Today, I wrote myself out of a hole, and potentially into the depths of some Pangean chasm, home to miraculously preserved wildlife and vegetation the likes of which only Jules Verne might fully appreciate the significance of.
I think that today’s writing finally pushed me over the edge, specifically the side of the edge that melds into the slope of ‘just go with it’, and it’s far easier to just let myself slip all the way down.
So, specifically, I was writing a chapter and had an idea of what I was going to write, what would happen. It didn’t end up happening. I wrote something different. And it felt amazing.
This is not like the usual ‘oh that’s neat’ kind of feeling that tends to happen when you go off-track because of some kind of mini-epiphany/distraction-filler tangent while writing, which you always look back on later and realise was just you getting bored and needing something else to do; this felt good. this felt the way that scene in every stereotypical rom-com, where the leading lady quits her job by telling her anal-retentive boss what she thinks of him, is meant to feel; this felt like honesty being released and catharsis dictating the course of events to come.
Tallulah – well, it’s a very ‘down’ kind of story, or has been up until this point. that’s how it presents itself in my mind anyway. and I don’t really like that. for one thing, it’s hard to write, because everything is so heavy, and for another thing, it’s really one-note, and as such clashes with the whole ‘realism’ thing I’m trying to go for. whether or not I’m getting that aspect of it right, the atonality of the thing isn’t going to help matters any.
what I was going to write was a bunch of indecision followed by a really, really bad decision on Tallulah’s behalf – not bad because it makes no sense, but bad because it’s the kind of decision you would only make if you were really not in a particularly healthy or stable frame of mind.
what I ended up writing was a good decision, one that led to a fight, and it was the first time in a very long time that I actually felt like I was writing Tallulah as a character to the fullest and most immediate extent, to the point where it felt like she was telling the story, rather than me.
and the best part is that, actually, this change in pace and tone could actually make my plans for what happens next even better, just because I changed things up a little.
I decided a couple of posts ago that I was just going to ‘write what I wanted’. the other part of that is that the things I end up not writing, the other things I had ideas but not energy for, I’m not totally dismissing – instead, my theory is this: I’ll write what I want to happen, and if it turns out that, in doing so, there is space for any the other ideas to fit in – appropriately – then I will fit them in at that point. until then, though, I’ll just do my own thing.
this latest development feels to me like the next evolution of that, where I – to use the old cliche – let the story do its own thing, and if by the end of it there’s room for that other stuff, it will tell me to put it in.
but that’s not even it; it’s actually even better than that. it now feels like I have a dialogue with this draft, like we’re negotiating terms on what ought to happen, and how, and when; I wanted to do something, I ended up doing something else because, as per usual, I lost all control over what I was doing once I got started, and it felt like the story had improved as a result – and that my plans were still in motion, only now with the added benefit of the story’s spontaneity.
there may be people who don’t like turns of phrase like stories ‘writing themselves’, because it sounds like a cop-out for just not having a very clear direction of where to go with the story and masking one’s own disappointment at the fact, or an effort to make the creative process seem more mystical and exotic than it really is to outsiders. there is this divide between writers who like to plan things out and stick to that plan, and think that if you can’t stick to the plan then it’s because you’re a bad writer, and writers who rely on letting the story tell them what it needs and use all sorts of artsy, vague, pretentious turns of phrase like that. or at least that’s how they sound to people it doesn’t make sense to, because it hasn’t happened for them.
this is my experience: the most successful draft I’ve ever written, in terms of ‘sticking to the plan’, is also the most unuseable. it is a story that, merely a month after completing the draft, had changed so entirely that the whole draft was rendered obsolete. it is also the first draft I ever wrote. and I stuck to the plan; I stuck like metal welded to other metal, and I stuck to it for the entire year that it took me to write that draft. because you can have a plan, and you can stick to it, and it still doesn’t make it a good plan. yes, that draft was actually the book I ended up giving up on earlier this year because it just wasn’t going anywhere, but that’s part of my point: plans are just plans. they don’t add quality to the end result.
I’m certainly not saying that planning is bad or stupid or irrelevant, but I am saying that, when it comes to a self-driven creative undertaking, it is totally down to what you are moved to do. if you feel moved to make preliminary notes, make preliminary notes; if you feel moved to ‘dive right in’, then get aquatic on that thing; if you feel like being meticulous the first day and then the next day think it’s distracting and off-putting and you just want to ‘get right down to it’, but it means changing your mind and being ‘inconsistent’, then change your mind. because this is the thing: doing things changes your situation, and different approaches work better or worse in different situations.
and then there’s the question of what ‘having a plan’ actually means; does it mean having every chapter summarised and having a synopsis written up before you start ‘actually writing’? does it mean having a word-limit for your draft? does it mean allocating X amount of time per day/week/whatever to doing writing? does it mean going for a walk in the morning to oxygenise your brain? does it mean you’ll make notes as you go and refer to them later? it means all of this, and more, or less, depending on how you are so inclined to approach the process of writing.
in the end, the only thing that matters is that you do what works for you, because then, necessarily, it will … work … for you. and you don’t have to try and know what works for you right from the start, if you’re not sure; that’s why we have brains and memory: so we can learn from experience. take advantage of it. I don’t know who I’m preaching to at this point, really, but I know there are some people out there with a lot of doubts and preconceptions about what it ‘takes’ to ‘be creative’ – all it takes is using some of your time to mess around, and being willing to look past what ‘should’, so that you can get to what ‘is’.
and if you can’t do that, well, fake it ’til you make it. seriously, it works pretty well, so long as you actually stick to it.
I’m feeling a bit better about the prospect of having to make concessions to publishers, after talking to a friend about it. she reasonably pointed out that there’s probably a middle-ground between my perfectionism – and indeed the perfectionism of any artist who takes their work seriously – and the demands of the publisher. and, really, that’s what I meant yesterday about my own standards ‘holding me back’ – it’s about how ‘precious’ you are with your work. in the end, if you aren’t willing to concede anything – I mean good luck, seriously, and if you find out how to make it work, let me know. I am definitely interested. until then, I think it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to aim for ‘good enough’. so even though I won’t get two drafts done before the year is out – nowhere near two drafts – I ought to have an edited version of this draft done by at least early next year and ready to go. the fact that it’ll be pretty rough is an advantage in terms of having to make concessions, because if I sent away what I considered to be the ‘perfect’ version of the story and then be told to change – well, anything – I would probably have a mental breakdown and never try to get published again.
so yes. a good day in terms of writing, and also in most other terms; I spent all day out of the house, met up with friends, one of whom gave me her old smartphone, making it my first smartphone, so that’s a significant occurrence of mutation in the evolution of my social life, and had some very nice Mexican food (though there wasn’t heaps of it, sadly). and in the end, writing is self-expression, so if you are happy, your writing will probably be better because of it. at the very least, you will get more out of it.