It’s okay not knowing

How strange it is that a comfortable life can be a problem.

I don’t know about you but I remember when I just moved into my first apartment and took odd jobs as a substitute teacher I had the most fun being a writer. My life was uncertain, I didn’t know what to make of myself and somehow that translated well into my writing. 

Nowadays my life is secure and the job I have, although not the worst for a creative person, I’ve become weary of it. I want to do and see new things… I don’t think any creative person is satisfied with their condition. It’s a trap, if you let it and it becomes harder and harder to break up the monotony if you wait.  

At the same time, having a secure job gives you peace to write, but I don’t know about you, I wouldn’t mind living in poverty if it meant I could write and live.  

Sometimes things need to change and I fear I’ll live like I do now for the rest of my life if I don’t do something about it. 

A writer’s doubt

Procrastinating is a filthy word but a common one, we all do it, especially when you can’t get it right. I get scared to continue because I don’t want to face my inequities, that’s my excuse anyway, that’s what keeps me from writing.

And who can blame me? I have so many ideas to realise but I have finished none, no books anyway… Maybe I can’t? Maybe short fiction is for me and books are beyond my grasp? Perhaps scripts are better, they are easier, right? I don’t know… I’ve worked on too many stories for too long only to turn them away again and again. My instincts is all I can trust But what if my instincts are wrong? What can I put trust in then?

Perhaps I’m not listening well enough or not as often…

A creative mind is borderline insane, they say. We decided what’s true, where the border is. Maybe I’ll get it some day, but for the moment, I’ll stay glued to the screen with a warm cup of tea in my hands until I build enough courage to continue.

I just want it to be fun again

What is essential to the plot?

”A story is based on the merit on how much is removed.” I never understood this quote until I had to do it.

I recently had to remove a lot from a chapter because it was boring and irrelevant, though there were bits and pieces that I adored, and tried very hard to incorporate, it never fit in anywhere, as if it lost its place.

I don’t know if there’s any meaning to losing text like this or if it’s just a necessary step in my process to get to the good part.

Of course, some things are removed on purpose; backstories, for instance, rarely fit into the narrative but is essential nonetheless. The reader doesn’t need to know the backstory (not always) but the writer absolutely have to.

The more you decide not to include in the final product the more depth a story has and the more implicit things become which the writer can build upon.

At least, that is what I like to believe, that the many hours I spent on a segment is important even though it’s not included and somehow enriches the story instead if being relegated to the void where it came from.

Why do we make life harder than it has to be?

When you write a story you often come to a point where everything feels wrong. It physically hurts working on the it and you don’t know why. That is your cue to stop. You’ll try to fix it, of course, because you are stubborn, but why move the boulder that’s in the way when you can walk around it? 

Discard what you have written, at least parts of it, perhaps only a sentence or two that you feel stuck on, and start over and you’ll find the flow again. It’s not worth working against the grain.

We don’t know what we are doing anyway and we need to accept that.

I like to think of us as scribes recording stories from a long lost archive that’s in a language we can barely understand. We catch the general idea but we must fill in the blanks ourselves. 

Kill your darlings is the advice, I believe.

Why is it so hard?

Getting the paragraphs the way I want it is sometimes more work than actually writing the story! Why?! It’s slow and tedious with lots of rewriting.

It’s painful is what it is. It’s like I’m squeezing out the last drops from a yogurt or grinding out the last of the paste in my toothpaste before I throw it out and buy a new one, or in this case, start another story.

I cannot settle with just being okay because I know I can make it good. But listening to my gut gets harder the more I put on paper. It’s like I’m putting a web on the story that isn’t supposed to be there… Perhaps the pain is a sign that I’m doing it wrong or the pain is a sign that I’m on the right track? Nothing that matters is easy, after all. But I never imagined it would be so much work…

I genuinely wanna hear your thoughts on this, even if you are a plotter.

Confront your demons

Are there dangers in writing too simply?

Whenever I approach a story, I build it up as I go, meaning, it’s very basic and I skip a lot of steps in the process. For instance, I didn’t develop the scene when the character had to battle between doing what he wants and what is right; instead I made the choice for him and moved on. 

Basically, I skip a lot of essential scenes that might change the story later. I only do them if I absolutely have to, which is often very late in the process… 

I can never understand how most writers are able to write so much. Their concern is having to scale down while mine is scaling up! This leads to a lot of rewrites, naturally, because eventually I’m forced to confront these events and, inexplicably, the event didn’t turn out as I imagined it to be.

It sounds ludicrous because am I not the one making up the story to begin with? How much control do the characters have?

It’s almost impossible to make the necessary changes so late in the process because I’ve grown accustomed to my ideas, they anchor me in the sea of words that is a novel. I’m a slow learner but I cannot escape this fundamental flaw in my writing. I’ve jumped stories so many times because I was unable to understand my problem and in doing so never finishing anything. 

