Thursday, October 16, 2008

On Writing (pt. 3)

I'm lazy. There, I admitted it. Lazy, but dedicated. How is this possible, you ask? Surely one cannot be both these things at the same time.

Let me explain.

I loathe the more formal machinations of writing. Outlines, note-taking, color-coded index cards -- these are not for me. In college, almost all of my research papers were done on the fly with hardly any advanced preparation. I cited stuff just because it was required, and manhandled the information into a reasonable discourse on paper because I knew what needed to be done to get the good grade. And it worked.

So when it comes to my fiction, I'm reluctant to whip out the plotline bullet points. Luckily for me I've been sticking to only short stories as I learn the ropes to crafting better narratives. Short stories have more leeway when it comes to formal research. Generally speaking, if you have to do too much book nosing to pull out your 5k - 7.5k short -- you're probably over thinking things a bit. I'm one to talk, though, since I still haven't mastered brevity (as evidenced by these blog entries!)

So, no outlines for me. It's simply too much effort for short stories, I'm afraid.

Okay, I'm lying. Sorry about that. I have done outlines for my stories before. Mostly thanks to several writing classes I signed up for last year. I learned how to do them and do them well. Only thing is, my stories sucked as much, if not worse, than they did before the classes. If anything, they were only more plotted now. Not a big improvement.

However, the experience did come in handy in teaching me a tool I'll most likely use in the future when I start my novel. I foresee that, when that time comes, I will have to resort to the outline or die writing the never-ending novel. I know the way I write; it would not be pretty. I need to be reigned in. In this light, I'm confident the outline will be my best friend when I start my novel. Heck, I'm already partially writing the outline in my head for the space-opera novel I'm envisioning.

But for now I'll wallow in my laziness when it comes to my short tales. I don't plan, I just dive into the stories using a general idea as my anchor. The thing is, once I start writing, a dogged determination takes over me. I don't stop until it's done. I don't get writer's block *knock on wood*, but I do encounter snags and whirls in the course of writing a typical short story that would have defeated the old me. Part of what I've been doing these past two years is disciplining myself to always work through these obstacles no matter what. To the benefit or detriment of my work.

Such are the trials of learning, eh?

However, the best time for me in the writing process is the beginning. I *love* staring at a blank screen. It's like pristine snow, or a virgin canvas. Just waiting to be imprinted. Sitting at the keyboard, my mind is awash with numerous possibilities on how to begin a given story. I'm usually giddy with anticipation.

As for the ideas themselves, there is no rhyme or reason as to where they come from. I take inspiration from anything and everything. All writers do. Dreams are not the most obvious place to get them, despite what you might think. Although I once did get a gnarly idea for a weird alien species when I was doped up on Vicodin after getting my wisdom teeth pulled. The dreams I had that night were wild and frightening. But when I woke up, I immediately went to the computer and started typing away. My story "Ascending the Sending Road" was the result.

Usually, though, I get the best ideas from watching tv or movies. It's not that I'm plagiarizing these shows and films, but that some remark or gesture will spur my mind off on a tangent that almost always has nothing to do with the source. And usually with a sci-fi or fantastical bent. Oddly enough, books don't always have this same effect on me. Yet video games do. Go figure.

Once I get an idea, I work out the logistics of the story in my head. The best time for this is either in the shower or on the subway on my way to and from work. I usually read on the train, but not when I'm working on a story. Once I'm in that mode, any book I'm reading is placed on hold so that I can use the spare time to worry away at my own creation. Once I work at it enough to smooth away the most obvious snags, I set to actually translating my thoughts onto paper.

Taking Stephen King's advice to heart, I lock myself away from the world when I write. No coffee shops or window nooks for me -- too many distractions! I work tirelessly and nonstop the minute my fingers hit the keys. I enter a trance mode where I neither hear nor see anything beyond the screen in front of me. 3 or 4 hours later I sit back and take a breather. That's literally how I write. It's crazy, but there's a saneness there for me that I just can't explain. If I could sit in the middle of a white-washed room with nothing but a chair, a desk, and my PC, this would be ideal. No windows, no music, no television, no phones. Just me and the world I'm creating.

I like my methods. They work for me. A more cynical David might say that it's clearly not working at all, because I have yet to write anything worth publishing. But luckily I give myself more of a break than that. You get enough chances to prove yourself an asshole in life to other people without convincing your own self of the fact, too.

No, I know I suck because of inexperience and lack of polish. But that's okay; I'm REAL stubborn. I don't give up easily, and I know that the only way to get better is to keep going at it.

That right there is probably the single best resource I have at my disposal:

Determination.

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