Monday, June 30, 2014

Exploring Writing

The more I write, the more I learn, the more I enjoy writing.  

I’ve been inspired in the past couple months by some kind strangers who have read and reviewed Free to Be.  The feedback for the book is wonderful, but a couple guys took the time out to offer detailed constructive criticism and encouragement.  The most motivating compliment has been, “I want more!”

Who am I to deny my adoring fans?

Seriously, there is more coming.  I’ve been asked to consider writing a more in-depth biography of my life in fundamental christianity and how I studied my way out.  I imagine this would be something of a prequel to Free to Be, written a lot more cohesively. I’m also writing and collecting material about being an atheist living in the bible belt, which may turn into a work of its own someday. In addition to that, I’m writing general essays on life--some you’ve read here on the blog--and will eventually publish them all in a book.

Most recently I’ve been encouraged to consider writing fiction.  This has lead to some very constructive and fun conversation with one of my reader/reviewers who is also an author (a good and quite humorous one; check out his book, The Unhappy Medium).  I expressed to T.J. the hesitancy I’ve always had with writing fiction.  He walked me through it, helped me to see the reasons I might be good at it.  He encouraged me enough that I’m giving it a shot.  I’ve put 7,000+ very rough words down in the last week.

This is quite fun.  I am learning much.  I am learning to push past my perfectionism to let the creativity do its thing, saving the editing and fine-tuning for later.  I’m not great at this yet, but I feel like I’m getting better.  I started to get the hang of it while I was writing Free to Be, but it feels so much more necessary when writing fiction.  I make myself a lot of notes along the way, all in caps so they stand out;  DESCRIBE LOCATION HERE, INSERT SOMETHING FUNNY, FINISH THIS SOMEHOW, etc.

I came up with a motto:  Write while the writing’s good.   Not only does it remind me to let the creativity flow, uninterrupted by my perfectionism, but it helps me make the most of moments.  Life inspires me and the words start coming together in my head; if I don’t take just a few minutes immediately to jot down the thoughts, the scene, or idea, the same life that inspired me can steal away the moment and the words that would ultimately give my best pieces their weight.
T.J. gave me this tasty bit of advice:  “Watch the doubt thang. I find that the best device is to say to yourself, 'I'll doubt it later, when there is time to do it.' Work flat out. Rest. Look for errors and holes, the snags, list em and then pick em off.  Rinse and repeat. The book then kind of inflates. I dislike perfectionism, it makes everything grind to a halt. You can fix a something no matter how bad, but you can't publish something amazing you have not done."

I especially like that last sentence.  I have scrawled it on a sticky note and posted it above my desk.

If I had time, I would do some guided writing exercises.  I don’t.  I’ve always just written (and read—never underestimate reading as an aide to improve writing).  This is on-the-job, train-yourself-training.  I’m lucky to have people like T.J. Brown, P. Pray (who left me a great review on Amazon awhile back), and my own Denny, who take the time to talk with me, read my work, and offer their experience and opinions.  It’s the encouragement that really keeps me going.  And it’s the keeping-going that has me learning some things about myself and my writing.

I have occasionally tried my hand at fiction.  I'd get an idea, 
throw down a couple thousand words, then abandon it.  So many plot ideas!  So many characters!  It’s overwhelming. It flowed, but I didn’t feel like I had the stamina.  And to what end?  What’s the point?

Obviously, the point is whatever I want it to be.  Maybe the story is just fun.  Maybe it’s moving or thought-provoking.  I think that too often, as an adult, I have dismissed fiction as, um... less useful for life.  Or something.  I often feel guilty just taking the time to read it, let alone to write it. I’ve forgotten what a joy and often what a learning experience fiction can be, in all its forms.

So, attempting a fiction novel is a super fun new adventure for this writer.  My approach is to jot down a bunch of notes, a bit of story structure, then pour out ideas and scenes and see what happens.  It’s been quite interesting.  One of the first things that came together over the last couple weeks, between writing and reading this, that, and the other thing, is an idea about how to write a scene, how to tell a story so the reader feels like they’re smack in it.  Then I happened across an article about writing creative non-fiction which confirmed what I’d been thinking about but hadn’t quite put my finger on: the difference between showing and telling.  Suddenly I was able to look at my writing (and at a memoir I was reading) and understand exactly why some parts felt good and some parts felt sorta lifeless.  Some scenes drew me in, some left me on the outside looking in.

I’m totally geekin’ out.

Something else I’m learning, about myself in particular, is how writing essays in the 1,000 to 3,000 word range has ingrained in me the habit of being (at least, attempting to be) concise and to the point.  Ideas must be wrapped up in one or two sittings; details, which I’m quite prone to, limited. I think in short-form.  I start out with one happy little idea and expound upon it.  It’s been good.  I will always enjoy it.  But it’s been interesting and a tad difficult for me to stretch out my legs and settle in for the long haul; writing involved scenes, bringing characters to life, giving them things to do and think and say, and doing crazy things like leaving ideas dangling to explore something, someone or somewhere else, then returning later to the first idea, eventually tying everything in together.  You just don’t do that in essays.  Well, I don’t do that.  It’s fun, though!

I’m reminded of when I used to ride horses as a teen.  Most of the riding I did was in small arenas, wooded trails, and small pastures.  Walking, trotting, a slow lope. I thoroughly enjoyed it.  But I can count on one hand the opportunities I had to open up and gallop, completely free and unbound. It was liberating. Writing this last week has felt like being turned out to a wide open pasture with a good horse under me.  No limits.

The downside is that I have no idea if the end result of this particular project will be remotely worth reading.  And I suspect I won’t know until I have exhausted myself with this exploration.  But it doesn’t much matter to me at the moment.  I’m writing, exploring, learning.  I’m getting to know my horse and it’s a beautiful day.

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