Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Monday, 13 September 2004

Sometimes stories come very easily. Other times crafting a story is really hard. In general, my experience has been that the stories that are hard to write don't turn out as well.

The providence story has been an exception. It has been hard to write. It took a long time to get something worth critiquing, a major rewrite, another set of critiques, and then more rewriting. But I'm really pleased with the results.

I think stories can be hard to write for different reasons. Some deal with emotional stuff that's hard for me to deal with. Others demand a technical virtuosity that I don't yet possess. Others simply aren't clear enough in my head to go down on paper.

In this case, I think, the limitation was my own technical skill, and my skill just got a little bit better in the time I was working on it. Enough to make the difference. I can't expect that to happen every time, but it does vindicate my stubbornness. I've sometimes thought it would make more sense simply to give up right away when a story went badly, and not waste the time on a doomed effort. My instinct has usually been to stick with it, and now I think that was a good instinct.

Maybe in the future I can speed things along by figuring out what's limiting my success with the story and dealing with it. If it's an emotional problem with the issue, I can just decide whether I want the story badly enough to deal with it. If it's a technical skill, I can try to develop it. If it's a story-clarity issue, I can brainstorm on the story.

As far as technical skills go, I've got lots of books on writing. Every time I have some "breakthrough" in figuring out something about writing, it always turns out to be something that I've read in half a dozen books. (That becomes especially obvious when I try to write down what the problem and solution were. It always ends up with me saying, "Gee, I've read that somewhere before.") Sometimes stuff just won't sink in until you're ready. But, if I know exactly what I'm looking for, maybe I can make myself ready a little bit sooner than otherwise.

Another thing that helped with this story was (to use the software term) refactoring. Once I understood what all the pieces needed to add up to, I was able to look at the pieces I had and figure out what was missing. Then I just wrote those pieces. It was very satisfying.

So. I've gotten one critique back on my latest draft. It was generally positive. I expect one more. I'll take both those into account and give the whole matter some thought. I'm very pleased with my story, but I'd be thrilled if I could make it a bit better yet before I sent it to an editor.

Today's writing time was spent brainstorming for the robot story.

The biggest issue there is a world-building one: where are the other robots? There are the robots at issue, but I don't deal with robots elsewhere. Technically, I can handle that either of two ways. One, I can say, "No, because of the issue with the robots, there aren't any other robots." Or, I can write robots in everywhere. Either could be powerful thematically. If the robots are gone, then everyone is going to have issues of loss. If the robots are present, then I can contrast them with the robots at issue. Either would be good. It's just a matter of deciding which tells my story better.

The other big thing is the same thing as the last issue in the providence story. I need to get into the hero's head and deal with his motivations. I also need to explore the motivations of the robot he interacts with. (That I probably have to do without getting into his head, since he doesn't really have one. But I can do it by having him say what he means and ask for what he wants, a step that I carelessly skipped in the first draft.)

Ran 5 miles at Allerton yesterday. Felt great. Ran at an easy pace except for the uphill bits (because what's more fun than running faster uphill than on the flat bits?) and the last bit at the end. Felt like I could have turned around and run 5 miles back again. (Probably couldn't have, would have beaten myself down by mile 7 or 8.) The amount by which I felt better than a year ago when I ran the same course in a race is hard to express.

I was tired after. I ended up taking a nap yesterday afternoon, and then not getting much else done the rest of the day. I wasn't so worn out that I couldn't bicycle to work today, though.

Not much other news. I got one of my fountain pens out to play with. I rearranged two of my circa notebooks so I have a good notebook for story notes. Writing with pen on paper is a good thing. I spend too much time typing on a computer.

Clearly I've reached the point where I'm just rambling here. I'll post this and go to bed.


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