The Great Plague

I get ideas sometimes. 

You never know when inspiration will strike, but it will happen. More often than not, those flashes of inspiration are just random ideas that don’t connect to anything. I’d like to share one of those random ideas with you. 

It’s not good by any means, but feel free to use it if I spark an idea in you.

There’s this theory that Syphilis came from America and brought to Europe, while others theorise that the disease has been latent fin Europe for a long time and it only suddenly mutated into the disease we know today.

The latter one  is just bad storytelling.

I also heard that Native Americans were much more advanced than we previously thought, apparently, a long time ago. They’ve found huge wooden cities scattered across America that don’t fit the description of the nomadic Indian. So I was thinking, Imagine if a disease ravaged the land, much like the black death did in Europe, only, much more devastating. It destroyed Native American civilisation until there were only tribes left. And by then, the survivors had become more or less immune to the disease.

Then came Europeans who had no idea. 

They had sex with the Indian’s and brought it to Europe and then, another plague more devastating than the black plague occur! 

Destroying European civilisation as well. Maybe they go back to their feudal cities? 

So what is this civilisation destroying disease? Where did it come from? 

This is basically how I approach writing, by asking questions. Then I explore them and ask more questions. But whether you should answer them for yourself or reveal them to your reader that’s a different issue entirely, because some things are better left unanswered.

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A simple story

I tried to make a simple story the other day, with simple language and a simple plot:

It’s about a girl who lives in a castle. She was born with a birthmark that makes people fear her because (as the story goes) people with birthmarks were touched by something evil before they were born. One day, this evil will come and get her…

(Is this stupid? It sounds stupid…)

She’s shunned like the plague and nobody cares for her, even her parents. One day, a distant relative comes and takes her away. She’d wished to leave the castle all her life but never did she imagine it would be like this.

He takes her to an old, mostly abandoned, castle in the mountains. It’s a mystery what he wants with her. He has no family, and most people, who used to live there, have gone away. But he’s nice and now she can walk around as much as she wants without being taunted by others.

There are two other characters, as well, that live in the castle. Their behaviour hints that they might not be what they seem. They are hiding something, for sure and she starts to wonder if the stories about her might be true. Does the uncle have something to do with the evil that will come for her or is he just a simple old man who wants company in his lonely castle?

Trying to summarise it like this the story seems dumb. Maybe if I develop it a bit more it might make more sense and it gets easier to explain.

Neil Gaiman said a thing

I listened to a podcast the other day and Neil Gaiman was the guest.

Lucky me!

One of the thing that stuck out to me was his fondness for fountain pens. According to Neil, the reason sentences were so long, back in the day, was because they had a flow with the fountain pen and couldn’t stop writing unless they blotch the page.

I love anecdotes like this, it makes the world a bit more loveable. 

If you can’t stop at every other word you have to think ahead before putting pen to paper. I never do that. I just write whatever comes to mind, I never think ahead and I’m wondering, is that a bad thing? According to Neil, using a fountain pen you get the kind of sentence you wanted from the start, instead with a computer, you fiddle with it until it become what you wanted.

I’m guilty of editing a lot and I can’t even imagine people who write ‘correctly’ from the beginning. How can you write a story and not edit everything as you go? How can you write and then say the story is done without editing major swaths of it?!

When I write a book, I feel like I write several stories worth because I edit so much. 

They say write as fast as possible on the first draft to get all of the ideas out quickly, and then at the second draft, you basically write the story as it’s supposed to be. The third draft is just the minor editing that doesn’t affect the plot a lot. 

That’s not at all how things go down.

My first draft is short and my second is also short, then I have a third and a 5th and it becomes longer and longer until it becomes a book. 

Maybe my approach to writing is wrong or maybe it’s the stories I choose to develop… Either way, I have a feeling that I’m making it harder for myself. 

You made the right choice

You wanna know what the worst part about being a writer is? You don’t know if you get better…

You can’t honestly tell if you are going in circles or not, making the same mistakes over and over. Only when you get published do you get validation; and even then you can’t be sure. 

You can say that you are good enough to be published, but there’s gotta be more than that. I mean, why do you even write? if you do it for money, congrats, that’s not how most writers are, I hope…

You can only have faith in yourself that you get better. It’s like the belief in god, there is no proof and there never will be. Sure, rereading old stuff and comparing it (or even improving it) might give you some idea where you are at but all it tells you is that you’ve changed, but can you be sure you’ve changed for the better?  

I’m not sure other writers contemplate like I do, maybe that’s what I enjoy doing, more than writing stories, even. Finishing books and publishing them, who cares…

I just need to make something worthwhile, then I can pat myself on the back and say, you did the right choice.