Friday, March 15, 2024

Don't Forget to Celebrate!


Recently, a friend shared his wisdom when another said that writing is hard, and asked if there was a way to make it easier. To this, my friend said, describing his approach to writing fiction, “Write it from inside the characters. Allow the characters to grow their own story and follow their lead. When it is complete and you are seeking opinions about how well you wrote it, leave your ego at home and allow the comments --- even the foolish or misguided ones --- to penetrate because they are talking about a book, not about you. Even a fool is correct once in a while! The goal is to create a work of art that will speak well of you. Any hack can cobble together 80,000 words, but most of that kind of writing can put a shark to sleep.”

Every term, my MFA students lament this very thing. I have to remind them that every writer carries similar worries at every stage of their career. In some part, it's the nature of the business itself. But it's also a function of human nature.

It seems the core of these worries are defined by a lot of shouldas and couldas, accompanied by a strong belief in several sacred myths about writing and writers.  Myths, they hope, that carry the secrets to and serve as a compass for how to succeed as a writer.

Myth: Writers only write when they are inspired.

I’m too old to wait around, hoping for some magical muse to show up. The truth is, writers write. It seems to me that curiosity is much more important.

Recently I’ve been going through a phase in which I really like Australian TV. The scenery. The intersection of history between indigenous and penal colonies. The Māori (and the Huka!). A common plot device is cricket – whether it’s baking, mystery, supernatural or comedy, there always seems to be a leather ball and a flat bat involved. To understand the context, I started researching cricket. And watching Australian cricket. (Baggy green is now my favorite color! What a sticky wicket!) This led me to research certain cricket personalities, then cricket history, which led to reading more about British colonialism. Which led to reading about the mid-Atlantic slave trade and the middle passage and the slave narratives. Which led me to Caribbean uprisings. While it sounds like a rabbit hole that Lewis Carrol might envy (and it was), I began noticing a seed for a story. This seed soon developed into a premise. Then it became a character. Then it became a draft.

More often it is through the act of reading and writing itself that inspiration finally decides to visit.

Myth: Writers are introverts.

There may be some truth to this. I prefer long walks to parties. I prefer languorous conversations with my flowers. Albeit, my granddaughter is pretty good at discussing the secrets of dragonflight. Others travel, attend literary events, participate in writing and reading groups, join online discussions. Sometimes I pop into one or two events.  Given my luddite nature, my relationship with social media is rather wobbly. (The irony that I’m writing a blog isn’t lost on me. But I did handwrite this first!) Some may be energized and go full steam into social events, while others find it exhausting. In the end, writers need diverse perspectives and connections to enrich their writing, but ultimately, it’s more important for you to be you.

 Myth: Method X is better than Method Y.

I’m a nerd about the writing process. I find it an endlessly fascinating topic. While I have more than a fair share of degrees and certificates in the writing process, I still attend classes, workshops and lectures given by the best in the business. If you have the chance, I can’t recommend enough the classes given by Emma D. Dryden, Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson, and the many offerings at Free Expressions, sponsored by Lorin Oberweger and company, featuring such lecturers as Donald Maass, Chris Vogler and many others.

Whether it’s plotting versus pantsing, the hero’s journey versus the snowflake method, or saving the cat versus the three-act narrative, editing while you go or hammering out an SFD, everyone has their own way of engineering a story. My own process tends to follow four steps:

1. Research to get an overview of historical and social contexts. Besides, I like to read. You never know what treasure you’ll find.

2.  Outline, because I tend to work with a cast of characters as well as historical/social elements that require careful staging.

3. Write that SFD, usually by hand first.

4. Revise, then revise again, then revise again, because this is where the real magic happens.

What makes it work for me is that I set time apart for my writing and treat it like a job. I know how busy life becomes, having worked as a single parent maintaining a household. But it is still my job to write.

Myth: Writers are excellent spellers.

Yea. Right.

Myth: Writing is easy.

Does any of this sound easy?

Just as an engineer relies on a structurally-sound blueprint – one that, according to Larry Brooks in his book, Story Engineering, requires a plan based on proven physics and structural dynamics -- to build something that will bear weight and resist the elements, so must a writer engineer a story using the literary equivalent. The technicality of the story is fundamental to its creativity. The master writers make it look easy, but behind the scenes, it’s all sweat, blood and a few tears.

There are no easy answers. I tend to like what  Margaret Dilloway suggests in The Writer Unboxed, that you have to give  yourself the permission to write, and you have to give yourself your own approval and authentication, instead of depending on external sources. As she states,  "Nobody else can do that for you. You have to take that power and confidence for yourself.”

Most important, remember that it's important to celebrate the little things. And the big things. And the wicked goggly things, too.

 Celebrating the completion of my SFD! You know, shitty first draft! Only 99 more to go!

Thank you for reading!

-- Bobbi Miller



Carmela Martino said...

Congrats on your SFD, Bobbi! And thanks for sharing your process. I look forward to learning more about your cricket-inspired WIP.

April Halprin Wayland said...

I love how you give each of us the gift of finding our own way, Bobbi. (PS: it sounds like you eat books for breakfast!)

Teresa Robeson said...

I, too, look forward to your cricket story, Bobbi! Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

Linda Mitchell said...

What an uplifting and motivating post. Thank you so much! Good spellers? Good with GRAMMAR? Bwa ha ha ha ha ha.

Yvonne Ventresca said...

Thanks for sharing this, and congrats on your SFD! Hooray!

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi Linda, and thank you for your kind words. Bwa ha ha EXACTLY! Bobbi

Bobbi Miller said...

Hi April, books are not as good as chocolate, however!

Bobbi Miller said...

Thank you, Teresa and Yvonne, for all of your wisdom through the years! You inspire me!

Bobbi Miller said...

And thank you, Carmela, most of all! Bobbi