Duane's Writing Query

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Duane's Writing Query

Postby robochrist » Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:11 pm

Couldn't resist the PERTINENCE of Duane's question to Harlan over in the Pavilion.

"Editing" as you write - I've concluded, as I've been thru exactly the same inner conflict - is a mark of the beginner, however inherent your talent.

Stopping, back-tracking, before you even complete a first draft - for ME, anyway - invites a self-conscious backwash. I can't do shit with ANYTHING when I feel self-conscious. I used to have lots of trouble with anything I'd write that I felt was speckled with cliches. I know LOTSA cliches. I HATE 'em when I see any in my writing. I cross things out right away. But then I feel insecure, feeling I've a great idea but that I'm failing to do it justice.

Now, I'm starting to see it differently. Your PRE-first draft serves the purpose of having a lump of clay to reshape later. LET it be clumped with shit and cliches. Its PURPOSE is to be shit. Later, then, applying notes you take earlier on at your discretion and impulse, you break it down and rework it.

The key is to write a one-liner or a brief synopsis to keep yourself focused on the GOAL of the story. (Sometimes you might even find you need to change THAT. What if you're preaching something TRITE? You might need to review the voice and objective, and what you want to say)

Your question, Duane - a REALLY good, btw - doesn't address a TALENT; it addresses a skill - a self-discipline - that accompanies talent and shapes itself with experience and diligence. I'm only STARTING to learn it now myself.

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Postby Duane » Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:48 pm

Thanks for confirming my hunch that it's more of a SKILL than a TALENT. I sensed that at the time, but I decided to hedge a little just in case I was off. I didn't want Harlan (or anyone else) to come in screaming "You call what I do a SKILL???" But then again, a skill has to come from somewhere.

And you're right about the initial creation of the story being, well, a pile. A potter starts with a pile and shapes it into something interesting. A writer has to CREATE the pile first before he has anything to shape! It's a difficult habit to turn off the inner editor during that initial creation stage, but like everything else, it comes with practice.

And speaking of piles, oh boy. Anyone get that stomach virus going around?

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Postby robochrist » Tue Feb 27, 2007 5:27 pm

One key trick I'm learning (and finding applicable in other artistic areas as well) is, once I HAVE a premise + a theme (I want to avoid the word "message") I gather material - visual and written - from every damn niche conceivable, however closely or remotely related to the subject it might be as long as it lends any kind of data, inspiration, or possibilities untapped.

Then start applying a "free flow" of separate scenes and characters and dialogue until there is some loose form of 3 acts with a "prop" conclusion. Ideally, I try to make the conclusion the whole OBJECTIVE of the story, so I try to write out conclusions FIRST. Eventually, I may scrap the one I have, but at least it serves as a guide for the writing. If none of it works...I'm gonna do the whole damn thing again.

It's the only process I know to bypass the problem you were raising.

I'll tell you this: the dilemma made me appreciate the difference between a great idea, a great premise, and a great story. You may have a great premise, but doing it justice is the big chore.

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Postby Anthony Ravenscroft » Tue Feb 27, 2007 10:09 pm

I don't think it's so much the mark of a beginner as roughly parallel tonailing one of your feet to the floor & being puzzled as to why you can only walk in little circles!

I could blame the educational system in this country, or the "MTVization" of the universe, or the Internet, or blogosphere, or wireless IMing... all I know is that people from 15 to 50 at least are prone to this habit, & it should receive empathic sternness in wiping it out at every turn.

I'm always torn, because I can see where it's important to possess the skill -- or at least enough experience to recognise its utility -- to sit down & crank out a perfect piece in one literal shot. I'm just old enough to remember primitive computer networks, where anything written was permanent -- kinda like AP or UPI, & yes the radio station I worked at my freshman year & the newspaper eight years later when I tried again both had the very literal teletypes with the black-crinkle finish. If someone upsent something, there was no DEL or BKSP, every last character went out to every station. Anyone wanting deniability would have to write it in.

Alternately, I would like people to write a piece the same way my friends overhauled their street-rod GTO: work on it in chunks, & reassemble it as things get done. Then you paint, then you wax. Sure, if you've got one body panel, you could paint it up & polish it, but it's almost a lock that you'll have to do it again, probably even stripping what you've already done down to bare steel.

There's something to be said for the "in the morning I added a comma; in the afternoon I took it out" sort of gag. The risk is that you end up "polishing crap." A guy I knew compares it to panning for gold: you can spend hours on one pan of silt, looking at every tiny granule, or you can go through pan after pan by only stopping for obvious nuggets.

The first is a luxury. There's certainly times to obsess & play ultimately pointless games -- which is totally fine as pastime. And it might even be a great exercise to let yourself obsess this way until that part of your unconscious gets bored with screwing around. But it's still just screwing around, setting yourself up for eventual writer's block when you're not able to get past a-b-c-..-x-y-z linearity. Get it out of your system if you must, but loosen up a little.

