Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~ E. L. Doctorow

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Punch In The Face: Rewrites Are A Bitch

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Story ideas run around my head all the time.  Usually, fear keeps them up there.  I'm dying to write something people want to read.  So, I joined a writers group hoping it would encourage me to write.  The first meeting was approaching and I wanted to submit. I got my ass into gear and wrote a short story NaNoWriMo style.  It was the only way I knew how.  Mistake number one. 

I submitted the story.  The other two members returned it with a lot of constructive criticism.  I understood what they were kind enough not to say.  My story was crap.  It read like a 12-year-old wrote it.  I needed help. 

After the meeting, the story went into hiding until the week before the second meeting.  Honestly, I just didn't want to face the fact that I can't write well.  I read over the story and feedback.  Ideas for improvements came to me immediately.  I started to rewrite the first paragraph and stopped.  Started.  Stopped.  Started.  Stopped.  God help me.

My ideas wouldn't come out of my head.  The story was going nowhere.  It was completely hacked up.  The pieces were limp in my hand.  Inspiration apparently decided to take a vacation without notice.  Thanks a lot.  My frustration rose up through my hands and wrapped around my throat.      

My brain felt like it was being pulled through my eye sockets.  Oxygen barely made it into my lungs before I exhaled.  Inadequacy and failure came crashing down on me.

Reality tapped me on the shoulder.  I turned around.  WHAM!  A closed fist to the face.  He leaned over my crumpled body, “Hey, buddy.  Your writing sucks.” 

He didn’t have to tell me to quit.  I came to that conclusion all on my own.  My shinny, wonderful story was apparently damaged in the transfer to the page.  I wanted to throw the whole story out and forget about it.  Before the self-loathing darkness swallowed me, I ran to the gym.  

Thirty minutes and fat-burn mode on the treadmill later, impending doom was dissipating. I realized a few things. 

One: I only have one creative writing class under my belt.  Obviously didn’t learn much there. 

Two: My four-week creative writing intensive with Craig Clevenger started on Tuesday. 

Three: My writing process is not working. 

As a newbie to fiction writing, I was starved for information and testimonials from writers describing their writing experience and process.  Afraid of exposing my ignorance I took their advice as gospel.  Mistake number two. 

I understand following the rules of a genre is important.  Incorporating the basic story components is a given.  But the writing process was up to me.  I could write any way I wanted to, but I adopted everyone else's strategies.  I had no connection to my process or story.  Lack of faith in myself lead to a serious crash and burn.  Doubt moved back in again.   

Good sense introduced me to Craig Clevenger and 200 Proof Storytelling.  After meeting the class, I devoured his three essays on writing.  Jesus!  Those alone explained what went wrong with my short story.  It's clear my inexperience is holding me back.  DIY education requires learning from the masters any way you can.    

My confidence is still low, but I'm excited to see how my writing improves after these four weeks.  Writers are in a state of constant improvement.  I need to remind myself I’m not going to succeed over night.     

My short story waits patiently for me while I recover from reality's ass kicking.  My focus has shifted to my writing process.  I don't have to write it in one sitting, NaNoWriMo.  Stories don't like to be forced. The plan?  Take my time and craft the story.  Keep your fingers crossed. I know mine are.

What writing "Aha" moments have you had recently? 
              

4 comments:

Michael Offutt said...

I really haven't had an aha moment per se. However, I do think that there's plenty of people who might be interested in reading anything that someone has written (take this blog for example). The distinction that I draw is when a writer expects another to "pay money" for their work. This does two things: 1) It takes the artist out of the writer and turns them into a commission salesman and 2) if you are unable to "sell" your stuff it makes the writer feel dejected. I think this is wrong because you may just be marketing to tge wromg people. If you write romance and want to sell it to boys who play World of Warcraft, you aren't going to sell a thing.

Anna said...

Best writing advice I ever got? "Read a lot and write a lot." Just put one word on a page, then another. It may take a few short stories to get into the habit of writing. Don't let a few negative-nancy's bring you down.

Also? Stephen King's "On Writing." I think every new writer should read it at least once. He is a great motivator.

Andrea said...

Excellent post! I can't say I've had an "aha!" moment, but I know I always struggle to improve my writing. Even though I've been writing fiction on my own since I was fourteen, and writing professionally for a decade, I still face moments of nearly-debilitating self doubt. I say "nearly" because I haven't yet quit. I have seriously stalled a few times.

Anna's advice is excellent on all counts. I also think you already gave yourself the best writing advice...write in your own way, in whatever way works to get your thoughts on the page, and don't force it. That rarely works. And keep writing!

Laura Campbell said...

Michael- Thanks for your insight. I'll keep it in mind

Anna- Great advice. I don't believe my writing buddies were being negative, I think I just picked up on some underlying vibe. It felt like they were reaching for something positive to say about the writing itself. Of course, I might just be projecting my feelings about the piece.

I am currently reading On Writing. Just finished up the memoir section. His description of the call that changed everything made me cry.

Andrea- It's encouraging to know I'm not the only one who falls victim to self-doubt. Especially, someone who writes professionally. Every day I keep my head up and put one foot in front of the other.

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