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?”
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?
Today is the first day that I’m worried there will be no writing. And not because I’m delaying or distracted, but simply because there isn’t a solid block of time available to me. It takes me so long to get going that if I’m only going to be interrupted or pulled away after fifteen minutes, I don’t even try. When I’m interrupted, I’ll be annoyed and when I return to the page I won’t have any idea where I was going with it and I’ll be pissed at the kid/animal/appointment for sabotaging (unintentionally I know, I know) my story.
Better not to start in the first place. Instead, write a blog post! Blog posts can be scattered and fragmented and no one minds. (well, maybe they do mind, but they HAVE NO POWER over me and there’s nothing they can do about it, is there? It’s not like they can demand their money back. After all, this is me giving away my writing FOR FREE which is what everyone expects, right? I mean, who pays full price for a book anymore? Why would you do that? It’s not like anybody’s crazy enough to think they could make a living writing books. No, they write for fun. Writing’s not a real job. Oh wait? Did I say all that out loud? Sorry. Back to the blog post….)
Today is consumed by the 12 puppies I’ve been fostering for the last 8 weeks. Today is Gotcha Day – the day the puppies go home with their adopters. It’s actually Gotcha weekend as five leave today, four tomorrow and the last three straggle out next week, assuring that I’ll get very little done this weekend as I try to soak up the last hours with these pups and console myself with chocolate and wine after they go.
Even though I can’t spend quality time with my keyboard, the story is coming out my pores. It’s making me distracted and anxious. I want to be sure I catch all of it. I’m scribbling notes on scraps of paper, my to-do list, my phone, and the edges of the puppy paperwork. I feel like it’s flying at me faster than usual, but maybe that’s because I’m forcing myself to spit it out in one month.
I try very hard not to write when I’m not writing. I try not to envision too much in my head because when I finally sit down to write, it never comes out as good as I imagined it. Alan Watt (of the 90-day novel) uses the phrase “hold it loosely” to describe how you should handle your story. He refers to having a plan, an outline even, but then holding it loosely and not being bound to it. It’s the same way I carry the eggs down from the barn when I forge the egg basket. I fill my pockets and hold the rest loosely in my hands– careful not to drop them, but not holding them so tightly that I crack them. Holding things loosely is my style, and I’m never quite sure what will come out when I finally sit down to write. I find if I have a definite idea then it’s less likely that any magic will happen.
That’s my plan this weekend. I’m holding it loosely and giving in to the distractions of puppies and wine and possibly the last warm sunny weekend of the fall. The keyboard will be waiting on Monday.
UPDATE: Days 4, 5, AND 6 and still NO writing. A tiny panic is flickering at the back of my mind.