Insecure Writers and The Anatomy of Story

So Lissa Bryan has this lovely post about how real writers are everywhere and how, by definition, a writer is someone who writes.
And part of me goes: Hell yeah!
…And part of me doesn’t.
I’m a largely un-peer-reviewed-publication-published writer. I blog all over the place. By that token, I’ve been published hundreds of times. But as far as getting published after a review process where someone else had to say “Yes, this is awesome enough for me to take the risk and put my name behind it, too”? Only a few. A couple of poems and one short story. Only a couple of which were paid markets.
And, to be perfectly blunt, I want that validation. I want someone – someone other than me, someone who isn’t my wife or my friend or even someone I’ve met in person yet – to say “This is a really great story. Here’s an editor on me. Let’s polish this up and help you develope into the even more amazing writer that you so clearly have the potential to become.” The $5000 advance that theoretically comes with this mythical occurance? Not so much on my mind. Wanted, sure. But not nearly so freaking yearned for – at least not right this minute – as hearing that a jury of my peers has judged me and found me worthy.
Wow. That was slightly more impassioned than I meant to get. :-\
Anyway. Maybe that’s why, when Sofia asked me what I wanted in terms of reception of my writing, I said “I’d like to win a Lambda award” rather than “I’d like to sell five million copies” or “I’d like HBO to buy the rights and turn it into a mini series” or whatever.
But why am I writing about this? Well, dear readers, I’ve been having a really frustrating couple of days weeks months on the writing front. 40,000 words or so, and I don’t feel like I really have a clue on how to get my novel to go where it’s supposed to be going. I feel like I’m churning out filler in the hopes that, somewhere in the drose, I’ll find the little thread of gold that I can use to turn into the actual Novel Novel during Draft Two. And, honestly, I’d like to be a little more efficient than that, and I’d like to feel a hell of a lot less lost.
Yeah. That lost feeling? That feeling of what-the-fuck-am-I-even-doing? That’s the real bugbear right there. Because when the characters are actually talking? When it feels like all I have to do is take dictation from my Creative Brain (who is going a mile a minute and I’m in that zone where, as Ursula Le Guin puts it, “the words cannot be wrong”) and type fast enough to keep up with a story that is telling itself? Then I really don’t care whether the story ever sees the light of day[1] because I’m actually WRITING and BEING A WRITER and the high of that experience is so very much enough.
But when it’s all just endlessly slogging-slogging-slogging and I can’t see where the fuck the narative is going and am deeply suspicious that this is because it’s going nowhere… That’s when I need some sort of external validation to remind me that, yes, I’m still a writer. That’s when I start plotting out Paranormal Romance Novels – not because I enjoy gritty urban fantasy with an element of noir and a (significant) element of the erotic, and not because I have a couple of characters whose relationship, story, and world I’d like to expand upon, but because “Paranormal’s hot right now, and romances are formulaic enough that I might be able to write one without getting completely lost”[2].
Feeling deeply discouraged and wondering what the fuck I was doing, and even wondering if I should bother trying to be A Writer at all[3] I hied myself to the library and picked up a couple of books on how to improve one’s storytelling.
They’re actually helping.
At least the first one I picked up, The Anatomy of Story (which I think might be targeted at screenplay writers, but that’s not really relevant), is giving me a good bunch of Things upon which to build the skeleton of my story –> things that are kind of like “interview your MC to find out her personal brand of neurotic” but rather more direct.
I’ve been applying it to “Small Miracles” (the small-town lesbian manuscript), working with the elements I already have (which is technically not what I’m supposed to do, but whatever) to fill in the structural blanks. Not surprisingly there were structural blanks to be filled. I’m far from finished this process, which I’ll be doing again with “Crow Maidens” (which might wind up being told from a different PoV, we’ll see), and I’m also far from finished The Anatomy of Story (I’m almost to the beginning of Chapter Four, fyi). But it’s already helping. It’s showing me where I’m missing stuff. My “plan”, while probably acceptable, feels a little too vague to me to really be able to build something around. So I’m poking at it, trying to find the weak spots, and continuing on with this book to see if, getting on with bits like “character theme opposition” or “building conflict”, I get also get a better idea of how The Plan should look.
Wish me luck.
[1] But also know that it will, somehow, because I’ll make sure of it.
[2] Which doesn’t mean that I’m not going to write my Crow Maidens expansion. It just meanst that I’m going to take a good, long poke at it before I go any further in the words-on-the-page department and see if I can’t get a really clear idea of how the skeletal system works, first.
[3] I figured out pretty quick that if I just flat-out stopped bothering and went and tried to find a day-job or something, I would probably just wind up going squirrely due to all of the un-written, un-processed, un-acknowledged STUFF swhirling around in my head… and that was actually kind of a relief: Oh, good. I must be a Real Writer because I can’t fucking stop.

1 Comment

Filed under prose, writing

One response to “Insecure Writers and The Anatomy of Story

  1. Pingback: Insecurities and Magical Causality | The Breathings of My Heart

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