Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Monday, 18 June 2001

I turned in my story this morning. The final length came in at 2960 words. It was one of six stories turned in this morning, so we're splitting them into two groups, with two (including mine) deferred until tomorrow.

I realized while I was writing it that my story played to my strengths. Or, more accurately, it worked around my limitations. I tend to write stories with a very even pacing (lacking an appropriate acceleration as they approach the climax). I also tend to write about characters with a very flat affect, who don't show their feelings (even to the reader) very much. I think my new story works pretty well, partly because a flat affect and even pacing are just what is called for. So, I discovered in the writing that I was telling a story that let me stay within my limitations.

The thing is, Clarion isn't a time to stay within your limitations. It is a time to push beyond them. So, I'm a bit disappointed in myself. But only a bit: I didn't do it on purpose; I was just trying to tell the best story I could. Now that I've thought about it, I'll take more risks with the next one.

And, in fact, I've started my next story. It's a hard sf thing with nanotech and major changes in social circumstances (despite being near-future). It also has a human angle. I'll do my best to make the characters more expressive.

Following in the footsteps of Hilary Moon Murphy, I brought a Ganesh statue with me to Clarion. It's a dancing Ganesh and he dances while I write, placing and removing obstacles for me and my characters. I also brought a Ganesh t-shirt that I've been wearing for the first day of class each week.

I thought about my day job yesterday, for almost the first time since I came here. It's really odd to be away for so long. Not bad, mind you (I'd be glad to take six weeks off two or three times a year). It's just something outside my previous experience.

Have I mentioned how good the stories are? There are a bunch of great writers here. However, one of the things that James Patrick Kelly says he wants to do is push the critiques up a level in toughness. He said we've been here a couple weeks (one-third of the workshop), we've bonded, we've gotten an idea of how one another write. Now we need to quit pussy-footing around and start telling one another when a story is just "enjoyable" or even that we "really liked it." Every story should be evaluated not just in terms of whether we enjoyed it or not, but whether we'd feel like we got our money's worth if we'd read it in a magazine.

One benchmark Jim mentioned was memorability. Most of these stories (he says) will be forgettable. When we run into one another a few years from now (and we will, if we remain involved in the field) we'll go up to one another and one will say, "Do you remember that story I wrote? The one with...." And the other will say, "No, sorry. I don't remember." Those, he says, are the stories that won't sell. But a few will stick with us. We should all be writing those stories.

Jim gave us all the assignment to write something that scares us. Something where we put something deeply personal into the subtext of the story. He said we didn't need to write it for him, or even necessarily while we're here, but that we should write it and come to understand what it is to do that. Because that's what we ought to be doing every time.

We played some rounds of The Thing this evening. We played three games with six or seven players where the scientists only got one test and the scientists lost each round. Then we played three more games with eight players where the scientists got two tests and got the thing in the first round twice and in the second round the other time. So, we're still play testing the rules.


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