Friday, September 03, 2010

Writer's Journal 9/3/10

By the last week of Clarion, I was pretty sure I knew what the plan was, at least as far as my writing was concerned.  I was going to revise (some of) the stories I wrote there, one by one, and send them out for publication or, more likely, rejection.  I was going to buckle down and write an outline for the novel I've been slaving away on for the last eight or ten years, then get to work on a draft, which I'd hoped to complete in some reasonable yet currently unspecified period of time.  Then I was going to do some concept-work on a couple of other ideas I've been kicking around. 

Oh, and I was going to start looking into putting together a Clarion Class of 2010 anthology, so we could all become rich and famous and stuff, and maybe even raise a little money for the Workshop, which is, like all worthwhile nonprofit enterprises, generally in need of financial support in order to continue its mission of training and grooming the coming generations of speculative fiction authors to delight and amaze readers of all ages and backgrounds.

That was the plan, anyway.

I knew I'd probably experience a slump in productivity after it was over.  Indeed I was encouraged by several of my instructors to welcome such a period of creative inactivity whilst my hindbrain absorbed and internalized the many valuable lessons about craft and storytelling I'd learned.  So I didn't much worry about the fact that on those few occasions I sat down to write something (even a simple blog post) that my brain turned quickly to inarticulate, unimaginative mush, and so I went on with the business of getting my regularly-scheduled life back in order without worrying about it overmuch.

Then, this week, I decided it was time to get back to work.  It was a little arbitrary, to be honest.  I had recently joined a writers group, and there was a session scheduled for Wednesday for a few folks to get together and write.  Of course I forgot to check the yahoo group, so I didn't know that noone else was going to show up, but once I was there I figured I might as well do something, so I pulled up the story I'd intended to revise next and tried to get to work.

It was not quite so difficult as literally pulling teeth, but the phenomena were not unrelated.  I kept getting lost in little culs-de-sac of word choice, and I found that my hindbrain had neglected to formulate solutions to the many problems my fellow Clarionites had so helpfully pointed out to me, nor to string together a plot or any real narrative structure out of what ideas I did have about it.

Okay, I thought to myself.  No worries.  Maybe that one needs to marinate for a little while.

So I thought maybe I'd hunker down with my novel, really get it figured out and outlined at least enough to start working on again, but it's so big, and there're so many things to figure out, that it gives me a headache just thinking about it.  Truth be told, I'm starting to think that GoATDaD and the Army of Monkeys will turn out to be my masterpiece, which means, among other things, that it'll probably be a good few years before I'm ready to complete it.  I'm still thinking about it, and mulling over the details of the plot and the themes I'm trying to string together into something meaningful, but I'm realizing that I want a more limited project to work on for now.

Which is where today comes in.  Having run into the previously enumerated dead ends, I decided to do some concept-work on another project I've been mulling over.  Despite a few obvious flaws, I was really happy with the last story I wrote at Clarion, and one of the things that were on the near-to-middle horizon was to do a little thinking about expanding it to novel length.  So today, lacking inspiration to do anything else, but feeling like I needed to do something useful and writerly with my time, I decided to do a little background work on character and plot.

Apparently, this is the project I want to be working on.  Backstory and concepts literally poured out of me, two thousand words' worth in a few hours.  My protagonist's life story, which I'd sketched out in my mind beforehand, came together as if I were reading the executive summary of her biography.  The speculative elements (some of which I'd developed for GoATDaD) fit themselves to each other and the world I'm building as if made for one another.  I even got about halfway through a basic plot/strucural synopsis before I got tired and switched over to writing this.

I don't know if I have a muse, other than my readerly self, but I definitely have what Kate Wilhem (one of the founders of the Clarion Writers' Workshop) calls a Silent Partner (her husband and co-founder Damon Knight apparently called his 'Fred'), which is basically the voice of my creative unconscious.  You can't really tell your Silent Partner what to do, from what I understand, but you can tell them to think about stuff, give them problems to solve and images or scenes to string together, and they get back to you when they're ready.

Apparently mine is most interested in this right now.  Which works for me, I think.  I mean, it would probably be good if I could focus in on revising my short stories, since those are easier to find markets for.  But if there's one thing I learned at Clarion, it's that I'm not really a short story writer.  It's not that I don't think I can do it so much as the things I naturally gravitate toward writing are longer-form, because my brain gets all excited and wants to pack all these interesting ideas into whatever I'm working on (which is one reason I've been working on GoATDaD for so long without having ever completed a draft).  I might could write flash fiction every now and again (my most successful Clarion story was only about 1000 words; its current form is only 750 or so), but for the most part, I think I am a novel- or at least novella-length writer, which I'm okay with.

Looking at where my head's at right now, it seems like what I want to do is to work out how to turn that last story into a 60-80K word novel, which is long enough for me to have room to stretch out and play around in, but short enough that it won't get away from me, and something that, if I really put my mind to it, I could plan out and get a draft of in a few months (say 4-6).  It's totally not what the plan was, but one of the things I learned at Clarion is that when you're really excited about writing something, and it's easy and fun, then that's the thing your creative unconscious wants to be working on, and that's the thing you should do.  So I think that's what I'm going to do, even though it's totally not what I thought I would or should be doing right now.

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