I know I’ve succumbed to hyperbole with this title – but I promise I’m not selling anything. *checks pockets* Nope all out of snake oil. But I would like to offer you a story today. A story – one of many that have been told around the tables of Cafe Novella during the course of the Kapiti Speculative Fiction Writers’ Group. A story that on the face of it doesn’t appear extraordinary, but unexpectedly struck a chord within me. A life-changing, writing-changing chord that has already impacted the way I write, and has inadvertently rekindled my love for storytelling.
Such is the power of a good story. At just the right moment.
Now you probably won’t believe this, (especially if you are new to this blog *coughs*), but I have been known to bemoan my lack of progress trying to write The Fall of the Kings. Admittedly not one of my finest attributes. But every month I turn up at our writing group, and we discuss how our work’s going. And for a little while now I’ve felt like Mike Noonan, the blocked author in Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, relying on older work to cover up a disappointing lack of output.
So, last month, knowing my writing hiatus was at an end, I figured I needed to come up with a solid plan to move Kings forward. I was quite hopeful about it too. Basically I told the group I’d figured out the best way to break out of the rut was to rewrite the start of the novel and follow the story from one character’s perspective only. This would also neatly avoid some of the difficult characters I’ve been struggling with.
It was a perfectly logical response, and something I’d not tried yet, so I was expecting some positive feedback. Or at the very least – insincere platitudes.
What I didn’t expect was Pat, our awesome group leader, to say this: (Bear in mind Pat has read the first 50 pages of Kings and his feedback was very positive).
Pat’s parents both liked to paint. His father painted sporadically. Whenever the urge struck, he’d pick up a brush and paint out whatever it was that was within him. He was a gifted artist and his work had that inexplicable freedom and spark which set him apart from the hobbyiest. Pat’s mother on the other hand worked at her art diligently and painted all the time. Often she would come home with composition sketches that showed she too had a good eye – that hint of something special. But then she’d sit and paint, and paint – until she’d painted the life right out of it. The paintings themselves were fine. But they could have been really great.
It’s the difference between joy and toil. And with any piece of art, you can tell the difference.
And, yes he effectively told me to stop killing my writing. But he was right.
I have a head full of stories. Amazing stories. Interesting characters. And a vision of what they will look like, fleshed out – writ large. But sometimes I get insecure about telling them just right – getting the details just right that I squash the playfulness, the natural flow or whatever that indescribable thing is that makes my writing special.
So how do I change those ingrained bad writing habits? For me it’s realising that I don’t want to write my stories to death. I don’t want to follow all the writing rules at the expense of the joy I feel when a story comes alive on paper. I know the basic outline of Kings and I love it. It has a killer ending which I can’t wait to write once I’ve built the bridge over this rocky middle. But until I get this internal editor under control I’ve had to park Kings for the time being – because every time I look at the middle section I want to scream. It’s toil and right now you can tell.
Fortunately, I’ve taken my new, enlightened attitude into The Moon is Made of Glass, and I’m letting this new story emerge organically. I’m enjoying the research (such a hardship reading the old celtic fairytales again…), enjoying this new world that is unfolding, and celebrating each unexpected character or development as it’s presenting itself. I haven’t started writing the story yet, (apart from the prologue) – but am looking forward to NaNo as the vehicle to knuckle down and do it.
Do I really believe this is going to sort the problem?
Well I’m practising already. I’ve started an ugly story. One that will never see the light of day. A story that’s been floating around in my mind for ages and I’m writing it as it comes out. Bad grammar, poorly structured, and boring at times. But as I’m letting go, I’m also starting to see those lots of little gems starting to emerge. The ones that got me excited about the story in the first place. The joy has already turned up.
Don’t get me wrong, as the good book says, there is a time for everything; including editing, grammar, and cleaning up the story structure. But now isn’t that time. Now’s the time for rediscovering my love for my stories.
Have you ever felt like you’ve lost some of the joy of writing? What keeps you on track? What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?