I buckled down and got serious about my assigned reading this week, plowing through three chapters of Story Genius. The picking apart of the story writing process prickled my nerves a bit. I’ve never been good at following directions and details bore me to tears, but I pledged to read this book so I powered on.
I found myself, nodding, duh, duh, duh at some points and at other times I underlined sections like I did in American History class, thinking, “This is the part that will be on the test.”
And then I went for a run and thought about it. I don’t have time to read to be reading. My shelves are creaking with books I’m dying to read. So, what is the point here? Why am I forcing myself to read craft books? Can’t I just write? Continue reading “Nature Vs Nurture: Am I a Story Genius?”
Reading multiple writing books at once has my head spinning. This past week, while distracted by my BIG NEWS, I had a hard time making myself sit down and follow my reading plan for becoming a better writer. I do my assigned reading in the evening, but each night I found a reason not to read. Instead, I spent a lot of time with my foster puppies…..
After sharing my disdain last week, I take it all back. Digging deeper into this book, I’m finding nugget after nugget of gold.
Maybe I was a bit sensitive after her comments about pantsers (those of us who write by the seat of our pants as opposed to careful outlining). I’ve decided that Lisa Cron actually does have room for pantsers in her heart. At least my kind of pantsing.
She’s not shoving an outline down my throat (at least at this point), but she does want me to know exactly what it is my protagonist wants and what is keeping her from it. The intersection of those points is what she terms the ‘third rail.’
While I may have no idea what’s going to happen in any story I start, I do know my protagonist inside and out and am very certain of what she wants. I even know the first obstacle which will throw her into a tailspin and start my story. After that, though, all bets are off, but inevitably obstacle after obstacle will present itself.
In my novel Girls’ Weekendthere were three protagonists (although Cron has helped me see that there is actually an ‘alpha protagonist’) and I knew what those women wanted (even though not all of them did) and what stood in their way. In reality, looking back, that could have been three books. A nice little series. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
So, yeah, enjoying Story Genius.
The other books are also inspiring me, even Donald Maass. Here’s a line I’ve been ruminating on from Fire in Fiction:
“Like a handshake, an opening and closing line can create impressions and expectations. They can set a tone.”
I’ve gone back and begun looking at each chapter and studied my opening and closing lines. It’s one way to be certain my story is bringing the reader along purposefully. He also talks about being certain there’s a purpose in every scene, not just artfully rendered sentences. I’m a serious proponent of that direction, and I chuckled at his line about the purpose not having to be obvious. There’s no need to “squat atop it like an elephant on an egg.” Totally going to steal that line at some point.
And then this from Fierce on the Page:
“This is the power of the written word. As we take in a story that affects us, we meet ourselves more deeply.”
Yes. That’s exactly it.
Natalie Goldberg echoes this sentiment:
“A responsibility of literature is to make people awake, present, alive.”
Doing all this reading about craft and purpose and style and function some days makes my head spin a bit and makes me feel like not only do I not know what I’m doing, but maybe I should apply for a job at the new Burger King that just opened in town. But Jordan Rosenfeld was there to catch me when she wrote:
“Trust your gut about what resonates and what does not. Know that you’ll know what to cut and what to keep…..You will find the alive passages, and you can even choose to build on them. Those are the words you are meant to write; similarly, the life that flows is the one you’re meant to live.”
I think she might have more faith in me that I have in myself, but I’ll borrow it for now.
May the power of literature change your life this week.
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I’m one week into my Be-A-Better-Writer reading plan and I already feel like a better writer. I’m learning a few things and I feel intentional, which is my favorite kind of feeling.
Plus, I really like coloring my notes with my gel pen set. I underline and star and copy thoughts into my notebook and then go back and circle and underline even more in color. Plus, some pages of my journal have little coloring breaks—
Reading six writing books each day is a bit like having six teachers hanging out in my office with me. I like some more than others. I find myself looking forward to opening some (Writing Down the Bones, The Art of Memoir), forcing myself to read others because I know it’s good for me (Fire in Fiction, A Writer’s Guide to Persistence), and having mixed emotions about the other two because while they captivate me with their engaging style, every now and again they irritate me (Story Genius, Fierce on the Page).
Some of the writers feel like old friends I’d love to meet for a beer and commiserate with about the sad state of the publishing industry. Others feel more like the teacher I had in third grade who was really pretty and let us watch Electric Company during class, but also scared the shit out of me and rendered me mute with her wicked brilliance and condescending confidence.
Story Genius is probably pushing me the most. It’s making me question the framework of the story I wrote this fall.
Fire in Fiction is making me examine the characters in that story. Although Fire in Fiction is also the book I’m least inclined to open if I’m sleepy or unmotivated. Maass uses TONS of examples from books I haven’t read which is frustrating because my sad little brain is overwhelmed with sorting out the story he’s quoting instead of the point he’s making. It’s exhausting. Add to that my feeling of inadequacy because I haven’t read so many of his examples. If I was a real writer, I would have read them, right?
One of my biggest regrets in this life (and I say that like I have a lot of regrets in this life, which I don’t) is that I didn’t study writing in college. Both my degrees are from liberal arts institutions, so that means I did plenty of reading and writing in college, even took courses on it, but I didn’t major in it. I look back now and I’m not sure why.
As a child, I read constantly, carting home stacks of books from the bookmobile that set up shop in the bank parking lot on Tuesday nights. Each summer before we left for our two week vacation in an un-airconditioned, TV-less cottage at a beach with no boardwalk, movie theater, or mall, my mom would take us to a used book store and I’d fill a brown grocery bag with books and then spend my entire vacation reading in the sun or on the screened in porch once I’d burnt my body to a crisp after a few days.
When I was a teen, I suffered through the self-conscious, angsty, insecurity typical of most teens (although at the time I thought I was the ONLY miserable teenager who hated to look in a mirror). Reading was my escape. I lost myself in books that took me far, far away from my tiny little town where every embarrassing moment and bad hair decision followed you through school with the same kids year after year.
In high school my favorite class was the journalism elective I took repeatedly, writing for the school paper. I loved the students in that class and the obvious passion of our instructor who ran the class as if we were a world-class publication.
Freshman year in college, that first semester in English 100, my wickedly funny professor always picked my essays and stories to read to the class with her syrupy southern accent, cackling as she read. She loved my writing and told me so.
So why I didn’t turn to writing as a career, I don’t know. I suppose I didn’t believe that I could possibly write something anyone would want to pay money for. Becoming a published author was, and still is, exceedingly difficult. It takes vast swaths of confidence in yourself and your abilities, something I was decidedly missing in my youth.
Since embarking on a professional writing career about ten years ago, I’ve done everything I can to educate myself. I’ve taken online courses, attended conferences, signed up for workshops and classes locally, and accumulated a vast library of books on writing. And yet, I still feel uneducated when it comes to writing.
So this year’s resolution is to hit the books. Many of the books I’ve piled around me have barely been opened. My excuse is I’m too busy writing, to read about writing. Pretty good excuse, right?
Not this year. I’m at an impasse in my career. My third novel comes out this spring and what happens after that is anybody’s guess. I don’t have a contract or commitment for my future writing. So, I’m taking this time to avail myself of the knowledge and direction in the books I already have (and a few I bought with the cash my FIL sent for Christmas – thanks Jim!).
I’m hoping to post about what I’m learning here on this blog, offer insights on my Facebook writer page and tweet the real gems on twitter. Again, best laid plans, you know? Puppies and publishing opportunities could sidetrack me, but I’m writing it here in the hopes that you people will hold me accountable.