Hold That Thought

I’m a bit backed up with blog posts, which is odd considering I’m off work right now and (theoretically) have oodles of free time. I should be reviewing either Merlin ep 2 (more of the same as ep 1 really), the Chuck season 2 opener (spent too long re-establishing the premise) or The Man in the High Castle (what the hell was that about?). Also I watched The Island on TV the other night and felt like blogging (i.e. whinging) about how if they hadn’t tried to make a big dumb action movie they’d have made an only slightly dumb, if derivative, Sci Fi flick. Oh and there’s always Buffy Re-watch to get back to.

But instead of all that I’m going to talk about writing and my on-going love/hate relationship with it.

I’ve just signed up for two big writing commitments. The first is Slingink’sEurofiction” competition, which is a short story is due every two weeks for twenty weeks. Points are awarded and whoever has the highest total score at the end wins a prize (and much glory and bragging rights obviously). I actually entered a similar competition that’s just finishing – The Write Idea’s “Whitaker Prize” – however after I failed to enter in round 3 and 4 I just bailed on that.

Second commitment is NaNoWriMo. As you may have noticed I’ve changed my blog theme again, apologies for that I’ll try to stick with this one for a while. This is partly because I wanted one where I could add tabs across the top and have NaNoWriMo with links to my profile and progress etc.

So I am officially getting back on the writing horse and shouting “giddyup” in a nervous and slightly excited way.

Which brings me to my main topic. A new twist on the perennial “do I really hate writing and does that mean I’m destined not to be a writer?” question. As I sat at the keyboard last night, not typing, remembering how much I truly hate this part, the beginning part, the part where you think that every shred of imagination or trickle of inspiration has fled far far away – as I thought on this I was reminded of something I wrote in a forum at the beginning of this year:

What actually happened was that I started 10 minutes late, stared at the
challenge requirement for 10 minutes before coming up with the germ of
an idea. I then wrote for about an hour, producing 850 words of pure
drivel. That idea, that cute little, perfectly formed concept of my
imagination had become this crap on the page because I lack the skill to
put it into words, apparently.

I received some comforting words about turning a deaf ear to my inner critic, who to be fair is pretty fierce, but I think I’m developing a theory about the way I write. When I look at the most successful, and by that I mean the most well-received, pieces that I’ve written, they are either flashes or stories where I took the time to re-work them significantly after the initial draft. I recall I had to write a story-within-a-story piece for a challenge and I went through 3 versions of the inner story before I finally committed. I found it painful and difficult. Real work in fact.

Secondly almost always the first draft is complete crap. Not only that but my inner critic will scream at me that it’s not even worth finishing and I should just ditch it and start on something new. Sometimes I listen to this. I have a limited amount of time to give to writing and I’m not a fast writer. I wish I could sit down with an idea, toss off 1,000 words quickly and treat it as an experiment. I can do that but the 1,000 words may take a couple of days.

You see there are ways to overcome that initial block, that blankness of mind and page. I find simply writing what I’m thinking (complete with negative commentary) works for me. Each time I start anew I have the fresh fear that this time nothing really will come but it usually does. An idea, a bright shining little spark, lighting the way to the story as a whole. And for a brief moment I’m excited and engaged, if it’s a good idea, or at least charmed with the possibility enough to want to give it a try.

But I find that spark is usually a single flash. A moment’s illumination during which I need to memorize as much details as possible because once it’s gone I’ll be groping along in the dark relying solely on my recall of the features around me. And it’s at this point that the fear and doubt kick in. I wish I could simply get that first draft down on the computer whilst the light is still fading and the after images burned clearly on my retinas. If I could only do that then I would have something, a draft, something I can tweak, edit, re-write, even rip the guts out of and re-work structurally – but a place to start. But often I can’t get that far because the light of inspiration has long since died and I’ve allowed all the criticisms of the idea to come in. “It’s not that original/plausible/interesting/clever.”

So I think, for me, a major skill I need to learn is to holding on to the initial thought, that idea that got me started, for the duration of the task of writing, at least the first draft. Since my attention span seems to have a radioactive half-life that’s not particularly easy but it’s something I want to develop. Half the battle is turning off, drowning out, the inner critic but that is only half the battle. The other half is holding on to the idea. I think that’s why I’ve had more success with 250-word flashes where I can write the thing in an evening. I’ve also had some success with longer stories but where I was prepared to really work at maintaining the vision. I had to keep reminding myself what the story was about, even if I secretly doubted that that “what” was worth doing. I haven’t written a novel (yet) but I imagine that holding the thought for weeks and months will be one of the biggest challenges involved.

So anyway that’s what I’ve been thinking about. And it’s why I think NaNoWriMo will be very very good for me.


About shuggie

My name is Shuggie, Paul or LatePaul depending on where you know me from. I work in computers (databases) and occasionally write about softw
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