Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Questions Plague My Life

A full week of just the new job is under my belt. It turned out to be a weird scenario in which it's equal parts great and horrible for my writing. I've become lazy, and instead of still getting up at about 7am in order to write and have ample time to get ready before work, I've opted to just stay in bed and snuggle my husband for that extra hour before whining about having to climb out of the covers in order to start my day. I need to work on this. Otherwise, the "write first thing in the morning" concept is a complete wash.

Work is either Feast or Famine; Flood or Drought. While it could also arguably reflect on the basic concept of a Commissions worker, I mean customer flow in this case. I hope that's ALL it refers to, actually, for obvious reasons, because even with just one or two customers a day my coworkers are still bringing home at least $400 paychecks. Not much more than minimum-wage, but still more than what I was making at the retail job.

Anyway, my point is that we'll go about five out of our eight-hour day with no one in the store and virtually nothing to do but sit and wait. The other three-hours, while sprinkled throughout the day, could then have about seven people show up at once. It's a bit insane.

While it's a bit jarring to have a writing flow - or reading, since it seems to be the only way I'm getting my books read from now on - interrupted abruptly by a customer, the fact that I have so much time to think and write is pretty cool.

The other downside is that, aside from dialogue that I can quickly scribble down more-or-less the way the conversation flow would be, I'm not a fan of writing out prose by hand anymore. There's something textual about writing on a computer. I know most writers probably think in the reverse, that there's something special about writing by hand. However, for me, when I get into something I type with fury, and I can get my ideas down fairly quickly. I can't write as fast as I can type, at least, not if I want to be able to understand my handwriting when I'm done. Plus, when I'm in my writing furies I tend to grip my pen or pencil super tight with my excitement. It literally pains me to write something I'm excited about if I'm doing so on paper. The pen/pencil digs into my finger, my knuckles and wrist cramp up, my shoulder tightens, it's not a fun experience.

So, when my Handy Dandy Netbook isn't available, I tend to stick to bulleted lists and Q&A. By that, I mean I write out all the questions I have about a project, and slowly try to tick away at a possible answer. It may lead to more questions with more answers and so on and so forth, but it help build the story.

At the end of my week, I had a pile of bulleted lists and Q&A sheets, but no actual writing. I truly don't know if I should call the week successful or a dud. Especially since a lot of my scribbles were for a D&D plot that was again derailed by my darling husband this past Sunday's game, and the rest of said scribbles were me just remembering where I was in creating the X-Future reboot.

Yup, back on that again. I was actually a bit embarrassed with how the Contessa story turned out. While Phfylburt ended up enjoying it, he had the same concerns I did with the story, and nothing else. What was the point in reading it to my writing group if they, like Phfyl, were simply going to critique the same issues I already had with the piece? Even if they had advice on how to fix it, I'm really not planning on ever going back to it.

So, when all was said and done, I ended up whipping out an old X-Future Snippet to read: It Is So On!

It received mostly good reviews. There were also some valid critiques that I never thought of before, so thanks to the group on those. There was also one main thought among the group: I do really well with mostly dialogue writing. I have to admit, it is my strong-suit.

One of the newer members - she actually signed up last year and disappeared over the winter; kind of like me over at Writers’ Huddle - even asked if I thought about writing screenplays. I admitted that it was one of the things I went to school for, unofficially. She also commented on the fact that I talked about wanting to do a graphic novel when the meeting first started. She stressed that maybe that's the path I should stick with, since, while the prose is still good, it felt like it really wanted to be more visual. I was also informed that if the script is written well enough, a publicist would pair me with an artist, so there's that. Kind of makes me want to try my hand at the X-Future script again...

In truth, it REALLY wanted me to try my hand at the X-Future script again. If I wasn't working on the now-moot plot for my D&D campaign, or doing ACTUAL work, I was trying to hash out more of the world-build for X-Future's reboot. One of the other responses that I got to "It Is So On!" was that I didn't necessarily need to give the group the verbal lead-in of "these are the children of X-Men/Brotherhood mutants living at the Xavier Mansion, these are their powers, and this is the plot lead-in as to who these people are and why they're at each others' throats." They felt it was fairly stand-alone, and that it didn't automatically scream out "X-Men Rip-off." Then again, most, if not all, of those in attendance don't really know comic books, and if they do the knowledge is from the Marvel movies....

Point is, it was encouraging to hear them all tell me to stick with these characters, and to try my hand at scriptwriting some more. True, most of them are novelists, but there are a few poets in the group, and it would be exciting to everyone to have a screenwriter added to the mix. I just need to figure out how to read a script aloud for critiquing.... seems awkward.

Now, the downside to these critiques is that I've come to realize that I'm not exactly the best at prose. I mean, I've always known I wasn't the BEST, but how much I need to improve is a lot more than I originally thought.