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Postby robochrist » Tue Feb 27, 2007 10:22 pm

...well - the thing about that is

if you DO pull off a successful story in pretty much the first shot it's largely because you gained the experience by whatever means and in whatever time it took you to get it.

What I'm talking about, really, is the kind of "jerky" backstepping that insecurity (as Duane sort of expressed) and, in my case, feeling self-conscious.

If you self-edit as you go along and you complete a whole story in the first shot it's because you got your ass past the mental blocks.

I had to find some other way of dealing with that, because - being very hard to satisfy - I CAN'T pull off a story (yet) in one spin. I have to take it through a process and slowly - very slowly - I think something is happening.

I have many great ideas. But it's taken me time to find a way I feel does them justice.

Thus, I generally (though I'm sure there are exceptions as you suggest) see this problem as a mark of a relative beginner. Either way, it's certainly a discipline.

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Postby robochrist » Tue Feb 27, 2007 10:24 pm

...excuse me I see my ADD kicked in.

I left out half a sentence: I was trying to say, "backstepping that draws insecurity"

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Postby Chuck Messer » Wed Feb 28, 2007 1:34 am

I find that sometimes, writing it down first with pen and paper has an effect that typing directly into the ooga-booga box doesn't have. You write it down, and by God, it's there. You can then ooga-booga the thing onto the phospor screen and manipulate it any way you feel is fitting.

Three by five cards, plain old 81/2 by 11 paper, etc. Sometimes, that's the way to write.

Some people are wedded to their ideology the way nuns are wed to God.

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Postby robochrist » Wed Feb 28, 2007 2:35 am

Of a matter of fact I'm finding that to be exactly the case: I haven't EVER been able to pull off a straight narrative directly on the computer (which I've practically been using since I could write my name) without writing stuff out (in free form that is) on paper first. I jump back and forth between paper and computer with almost everything - but generally "block out" mentally if I try doing it on the computer ALONE.

I could never TYPE a whole story out directly.

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Postby paul » Wed Feb 28, 2007 11:39 pm

Everyone is right, cause everyone's got their own way of doing it. It is a matter if discipline, but sometimes your style helps. I write one of two ways. One way (not often enough) is to sit down and let it pour. Stream-of-consciousness, telling a story, writing the film running in your head. My problem with that is making the time to be alone to do it, because i want hours of that. Once the bucket overflows, i don't want to stop to go to work or whatever. I need hours on end, especially when i hit that zone and i just don't have it.
Usually what happens though is i get a flash, i write it down, wherever i am; work, riding in the car, etc. then piece these all together when i get to the machine. Kind of a Frankenstein process. When i was a kid i couldn't keep my concentration on all the stuff i wrote, so i had all the snippets, on napkins, paper towels, anything that was handy at the time, and taped then together in the order they were to go. The computer makes this process so much easier of course, but many times i still get a paragraph or four, perhaps a page or two out at one time, and that's it. Whatever little bit of inspiration the muse has decided to shit upon my head is done. I find those little bits themselves don't need so much work, as i knew exactly what i wanted to say in them, just the piecing together process needs the editor in me to fix it up, add and subtract plot threads, synchronize events that weren't apparent, as needed. It seems the stories work on themselves in my head, then come out for inspection.

Tell you a story about a one-shot, though.

One day some years ago i was talking to a friend about Harlan's window-story gigs. One thing led to another and i said to myself 'i bet that kinda deadline would really help you crank out a story.' So the next day, i sat down about 10 AM-ish, blank-slate, and started a story on my travel Remington. The sole condition was that i had to have typed THE END by 5 PM (not sure why, i guess my store closed early that day).
It could be crap, it could be half-baked, but it had to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I had given myself a break here and there, couple of minutes to get a drink, i cheated and looked in the dictionary twice, and i finished it with 5 min to spare. I felt like i had just snorted Peru. I knew i couldn't look at it and judge it at that time, but i was so effing wired. I was done, and now tried to find something else to do. Just that feeling of going, going, going, then ...it's done.
Anyway, upon reflection and reviewing, about 2 weeks later, i was shocked. It was Damn Near Perfect. I needed some line adjustments and added some dialogue, but i never touched the story line or structure. Never did it before, haven't been able to since and i have no plans to try it again. Just that one 'nugget' if you will.
What i'm saying amongst all this is some reiteration with the previous posts. Just barrel down and let it flow, clean it up later. When Harlan says, "The trick is staying a writer." he means just that. The actual process of sitting down every day and letting go. It's too easy to get distracted. Rob is right- the skills will come with practice, assuming there's raw talent to begin with.

On top of that, be careful about being your own worst critic. I am foursquare in the "self-editing over and over until i've leached all the goodness out of it." group. That, in my honest, is the death of good prose. The searching for 'just the right word' or worse, 'the scene isn't quite right'. What i find most difficult about gauging the effectiveness of a scene or twist is getting that balance between don't-tell-the-detail-show-it and stop-fucking-with-it-before-you-break-it.
This may not be what you're looking for. Just some two cents.
The medium is the message.

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