The Horning of the Shoe

It’s always fun when you write something, wish you’d included something you’ve just realised is quite important, incorporating it in a subtle way, and then, because you’re writing a first draft and don’t want to backtrack, just word-dump the thing you wish you’d included in as un-subtle a way as possible, and assuring yourself that you’ll totally change it in the second draft so that it’s not as clunky and you know it’s really bad but hey better to have it there badly than to not have it at all right?

At least it’s getting written.

There’s that old saying: ‘If you have nothing to say, then don’t say anything.’ I think that’s the old saying. actually no, I’m pretty sure that’s not the saying at all, but the saying in its original form does not back up my argument. which is that this principle applies to writing as well: this is part of why I’ve found it so hard to write 2000 words a day for this draft; some days I just literally have nothing of worth to write, and thus we have the infamous ‘filler’ or ‘padding’ or ‘waffling’, depending on how you are so linguistically inclined.

this is part of why the idea of ‘structure’ seems so unintuitive and unappealing to so many ‘creatives’ (a term I disagree with, because it suggests that some people are not creative); what they take to mean by ‘structure’ is ‘being told what to do’, and these are totally different things. ‘being told what to do’ can still generate creativity, but not always the feel-good kind, because it can feel like you’re being ‘worked’, like you’re having your creative productivity turned into a commodity or tool of some kind, a mechanized process taken out of your control and made separate to you, and nobody likes being objectified. ‘structure’ is essentially the bread-and-butter of creativity; it is having a goal, and having a system via which you will meet it. it’s been a difficult thing to navigate for me in this draft, trying to balance structure with creative spontaneity, and trying to match the pace of my schedule with the enthusiasm and clarity of purpose required to write something that actually contributes to the project, as opposed to just meeting the arbitrary word-quote for the day.

There’s also the issue I have where I like the idea of stories taking their time, but then not making allowances for not actualy having a very long story to tell. part of that in this case, though, is because I’m still not sure how much of the story should focus on one aspect I like, and how much it should focus on the ‘main’ focus, at least what the main focus of the original idea for the story was. and that is part of why drafting is so useful, in theory anyway: it’s an opportunity to test all of these uncertainties out and see what comes of them.

the downside is that this all takes time and energy, and it’s going to take time and energy to go back and read over it again as well. and from experience, if what you’ve written contains more ‘filler’ than ‘content’, this is a test of endurance – somewhere in all the filler, there may be some neat stuff that you want to keep, but the rest of the time you’re reading through stuff that you know you will never use because it’s distracting, nonsensical, pointless, tone-dissonant – any adjective you wish to use that implies ‘bad’ within the context of telling a coherent and engaging story.

in the end, if you don’t have a story to tell – a clear-in-your-mind story – then no matter how hard you try, you won’t end up telling one. the official test for this is apparently whether or not you can sum up your story in one or two sentences. I did not like the sound of this when I first heard it, partly because it sounded so restrictive, partly because it made it sound like the only good stories are ‘dumbed-down’ stories made to entertain the plebian masses, and partly because the story I was working on was not one I could sum up in one or two sentences; said story I have now given up on, because as I was finally able to admit, it was not actually a story, but a cluster of ideas that didn’t create a narrative when put together. and you have to be able to admit things like that. not only is there no shame in it, but it frees you up, gives you raw materials to use for the next project. the day after I officially resigned that non-story to the void, I was on a story-seed-high for the next week, and it’s all been useful ever since. that was about seven months ago, and the thing is that I was able to use most of the elements from the original concept, because while the ideas didn’t fit together in a story, they were still good ideas – they just needed to find suitable employment.

there’s part of Tallulah as a story that I fail to mention whenever I give somebody the summary – which is a maximum of two sentences every time I’ve done it – and it’s the part of the story that’s giving me the most grief, the one I’m the most uncertain about, the part of it that feels like it’s definitely more for me rather than for readers. which doesn’t mean that it’s bad or that I should quit it altogether, but it’s certainly something I’ve noticed. and the reason I don’t mention it is because it just doesn’t add anything to what I’m telling people about the story …

and so it looks like it may be time to make another cut. but that’s okay. it may turn out that I can find a way to make it work, that there is a way that it can actually make the story better. besides, a summary is not literally the entire story; it’s a summary. it doesn’t include sub-plots or character nuances or the various smartass subtextual aspects you’ve so painstakingly incorporated into the narrative. I guess the issue is that, right now, it’s not a sub-plot; it’s become the main plot, and again, that’s not what I’m telling people the story is about. and I prefer the story I’m telling them about.

but it’s a bit late now to go back and change things so that it fits the summary. I’ll run with it and see what happens – again, there may be something about it that I won’t notice until I go back and read it in preparation for the second draft, something that tells me exactly what it’s meant to contribute to the overall story. even just writing that, thinking of how I could restrict its prominence and tighten its focus, is giving me some ideas. they’re the kind of ideas I’d recognise in other stories I’ve come across. so that’s hopeful.

and of course, it could go the other way and turn out to be what I actually do want the story to be focused on. I doubt that very much right now, but you never know. or, as a fellow writer suggested, it might turn out to be best-suited to being a separate story altogether.

either way, regaining focus and keeping focused even when I don’t feel like I have anything to write are a couple of things I want to work on. I’ve said to people that you can’t write unless you feel moved to do so – but being ‘moved’, I’ve come to think, is like being happy; you can be happy without feeling happy all the time, and I think it goes for being moved to write as well – you just need to act as you would if you were moved to write, and trust that, in a few hours, maybe a day, you’ll look back and be unable to tell the difference when you reflect on what you’ve been up to.

well, all of that has gotten me more excited about finishing this draft, so that I can get on to the next phase of writing this book. so I guess that’s a win.


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