Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Not a drug leading to wellness, but fullness

I've been deeply ill recently, which was an experience. It only happens once a year or so, long enough between bouts that it's always new again what that feels like. I always have the strangest thoughts duriing. Michael Jordan played an NBA Finals game feeling like this? Why don't heroes in comic books ever get the flu, this is much worse than being clipped by a bullet in the arm. Then, days later, my brain kicks back on. Ideas float behind my eyes, and I feel well enough to snatch at them, to even pay attention to them. Then I realize how sick I really was. All previous brain activity was focused keenly on how bad I felt right then, and comparing it to how bad I felt in the previous instant.

But I still should've written. It would be easy for me to blame my sickness, but the truth is, I grew very afraid that this re-write project was a waste of time. I became fearful that I had spent all that time and effort just to create the exact same story. Without meaning to, the outline had gradually drifted back in line so that the same kinds of events were happening. I felt stupid for not noticing that, and I felt that I had done the story a disservice by not doing a better job of curtailing what was clearly an unconscious re-reading of the old story which I had in mind. I felt like I had forgotten large swaths of the previous telling, so that was an indication that I had flushed it all out of mind. But I knew that short of complete amnesia I wouldn't be able to avoid things completely, so some similarities were fine, but ultimately that was a lazy response to what seemed clear in retrospect.

And that paralyzed me. I didn't know what to do, or where to go. I had no one to talk to who I felt would immediately understand my predicament. At least not without a troublesome amount of backstory. So I sat in that for a few days, waking up to several solution-less mornings. Yesterday though I really mined out what I was looking at. It's the same characters, I reasoned, with the same desires and conflicts, generally, in a very similar setting, the only main difference, the reason I went back and started over, was to more deeply develop everything. It shouldn't have been surprising that the story would be similar, and was I really so unhappy with the original story that ending up with a better version should make me feel terrible? I don't know if that was the way out of that spiral, but so far it's been enough. The next step I'm taking is to be honest in my examination of what weaknesses the story has, now, and moving forward.

Which is the rub. This process exists in every workshop setting, and on top of every editor's desk, but doesn't get discussed a lot in how-to books or on advice-laden blogs. Ultimately, everyone that engages in a creative activity will hit a wall, and to surmount that obstacle must embrace a serious dose of introspective honesty. Because the question that constantly needs to be answered is "how do I get better," so first an artist has to understand, with certainty, that they are incomplete, that they are not perfect, that there is still something they are not doing that prevents them from being better. Which can be hard when praise isn't cascading down from everywhere already. Creating something is liken to becoming a parent of that thing, and it can be hard to embrace an absolute knowing in regards to imperfection. No one thinks, "man, that could've been better," and yet they should, if they want to improve.

So, feeling less confident today, in that I am only confident that I'm still not good enough. Taking down the streamers and balloons from my pity party. Time to get back to work.  

Monday, July 6, 2015

Writing in head

I have written to the end of my outline. Which is an interesting phenomenon, depending on whether it happens at the end of a book, or in the middle. I am speaking of the latter case, of carefully following the bread crumbs of my story then stooping to pick up the next and finding the space vacant. I was somewhat busy this week and weekend, but I slated the time well in advance. I did everything except check the outline. When I got to it, it had one sentence, a short one, which was a stab that I took over two months ago about where I would probably be now. I wasn't wrong, but there also wasn't much to the sentence, just a flimsy and vague idea. I could've written, but there would've been no understanding of where I was writing to. So, I backed up, and am going back to work on the outline. On the plus side, the re-write continues to feel like a sounder idea. The story feels more full.

I also didn't see my colleague to talk about how his dissertation is developing, on account of the holiday weekend. He did text me to say how excited his committee is about his outline, as well as his mentor. I wasn't sure if he meant that they were thrilled at the content of his story or the framework of his outline. I assumed it was the former, however much I have been surprised at how different the academic process is. He told me again that I could market myself as someone who assists others with such things. Among other items, I will be looking into that this week. I couldn't hurt to know more, right?

What I did do was hike. Twice. And if you knew me personally you would understand what a big deal that is. A friend went with me once, and he told me, in response to all of my grumbling and whining, that I had maybe romanticized the activity, and that while there were beautiful scenes and fantastical moments, it was still hard work. Which I never got from other people who "love hiking." Because it is hard work, and I did romanticize. There was very little of the calm moments I imagined, none of the opportunities I'd have to mill through stories in my head. No, I was very much focused on not tripping and falling, and not getting lost. I still got lost, too.

I got my first review for the prequel story I wrote that I posted on fiction press. The person seemed interested in the rest of the story, and was certain that there was more to the story. I took that to mean that for that one person, it was a success. A show I started watching recently insisted that if ten people read a work, they will come away with ten different ideas. I'm not sure if watching it will be good for me. The characters are likable, but they experience an unrealistic amount of success, and the show montages past all of the hours and days and weeks and months of soul grinding effort that it takes to earn those rewards. All signs point to my living between those nicely cut scenes for more years yet.