At a book signing I was at this week, Connie Willis said this about the writing process: She loves the part where the idea is hazy and full of possibilities, and she loves the part when the story is done, but the part in the middle Ė the actual writing Ė isnít fun at all. Itís really hard work. In a misery-loves-company sort of way, I took comfort that a writer as talented, creative and successful as Connie Willis struggles with the words on the page as much as the rest of us.
For me, itís the details that kill. I know before I start a scene how it will begin and end and what it needs to convey. But how does a certain character react to a situation? How does a machine or magical item go about performing its task? What are the right words to communicate exactly what I mean instead of a close approximation? Can I come up with a great metaphor that isnít clichť? I rarely get it right on the first try.
So, Iím wondering, what problems do you have in your writing and how do you manage to emerge victorious from the struggle?
Writing is fun for me. Getting stuck and rewriting is not.
The last couple of stories I've attempted started off promising then I bogged down for one reason or another. When this happens it really effects me. Getting rejections don't come close to writing a story that fails for me. The stubborn part of me wants me to slug on. Not finishing saps my creativity away. Perhaps this is what Ms Wills is speaking of.
I find it difficult to tap into a sense of flow and just let my creative side take over - at least regularly - for various reasons. Sometimes I just have to look at my outline, force myself to sit in the chair and stop procrastinating and write. At this stage (particularly: as yet unpublished) I find this to be quite a challenge.
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My big problem is getting started. I have a horrible time figuring out the plot. The setting and the characters are usually pretty clear but they they sit around a bar chatting all night. I keep shouting at them, get out there, do something interesting, but they just laugh at me (well, the kinder ones commiserate). Which is probably why my current novel is a very loose (really more inspired by) retelling of a chinese story. Whenever I would get stuck, I would look at the original stories and think, hey, I haven't yet had anything like that happened. About half way through, I had enough stuff that I didn't need to keep doing that (and they way I did the scenes was drastically different, but I would take the idea meet with beggar and figure out how that would fit my story). I figure, I have read so many different versions of most fairy tales, my retelling is fair game.
I want to try writing something for the contest (Slave to the flame) but so far, my characters have told me all about themselves, but no action yet. I have another 2 novel ideas that are at that stage as well (actually one has a generic plot- she is plotting the downfall of a nation, helping her lover find social acceptance and sabotaging her father's building projects- hopefully soon she will let me know a little more in terms of details.)
As far as getting the details right, it seems you need to just keep plugging away at it. If something seems off, then just edit it out and start over. The fact that you recognize the problem spots is already the biggest step in fixing the problem.
My biggest issue is starting to become apparent in my writing. I can't finish things. (And by things, I mean my Main Novel Which Inspires All My Authorizing Efforts.) And I don't mean laziness, I mean I can never come up with satisfactory resolutions or endings to my works. And unless I know where I am going, I have a hard time typing my way there, so my efforts usually drag because of it.
I think this is due to how I come up with ideas. I usually have a good idea for a premise, then add some characters, and some Really Cool Scenes where Stuff Happens, but at the end of the process, it isn't the end. Or, at least, it isn't a GOOD end. Its like I'm setting up one of those trains of dominos: I'm very good at setting them up and making cool patterns, but I never can figure out how to make them topple over.
For instance, in my current WiP, I know how everything is set up, and that I want the bad guys to win. I have no idea how to make it satisfactory with all the plot twists and lead up that I have introduced.
However, if I have the plot outlined before hand, I can spit out pages like crazy. In fact, for my Really Cool Scenes, I can usually write those easily, because I Know Where They Are Going. But the big picture, not so much.
Anyone have any advices on this? I'm planning on going to the writing class by OSC this summer particularly for this problem...
With my story ideas, I have a brilliant concept, the excitement of creation, and the satisfaction of completion, without all the work of trying to make them publishable. They are the fun part of writing. Of course, if something falls below expectations, I just chalk it up to filling a space for the day.
Because of my story idea practice, I have no problems of coming up with ideas to work from. I come up with as many ideas in a year to fill an idea a day. Note, that they are posted as ideas for authors who are looking for something to write. The hope is that someone publish a work from them so I have an additional incentive to keep coming up with them...... not that I need the incentive... I just cannot write 365 publishable pieces in a year... if 20 people wrote from the same posted concept, they would have 20 different stories. I learned that from a writing class I was in, and also from my using my own story ideas for bigger works.
