Well, threes of fans, here we are at the end of April, and I feel like I’m sort of waking up out of some kind of stupor. Call it winter hibernation, call it post-book-release mental retreat, call it the normal ebb and flow of the Muse–or maybe some weird combination of all three. Whatever it is, it appears to be on the wane, and my Muse is finally getting a little caffeine.
So now that she’s waking up a little, I’m discovering that I have no blog plan for the next several months. When I was getting ready to release Unquickened last year, I brainstormed topics for about eight months of posts. I swapped or shifted things occasionally, and sometimes I had a blank spot that needed a topic, but for the most part, this list was my guide for keeping up with all of you.
When January rolled around, I had no plan. And because I have no releases coming up, I had no excerpts, no promo topics, and no big reveals. Aside from the obligatory January Goal Setting posts, I’ve sort of been winging the topics for the last few months.
So all of this to say… I had no idea what to write about this week, so I scrolled through the titles of my posts for the past year or so, and I discovered this one–What I’ve Learned About Writing, Part 1. I wrote that post almost exactly one year ago, and I never got to Part 2 or any subsequent parts. But I re-read the post, and I thought it was pretty good and mostly held up, and I figured I could probably write a few more things about writing, so I decided to finally get around to the next installment.
I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath.
In any case, here you go.
Let the Story Surprise You
I sort of wrote about this in the previous post where I said that you don’t have to know everything to start writing the story. I still believe that, and I still practice that. I dive into the story with the vaguest, sketchiest idea of where it will go, and I write to discover.
But I think the corollary to the principle of heading into a story without all of the information is that you have to be willing to let the story surprise you.
I think some writers try to limit the Muse so that the story doesn’t get out of control, and I understand that. When I write for businesses, I tend to give myself more structure in the beginning because I know there are limits to how long the copy should be, how deep to go into a topic, and what my audience really needs or wants to hear.
But when it comes to just pure creative endeavors, I want the story to surprise me. I see myself as an explorer, a prospector, a hiker in a new forest, an archaeologist uncovering fossils.
I want to turn a corner or pull back a curtain or dust off a relic that gives me a new detail, new character, new theme. That’s the joy of writing for me.
Keep Some Darlings
I struggle with the idea of “kill your darlings.” I understand the advice–the idea is that you have to be willing to delete things that aren’t really relevant, no matter how much you love them. But when that kind of advice gets doled out to new writers, they assume that because they love a thing, they must delete it.
That’s not how this works.
I think as writers, we assume that if we love something we wrote, it must be stupid, irrelevant, useless, or inherently bad in some way. This is not true. Don’t be afraid to say that you love something and dammit, you’re going to keep it in there, even if it does nothing to advance the plot. Honestly, there are so many stories out there full of information and detail that doesn’t do anything for the plot, character, or setting, but so what? Did you read them anyway? Did you like them? Then the “darlings” were relevant to the story in some way, and that’s enough.
Instead of “kill your darlings,” give yourself permission to write whatever crazy thing pops into your head and remind yourself that you can always delete later. Later, when you’re looking at the piece with a critical eye and evaluating whether to keep something, you can decide what to do. Maybe it does nothing to improve the story, character, plot, or setting, but you love it anyway. Maybe you can’t edit enough to make it fit into the story better.
You know what? Leave it in there.
If it means something to you, it means something to someone else.
Of course, your whole final, published story can’t be full of those elements, and it’s possible that an editor somewhere will override your decision or make a case for deleting it. But in principle, just because you like a thing doesn’t mean it has to go.
It’s Okay to Like Your Own Work
The online writing community has its pros and cons, but one great thing about it is the plethora of wonderful writing memes. Probably at least half of them (likely more) are about how many ways we all procrastinate putting actual words down, but there are also a fair amount about inner self-loathing, writer angst, and general disgust with our work.
I get it. The reason those memes are out there is because they contain an element of truth. It is genuinely really hard to like your own work. I feel this in both my commercial writing and with fiction. When I re-read my work, I am often tempted to fake my death and move to Tibet.
There are also moments when I re-read something–even something I wrote decades ago–and I think, “dang, that was pretty good” or “oh wow, that resonates more than ever nowadays” or “that was actually rather prescient of me” or even “*sniff* dammit, stupid story making me cry…”
Because if you’re doing it right, if you’re digging deep and plumbing the well of human experience and writing down what you uncover, you can’t help but occasionally stumble across some truth or hit a nerve somewhere or make yourself feel something surprising.
And I’m here to tell you–it’s okay to like that stuff.
One of the most common pieces of writing advice you’ll ever hear is that you should write the story you want to read. If you go back and read your work and realize that it’s something that resonates with you, then I would say you’ve accomplished that goal.
And if you want to read it, I can promise you–someone else out there will also want to read it.
Hopefully not just for national security reasons…
I will probably have more to say about what I’ve learned about writing, but I hope you won’t have to wait another year to find out what those things are. I may sort of wing it as far as topics for a few more weeks, but hopefully in late May, I’ll be mostly through this crazy busy season, and I’ll be able to plan out my weekly topics as well as get a handle on plans for new releases.
In the meantime, allow me to leave you with this eternal wisdom from one of the great thinkers of our time:
Happy Perfect Date, everyone!