“The story I am working on may suck and that’s okay.”

15 01 2015

The two main reasons I procrastinate are “Fear of Failure” before I write and “Trying To Be All Things” after the first draft.

Both have dogged me in humor writing, writing horror, writing blog posts, and — if the Japanese concept of “Do” is applied here — in my life in general.
It takes effort for me to trick myself out of these mindsets which cause the procrastination. Here’re some things that have worked for me.
“Fear of Failure”: I joined a comedy group when I was at college and I went a full year without writing anything or performing on stage. The other performers were very patient. The problem was that I imagined that I had to be the greatest thing ever to happen to comedy. I imagined that my entire reason for existence was to be the greatest comedian-humorist the planet ever produced.
The same problem happened with writing prose. That story I was working on had to be the one to set the world on fire.
Immature and self-absorbed? Hell, yes. At the same time, I was terribly self-critical. If what I did wasn’t received enthusiastically, I would despise my effort.
How did I get around that chronic insecurity?
I started small. I showed what I wrote to a few friends whose opinion I respected. A writing group is good for that, whether face-to-face or online. I got to realizing that writing and performing were learned skills (yes, one can teach “art” and “writing” and “acting”). I didn’t expect a man who was leaning to play piano to bang out a concerto or write a symphony in the first month or even the first years, did I?
Art is a dialogue. You learn from it while doing it. You learn more by showing it to others. Then you write another story. All writers have stories that didn’t work and bursting trunks full of half-baked ideas.
When I read slush for Weird Tales, I was told by the editors that even Big Name Authors submitted stories that made the staff scratch their heads.
So I allowed myself to fail.
To get around “Fear of Failure” I remind myself “The story I am working on may suck and that’s okay.”
Related to that…
“Trying To Be All Things”
Sometimes I come up with an idea for a story or sketch and I get that rush of inspiration. The first draft goes well. I “cast” my story with people I know and tweak those people to fit the plot needs and discover the characters still worked. The ending has a satisfying conclusion, whether it be funny or bleak or whatever. The theme that emerges doesn’t make me too uncomfortable.
Who am I kidding! Those things never happen in the draft stages!
Because that first idea will lead to another idea and another, and I want to include several generations of ideas in the story. Or I’ll read a blog that I agree with about how there’s already way too much stuff out there that’s This Thing, and there needs to be more That Thing. By this time the tone is vibrating between “body horror” and “commentary about the US surveillance state” and “post-modern YA urban fantasy”.
Eeesh. I get a headache just thinking about it.
To get around this “Trying To Be All Things”, I remind myself the story does not have to accomplish anything but have a plot, provoke an emotion, and reveal a deep and lively truth. Decide on the emotion and the plot will fall into place.
Which emotion? Whatever the writer finds most satisfying.
My solution at this time of my life: “Which emotion makes me, the author, most uncomfortable?” Not just in terms of making me say “eww”, but in revealing something new to me about myself.
Where I believed myself One Philosophy then discover maybe I understand or appreciate Something I Had Held In Disdain. In this case, perhaps, where I had disliked YA Urban fantasy, I discover and feel the uplifting and inspirational aspects of the genre.
Why would I resist that sort of uplift and inspiration? That question would be the source of conflict for the story.
But what if I discover that I like the idea of torturing cats? Don’t I have any ethics, man?!
Hence “deep and lively truth”. One of the few things I like about Ayn Rand was her insistence that art inspire people to want to get out of bed in the morning (my paraphrase. She would have said that in 30+ page monologue. zing!)
What if my “truth” annoys someone?
Part of art’s dialogue is weighing what reader’s say. I haven’t really had to deal with aggressive disagreement, so I’ll find out what I’ll do when I get to it.
So! Write like its a biological function! Show it to others! Listen and weigh opinions! Keep your work to one message or feeling! Repeat!
Excrete, sculpt the poo, fling. Get the judge’s scores. Adapt your technique. Repeat.


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One response

15 01 2015
Alan Breakstone

I’m a big fan of your essays on writing. Keep it up!

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