Wednesday, August 15, 2012

High note

This weekend saw a hiatus, not in writing, just in what I was writing on. A few weeks back I had a discussion with a writer friend. He had paused in working on his own novel to chisel out a short story for a competition we try to win every year. To date, he has two honorable mentions and I have nothing. Even though he knew I was working on a book, he questioned my lack of initiative to write something for this year's contest. At the time I was against it because I had nothing to write about, and felt no incentive to wrack my brain to uncover if that were really true. We left it at we were both writing, and that's what mattered.

Last week an idea struck me, struck me so squarely that I decided I would write the story, and that it was going to that contest. The timing was good, I felt. Further inspired, I decided not to put any outlining or the usual amount of forethought into it. I wanted to sit down and let the idea take me somewhere. Normally, such an unfettered notion spells disaster for me. I always run the risk of writing myself into a situation I could have foreseen in outlining, and in free style writing most of the time it kills my momentum. I'm never clever enough to write around the block or diligent enough to erase back to the point where it all started to go downhill. Fortunately, there were no blocks. When I was done I had a vague telling with a horrible ending. I felt accomplished only in that I had finished it, and was regretting my decision to try the method in the first place.

It is at this point that I'd like to share some wisdom that I received recently: there is nothing that won't shine if you polish it enough. At least, the sentiment struck me as deeply profound. I saw it as applicable to any skill, life or career or otherwise, and I saw it as applicable to the heap of garbage that I had produced. I had written in the morning. I spent the rest of the time before lunch inundating myself in visual and audio media, washing my brain liberally. Then, I went back and read it. I read it out loud, fixing it as I went, cutting out entire sentences and adding others in different places. Most of the afternoon was spent clearing my mind again before I went back and edited that 2nd draft. Then I slept, and the next day turned the 2nd draft into a 3rd draft. By then, the ending was an actual ending and the rest of it was much more cohesive. I found the differences in the methods interesting. With an outline, supporting detail can be generated independently and not on the fly, marked down and notated so it doesn't have to be conjured on the spot. Main characters can be identified, named, and even sketched in advance. More than once during the writing, I recognized a need for a character, wrote them in, then realized I had no name for them, and they had no real qualities.

I won't say that I'll never try that again. After all, the feedback so far has been glowing. I don't know to what extent it's my maturity as a writer or if it's the spur of the moment style. For once though, I felt like I might actually place in the contest. I believed in the other stories I had submitted, but I knew going in that they would be labeled in the same fashion as my others. The kind of stories that only some people got, and that being only party do to sophistication. With this one, I feel like it has the same heightened aspect, but instead of just being on a summit, there's some built in features to allow a person to climb to understanding. I think that part of me believed that some people just wouldn't get some ideas. And while that may be true, it might just be possible to get a larger percentage over to the promised land than was previously assumed. What I'm most proud of is that looking back on my previous writing, it didn't make me look down on those stories or regret them. It made me thankful because writing them is what allowed me to climb.

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