? (“Because it’s just so much better, meh~” without justification won’t cut it.)

 

*I use quotes around it bring into focus the differences between the two. Literary with the capital L being that large collection of works force-fed to us as we grew up like so many moldy old prunes (It’s GOOD for you!), and literary with a lowercase l being this genre that the college professors seem to prefer.
** WordPress decided to cut my entry here short and use an autosaved version instead of what I’d finished writing. My apologies for any misunderstandings and inconveniences this may have caused.