I don't like big blocks of text. You probably picked up on that since most of my paragraphs, while probably capable of being grouped together more than they are, are only about five sentences long. My dislike of large blocks of text, which, to me, seem daunting, boring, and slow down the read, leads me to also break up dialogue. I may write mostly in it, but I can't have a monologue go on. How often does that happen in real life? I mean, come on.

The issue, however, is that I don't just have other characters interject to keep the dialogue short and quick, I also have the character put in physical pauses. She'll say something, pause, and then continue her thought, but in that pause she moves. People do this all the time. Who stays still? Ninety-percent of communication is non-verbal. People give facial reactions, shift their weight or position, fall into a physical tick like playing with a ring or tapping a foot, or they gesture with their hands or even their whole body. We are constantly in motion, and I showcase this in my writing.

To my writing group, and perhaps every reader I've had, it's a bit excessive. While they admitted it may move smoother on paper than it did verbally, they were beginning to lose track of where people were in the story. Willow was sitting, then standing, then sitting again. Then she wrestled with Nys a bit, and so Nys was now sitting. And they get up into each others' faces before pushing the other down into a sitting position. I can understand how this can be a bit overwhelming to mentally keep track of if there aren't any actual visual cues to follow.

I think in images, and so I'm constantly blocking out my characters' movements; keeping mental track of who's moving, and how long it's been since a character last moved. Constant flow. Constant movements. It may make sense in visual media such as comics, movies, TV, or plays. Probably doesn't make sense in things like prose.

Writers are supposed to find some happy medium where their dialogue SEEMS realistic, but edits the realism down so it's a bit easier to read and follow. For instance, count how many times you say "um" or "like" or "uh" or anything along those lines. I'm sure you do so more frequently than you think. What about misspeaking? Using the wrong word? Being repetitive in your speech? Losing track of where you were, or being interrupted, and so you start the sentence over again? How about stuttering?

Now think of how many times you witness any of that honest-to-God, true-to-life speech in novels. Not much, right? Unless it's crucial to the characterization or plot, or in some cases, joke, all of that extra stuff that we naturally mentally weed out of conversations writers have to consciously weed out of their dialogue. I tend to leave a bit more in than most to give it a sense of realism other writers don't have, but apparently that's not the best writing option....

Point is, while most writers just have to edit down reality to make their dialogue SEEM real without the mundane and convolution of actual speech, I need to do the same thing with the non-verbal. True, people may move a lot while talking, but it's probably best if I just let the characters talk and let the reader picture whatever movement they want.

It's going to be tough for me, though, because if a writer doesn't specifically state that a character moves, I barely picture movement, and so limiting myself will be tricky.

Coincidental to my decision to try my hand at scripting again, Phfylburt gave me a challenge - due this upcoming Saturday - that seems right up this alley. Namely, an All Dialogue challenge.
Phfylburt: You have to write a scene in which two siblings steal money from their parent's wallet....The entire thing must be done using only dialog...The scene should show them setting up for the miniature heist, performing the act, and the getaway. It is entirely up to you if they get away successful or if they crash and burn. No limitations on the length, so you don't need to worry about that.
It definitely feels like a fun project, but, as per usual, I haven't started because I'm stuck in my own head. Ask most writers and they'll tell you that the ideas are the easy part, it's the execution that's hard. The actual writing of the thing. While my numerous incomplete projects can attest to that, at the same time, I feel like I may be meant to be a ghost writer, because for me the execution is the fun, exciting, easy part. It's those damn ideas that keep me blocked.

This challenge for instance. I haven't started because I need to figure out more information:
  • What age are the children?
    • Are they even children in the colloquial sense? Or are they already adults, such as in their early 20s?
  • What sex are the siblings? Both girls? Both boys? One of each?
    • Will their sex affect how they perform the theft, or why they need the money?
  • Which parent are they stealing from?
  • Why are they stealing?
    • Are both siblings willing parties?
    • Is one manipulating the other? Are both being blackmailed/hazed into the stunt? Is this a dare?
  • How much are they stealing?
  • What makes them think they'll get away with it?
  • WILL they get away with it?
  • What danger(s) might they come across on this mini-heist?
  • How do I portray that via only dialogue?
I think I get too far into my own head. I did the same thing with Phfyl's "Link breaks the silence..." prompt and the "Write [a]...backstory for a random person you saw..." prompt. Backtrack further and you have the Writers' Group prompt of "Salesman/saleswoman, New York City, and Where is the time capsule?" Generic ideas that let my mind wander are actually really tough for me. If I were instead given something specific like "A Vietnam Vet is startled awake by his wife he nearly choked to death via PTSD-induced sleepwalking" and asked me to write the scene, I could do so fairly easily. My only questions would be "what triggered the act?" and "Has this happened before?" but I could more-or-less figure those out quickly.

Maybe that's why I stay with my crutch of fanfiction writing. Everything is more-or-less spelled out for me already. The environment, the characters, the personalities of the characters, and the basic idea of the antics they get into; the way that world works. It involves very few questions that I need to answer, and so my mind can just focus on the writing.

