Thursday, July 11, 2013

On Hanging Out With Other Writers, Or: The Value Of Osmosis And Virtual High-Fives

Status Update:  at the ass end of the bag. The beans, now dried out, are stronger. Fiercer. They are the Fremen of cappuccino-inspired beanery, ready to wage war on the vile Baron Harkonnen of my metabolism, which I seriously need because I have a bad case of post-concert crunk from last night's Slash show. Writing has just started for this week.

My plan is to do a quick and dirty point-A-to-point-B job on the rest of what I'd planned for Cameron. Just get from where I am to the Big Rug Pulling, then stick a fork in it for now. Then come back to it later and give it the savage rewriting it sorely needs. For one thing, it's a bit long for the first third of a novel--there's some redundant scenes in it which need to either go or be combined with something else. Second, there's been plot/character developments since I started it which need to be written into the beginning parts. Plot twists, world detail, character development and so on. Also, I simply want to make sure that the first part matches what I have in mind for the second part--I want it to be a mean, green fighting machine before I tackle that bit, because it's going to need to be that to keep part two from falling into chaos.

Anyway.

I've been following other writers' blogs lately.

I used to pish-posh the notion of talking to other writers or hanging out in writer hang-outs because I didn't want to have my ideas "polluted." Yes, I know this is a dick-ish thing to write, but yeah, basically, because I'm a dick. Dick, dick, dick. Have I written that enough? Yes? Too much dick in one paragraph? Good. Dick.

To be fair, I have my reasons.

Back in college, we used to spend a lot of time in workshop. It's still pretty much the standard method of teaching intermediate to advanced writing. It's a great way to get a lot of different opinions on something you're working on, from a wide array of skill levels and backgrounds. You get the professors' input and then your colleagues, who can range from any level of ability from seasoned professional to brilliant amateur to complete fucktard.

It's a valuable experience and if you haven't had to go through it, I recommend it, if only to get used to the feeling of putting your stuff in public view and dealing with the occasional negative feedback.*

* I never get negative feedback because all of my material is completely awesome. Of course.  *cough* YOU IN BACK, SHUT UP.

However.

I've always had a great deal of loathing for committees. There's a fine balancing point between "circle of people whose opinions I trust and find valuable" and "a buncha folk doing my creating for me." The ideal workshop is on the first end of that spectrum. A full-on, grit-your-teeth, sack-up-and-slog-through-it corporate committee where you have to please a billion people and no one at all at the same time is at the latter end of the spectrum.

Think of it like ordering pizza. If you have two people you like and trust and are more or less on your mental wavelength, you can order the crazy pizza which takes chances and satisfies that weird craving you have for anchovies, artichokes and marinara.

If you have ten people, the pizza is going to be plain-jane missionary-position pepperoni and cheese and everybody's only kinda-sorta happy with it at the end.

Writing workshops can be like that. If you don't keep strict control and you try to please everyone, your story comes out looking workshopped. Toothless. All the rough bits smoothed out along with the exciting and fun things. You've (to paraphrase Vonnegut) opened the window and made love to the world and now you've got pneumonia, you stupid bastard.

So, I tend to view writers' communities as like that. Writing is a fairly personal experience to me. Of all the friends I have, only about a third know that I even have an English degree. Of those friends, only two or three know that I write regularly at all, let alone this much. Getting involved with a ton of other people who do what I do is pretty weird and against most of my instincts.

But it's worth fighting those instincts. Reading other writer's thoughts as they write and fight through their various demons is a bit of a revelation. You come to find that other writers are people just like you, that they struggle with the same damn things you do. Even the big bad professionals. It's fun to realize that other people, some of whom you thought were following some Big Damn Plan, are whistling and tap-dancing, just like you are, making it up on the spot.

For example, I was reading Charles Stross' blog the other day. He was talking about writing the Fuller Memorandum in some ridiculous time frame, like 24 days. He was saying that the experience, while not precisely pleasant (he compared it to an attack of cholera), was interesting because he usually had to obsessively read and re-read everything he wrote in a story to make sure everything stayed on track, but he didn't have to do that with this because the writing time was so short he could keep it all in his head.

It struck a note, because I have pretty much the same organizational problem. I constantly have to track back in some stories to fact-check details and I know that I miss stuff. You read completed books and you never realize that the authors of those books struggle with the same crap you do.

So! Talk to other writers! The experience probably won't make you suck more! In fact, somebody's probably already had whatever problem you're having now and it might help you to find out how they fought through it.

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