One thing that helped me on coming up with satisfactory endings, was to decide to write short stories. One summer, I decided I was going to write a complete story in four pages single spaced. I spent the entire summer writing a couple dozen rough draft stories. I did get one complete story that ended at four pages, but my brother pointed out it needed a couple more scenes to make it work right.
That practice allowed me to write a 450 page novel rough draft. it had 250 pages of good in it, but that is another story.
Even with my story ideas, I still run into problems ending. They are based on a scene and situation and the story written is to show how it is used. There are times where I get past the scene and situation and find there is not ending. Many times I write drivel to tie it up. sometimes, not often enough, I stop when I see I don't have an ending. Knowing where the work is going, is a problem that showed up in computer programming. One has to plan out the program from start to finish before one starts writing code. The coding was easy, but I could not plan them to the end. My writing difficulties stemmed from the same problem that has pestered me in my writing.
I found that just writing out a piece, just telling what the story is about, has helped in plotting the actual stories. That was where my story ideas came in handy. They are like an outline, running from start to finish. If I choose to make a major change in the plot, I can do another short story idea with the plot change, and see how it works.
None of this helps with editing, though, so I am still not published.
edited to correct some stupidly worded sentences.
[This message has been edited by rstegman (edited February 06, 2010).]
It seems that for me the biggest problem during the act of writing is overthinking and trying to get everything "perfect" no matter what stage I'm at. Obviously that is appropriate at the final revision/polishing stage, but it messes things up earlier when the story is still taking shape.
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Corky- the problem is that when I do that, I dismiss just about everything as cliched or too simple or too complex. So, maybe my problem might be being too picky.
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Could be, sholar, but it could at least get you started. If the characters are real enough to you, their desires and problems become individual to them, and can move away from stereotypes and cliches.
Teraen, maybe it's just me, but I am convinced that looking at a story I can't seem to finish and asking myself which of OSC's M.I.C.E. kinds of stories it is, usually helps me figure out how to end it satisfactorily. I especially recommend how he talks about M.I.C.E. as related to story structure (as in how each kind begins and how it needs to end) in HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY. That section applies to any kind of story, not just science fiction or fantasy.
"Wait... writing short stories (that are only 4 pages... so Really Short Stories) helps you with endings? 'splain, please. "
The way it works, is that you are doing a whole bunch of short stories, and you are having to come up with endings for them. The more endings you have to do, the better you get at it. Being short, you can write them very fast. The rough draft can be done in one or two settings if it is flowing good.
During that time, I did not bother editing them, just doing rough drafts as practice, figuring I can always go back and edit them to something complete. The main thing is to practice coming up with endings of some kind.
To me the ending makes or breaks the story. I can't even start a story unless I know how it is going to end. This is why I have all of these ideas and only one story I am actually writing. Even still, I am always afraid the ending won't work. Only one way to find out.
I've written and sold stories that, when I started, I had no idea how they'd end - or even in some cases what the would be about (e.g. "In This City", at Fantasy Magazine; when I wrote the opening, I hadn't got a clue where it was going, it was pure on-the-fly creation). In other cases, I've known the ending, or at least the pivotal crux of the story (climax, if not denouement), long before putting anything else together around it.
It's certainly more efficient to write with an end point in mind, because you can make sure you work towards it. If you don't know what the ending is until you get there, you need to do a lot of work going back through the story, taking out things that went in the wrong direction, putting in foreshadowing, restructuring to get the right cadence and flow... these days I am VERY reluctant to start a story without knowing at least the brad structure of it, because I have started wayyyy too many stories in my time and frankly when you start to get sories selling, you discover you really want to make every word count, not waste thousands of nice words on something that tails off into nowhere.
I have the exact opposite problem: I have trouble coming up with the details that make plot points -- what characters do what, who kills who, who invents what to change the world, that sort of thing.
Once I have a plot laid out, the words come. They just flow right out. As soon as I have even a semblance of an idea of how a scene goes, it's four or five pages in half an hour.