Giving Myself Permission to Play Again

An editor friend of mine recently began a series of posts outlining “a clear editing method that will help prepare your manuscript for submission…” This piqued my interest, making me think I’ve been missing some grand checklist that would’ve made my editing process a breeze. Today, she finally posted that checklist, and I eagerly downloaded it.

By the third line, my eyes had glazed over. The list is a wonderfully concise plan for wading through all the editing how-tos, but my resentment toward the information finally hit the breaking point. When I read the bare-bones rules of writing, I get the same sense of elation most kids have while writing a term paper.

Photo by Jassim madan

Photo by Jassim madan

I don’t know if I’ve applied all this to my work, or accomplished these things correctly. I don’t want to sit there and analyze what I’ve done, or second-guess myself even more. I’d spend far more time trying to answer the question of whether or not my characters are sympathetic than editing my words.

And that’s when it FINALLY dawned on me.

My writing has always been my creative and emotional outlet. My stories were fun; I didn’t have to worry about rules or reality. (What do you mean there’s no way in the universe a super popular boy band would hang out with random middle school chicks?) Like the Reading Rainbow theme song said: I could be anything. The rest of my life was work; writing was my play.

Photo by Jassim madan

Photo by Jassim madan

Children learn through play, and they learn best when they don’t know they’re learning.

I had always cringed under the structure of HOW TO WRITE. “Outline” was a four letter word, and the thought of putting scenes on note cards brought back nightmares of school projects.

This slowly changed for me thanks to a panel by Christie Golden at Star Wars Celebration V—coincidentally titled “Things I Hate (But Learned to Do Anyways, and So Can You)”. When she detailed how she outlines her stories, I realized it was something I already held in my head about my own novel. It didn’t have to resemble the outlines I’d done in school. (A, B, C, i, ii, iii…)

But just because I’d started to learn about and accept THE RULES of writing didn’t mean I was ready to analyze my own work in such a cut-and-dried manner.

Part of my personality loves dealing with absolutes, with the concrete instead of the abstract. But if the concrete concept looks brittle, I shy away.

For example, in my early school days they made a big deal out of putting together competitive “problem-solving teams.” The students would pick a large-scale problem (ie world overpopulation, which was such a big worry back then) and go through specific steps until they arrived at solutions that could be implemented. Ugh. I’ll pass, thanks.

Yet, those same problem-solving steps are exactly what happens when doing puzzles. I love puzzles. Sudoku, Bejeweled, Solitaire, Mah Jong, Dr. Mario, Tetris…yes, please. No one ever pointed out the similarity, so I shied away from “problem-solving” when it was something I already did.

So it is with the rules of writing. Not every how-to book appeals to me. I’m still scratching my head over Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, trying to figure out if I’ve implemented all those things as well as in the examples shown (high literary works, almost none of which I’ve ever read or want to). I have a much easier time with Jeff Gerke’s writing books, which use movie examples and popular genre works.

Something else about Jeff’s teaching style: he makes writing sound FUN.

Photo by Daniel Chodusov

Photo by Daniel Chodusov

And that’s what’s been missing since I started revising my work and trying to implement THE RULES.

No wonder I’ve been so frustrated and burned out and questioning why God won’t let me trash my book and do something else.

Yet, I’ve managed to throw off the restraints enough and revel in STORY enough to get 13½ great chapters. So, somehow, I’ve got to do that more often. I have a lot of story left to edit.

For instance, take the scene I’m editing now. It’s emotional and there needs to be a break. But all of my minor characters are otherwise occupied, and cutting away to them would make what they’re doing more important than it is. Why write a throw away scene?

So I’m crafting a reason to cut to the villain.

What she’s doing isn’t that important in the overall grand scheme and might, in fact, undermine the surprise of what happens when she and my protag next cross paths. But, in figuring out a reason, I discovered I could highlight a tiny detail that might show her motivation. (ugh. a rule.)

The cut-and-dried method says, “Show her motivation, show the details of the scene and keep the tension high while making sure to engage the reader.”

omg. I’d rather do the dishes!

The fun, appealing method says, “What if the villain were to see a small child at play while torturing a monster and milking him for venom like an über scary snake? Bonus if you can describe a lab with 70’s era decor and not use the words ‘shag carpet.'”

The print finishing room of the Atlas Laboratory at CERN, in the 1970s.

Credit: ESO

Yeah. Can’t wait to see how it turns out. 😉

He Loves Broken People

Last night I finally finished Chapter 15 after having worked on it since November. At the end, the mentor character points out how the protagonist’s actions contributed to the devastation of an entire country. It’s a heavy scene that embodies the theme of the entire work, and I LOVE how it turned out.

Chapter 16 is supposed to be a continuation, where the protag and mentor talk through the fallout of the action of the previous chapters. It’s an important conversation, but I’m having the worst time trying to work through it. Three years ago, when I jumped (face-first) into this rewrite, this is the chapter that derailed me so badly, I’ve never really recovered.

I mean, how do you portray this type of conversation with God? One where you just found out you’re responsible for so many deaths and you almost caused more in your selfishness? But He’s not finished with you? In fact, you’re the key to His plan of redemption for others?

I also figure my problem with it has to do with my own father issues. I love my dad, but we’re too much alike, and our relationship has left me crying out for something more. We’re both emotionally distant on the outside, though we feel very, very deeply inside. As a result, I feel like I’ve never really connected with him. And it hurts to say that.

I know in my head that God is not like that, but I can’t feel it. What is it like to be secure in the knowledge that you’re completely loved and accepted by the only One who matters?

That’s what I want to portray. That’s what I want my protagonist to feel, to experience, to know. I want her to understand that despite her faults, her past, and her actions, there is NO ONE else he would choose for her purpose.

Because that’s what this life is all about.

It’s January Already?

One year ago today, I received a message that changed my view of writing and unlocked the vise-grip of doubt that had killed my creativity. I promised myself I’d blog about it.

Instead, I threw myself full-steam into yet another rewrite of my novel, this time changing it to present tense. I made big changes, joined a writing group, a site for writing, a critique group, went to meetings, went to conferences and got major feedback. I promised myself I’d blog about it.

And just like in journals I’ve kept, I’ve never caught up writing about all the changes, events, and people that have impacted my life.

In a way, that’s a good thing. It means I’m busy living life instead of just writing about it.

This January, even more changes happened, and I find myself once again in the vise-grip of doubt.

The question I have to pose to myself is one I always thought a no-brainer: Will I keep going if no one but me ever sees what I do?