Honestly? I have no clue how to work on this tripping block so that my mind doesn't go into overload when I'm forced to do something original with little to no direction. Hell, even my main writing question proves how much guidance I need: How Do You Figure Out What To Write About For Your Manuscript?

I can't get anywhere in my writing because I don't even have an idea for a manuscript. One college friend has a basic story idea about young adult twins that just went off on their own in New York City. Keeton in Writers' Group obviously has her story concept of "Buster Keeton" and working around that. DFL in the same group has her pre-historical, "age of Babylon" story. Red stumbled upon her murder-revenge psycho story via a writing prompt that stuck with her. And the man that now comes to the meetings - let's call him PI since that's his profession - has his spy mystery novel.

It's weird to go to group meetings and have everyone else read a new part of their manuscript, asking for help on it, and I'm just reading random stuff that I wrote. None of it connects to each other. None of it - like Contessa last week - really, truly matters to me. They're just exercises to work my muscles, not the actual marathon I'm training for. It's rough not really getting much feedback on what I read in group, and even less helpful when the critiques I do get are on things I'm either never going to continue, or never attempting again.

The concept of me being a natural script-writer though.... that was a good bit to point out....

Joy. Look at me, finding yet another writing hurdle, and no clue how to overcome it. I don't even know if it's worth going to Writers' Group or jumping back on to the long-abandoned Writers’ Huddle and commenting about this roadblock. This realization that I can write with ease, as long as I have a very specific guideline handed to me, whereas actually coming up with plots stumps me for years on end.

Maybe I could become a James Patterson co-author...

In all seriousness, though, what could anyone possibly say for advice if I did decide to ask them? Aside from "keep practicing" or "Yeah, I've been there" or "Which is why writing is tougher than people think" what on earth could anyone say about my issue? If/when I figure this out on my own, what could I possibly say to the next struggling writer?

I know part of it is "Wait for a story to grab you so tight it won't let go and you HAVE to write it," but how much longer do I wait? I've wanted to be a writer since I was, like, nine or something. I went to college to become a writer. I had set out to have my first piece published by the time I was about thirty. Fast forward almost two years, and I still don't even have that Grand Manuscript Concept to work on. If I just passively wait for a story to hit me, when will I get that inspiration? This year? Next year? Five years from now? As I'm telling my kid a bedtime story? When I retire and can spend all day just thinking about stories?

I can't wait for inspiration to strike, because every day that passes I fear a bit more that I'm not supposed to be doing this. Which is a painful paradox, because the only reason it pains me to think that I'm not a writer is because I'm obviously a writer! It doesn't keep me up at night to know that maybe I'm not some great athlete. I KNOW I'm not some great athlete. I came to terms with that when I was in elementary school. I KNOW I'm not a great artist, and so, while I lament not being able to draw what I see in my head - would make things a lot easier for me - I also don't fret over my pathetic stick figures. My heart ACHES at the concept of dying without ever publishing anything, which PROVES that I'm supposed to be doing this!

Yet, that paradox continues. My perpetual struggle of days passing me, making me think that I should give up because I'm not cut out for this, quickly followed by an ache and welled up eyes at that prospect; proving to me that I HAVE to write. I just need to figure out what.

The eternal struggle: What

What am I good at writing? What genre pulls me in the most? What characters in the ether are calling for me to bring them to life? What story will both be fun for me to write, and for someone to read? What story do I have inside me that hasn't been told already? What in/about the world do I see differently than others?

I'll add these questions to the ones above about Phfyl's challenge, I guess. Suppose I should try to see if I can answer some of them, at least, the ones for the challenge due on Saturday....


  1. Well, we're always here in Writers' Huddle for you, we don't care how long you've abandoned us for. ;-) (Also, dunno if you saw yesterday's email, but I'm reopening for new members this Thursday so the forums will hopefully be a bit livelier at least for a few weeks, with all the shiny new people...!)

    I think this issue of wanting to write but not having an idea that grabs you is a real struggle for a fair number of writers. With Lycopolis, I had the core concept ("a group of online roleplayers summon an evil demon into their game ... and into their world") for about three years before I actually started on the novel. I honestly couldn't tell you how I got the idea now!

    So I think waiting for an idea to grab you by the neck is a valid option, but it sounds like your idea is hovering a bit further out of reach for whatever reason. Do come by the Huddle and chat to us -- other people might be able to share what's worked for them (or I had a post on the Aliventures blog a few weeks ago on some ways in which writers begin: http://www.aliventures.com/starting-a-novel/)

    It sounds like you could turn your hand to a fair number of genres -- dialogue is a great strength to have in that respect!

    Hope you find some answers to your questions, and just let me know if I can help in any way. x

    1. Always proving why you're my choice for a writing mentor (whether you like it or not. ;) ) Thanks for the pep-talk, Ali.