Got back to the writings today, for the first time since Christmas Eve. It felt horribly awkward at first, because this is the most awkward – and arguably the most important – part of the entire story. It’s a big dramatic moment and involves this whole painful misunderstanding that was caused by other misunderstandings and assumptions and just in general the whole thing is a big juicy angst-cluster, and I do like it.
To start off, though, because even the thought of trying to write this scene was awkward to handle, I decided to instead ease into it by trying to plan it out, hit all the notes, make all the considerations, and most importantly, clarify Sinead’s motivations. I actually changed her intentions and motives from what they originally were in this note-taking phase, and it felt very synergistic; it slotted into the empty places around the situation and gave the skeleton some flesh, and so I kept it, and was rather pleased with what I had managed to come up with.
And as per usual, as soon as I’d finished and started to write, it all began to bore me.
There is this wonderful show on the YouTube channel Geek and Sundry, called The Story Board, which is hosted by Patrick Rothfuss, whose novels I have come to believe I am required to read in order to call myself a fantasy author (though I’m not at all sure that’s what I want to be called, but regardless his stuff sounds interesting), and other guest authors as well. It’s rather good for advice on writing, as you might expect, but what it is particularly good for is hearing writers talk about themselves and their processes, rather than direct advice.
One such nugget of experiential wisdom imparted to me via this episode was that Patrick also gets bored when he plans things out too much, and that part of the fun of writing is in making it up as you go. and this was nice to hear; it’s not an explanation for why, but it is still confirmation that I am not alone in this regard, and in a sense that’s even better.
There is no way that you can write a story without having a plot in mind. Story and plot are individuated in the linked episode as thus: plot is what happens, story is how those events are presented, and story also encompasses characters and the setting and everything else – story is what you get told, and therefore also how you get told. And so when I made my big plan for what I was going to do, that was ‘plotting’, and in my mind, there was some rule implied by the writing of this that meant that I had to also treat this as story.
I deviated from this plan in defiance of its rigid structure, and now looking back at what I wrote I wish that I hadn’t – not that it’s a huge deal, because drafting pretty much renders all drama of a nature such as this pretty durn irrelevant, but the point is that my plan was good.
The thing that made me recoil from it so strongly was because, again, in my mind I had planned out not just ‘what happens next’ but also ‘how it happens next’ and, most importantly, ‘how I’m going to present what happens next’. and while the first thing is absolutely something that needs to be done before any sort of traditional narrative can exist, the other two do not need to be planned out, and it is these other two that are the ‘story’, and it is the story that I have so much fun making up as I go along. It just gets to a point where the story takes over and starts adding things into the plot that wasn’t there before; and again, filler happens, and filler represents a necessary element of any storytelling endeavour that just hasn’t been fully-realised yet, and in telling a story you will find heaps of empty spaces that need filling, and that is fine and good and important. But of course, it doesn’t only fill those empty spaces, and can end up taking a plot that you’ve planned out and that you like and that you actually want to use and make you do something different instead, because it will maintain whatever the current ‘mood’ your storytelling is evoking, and this is such a seductive thing, which makes it all the more easy to just follow it through, regardless of what you know is smart or good or whatever.
And again, it’s a first draft, so it’s not a big deal at this stage. But it is something that I’ve literally only today started to really consider; I’ve been having a lot of those realisations lately, and I think that’s good – it means I’m learning, I assume. And it’s something to be aware of.
I think that having fun while writing is absolutely essential to good writing, and good storytelling. I saw this quote somewhere – probably on Tumblr – which read something like: never regret anything you’ve done, because at one point it was exactly what you wanted. And especially for drafting a novel and exploring your ‘voice’, I think that this is absolutely vital information.
I plotted today, and I deviated from that plot because I felt like following things in a different direction, because it was fun to do so at the time. And that’s fine. That’s good. That’s learning. It’s not so bad to pick up after yourself. In fact it can be quite nice that you let yourself do these ‘messy’ things, just because you can. It is a feeling of generosity that works much better with other people involved, but it’s still pretty good by yourself, particularly if you feel that telling a good story is a worthwhile endeavour, because only you can tell your story, so you may as well give yourself every advantage and freedom that you can.
And it is dawning on me more and more, as I write these posts and quantify the feelings in my head, that writing is actually ‘meant’ to be about having fun, insofar as it is ‘meant’ to be about anything. Because ultimately, if you’re not doing it for yourself, you can’t do it for anybody else.
A story is such a personal thing, and I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s sensitive to the touch and must not be exposed directly to sunlight or other people’s opinions lest its creator suffer a panic attack; I mean ‘personal’ in the sense that a person who tells a story is revealing what story they are capable of telling. They are revealing their skills, their limits, their experiences, their truths, their doubts, their ignorance, their recognition, their empathy and biases and traditions and values – about storytelling. I’m not saying you can know a person in every aspect of their life just by experiencing a story they came up with, because that is a ridiculous, wishy-washy notion that romanticises the reality of storytelling; but you can most certainly be assured that they told that story that way for the sole reason that they are who they are, and if they were someone different, the story would also be different. Whether the story is a ‘deeply personal work’ or a ‘soulless derivative cash-in’ or a knock-knock joke, if they came up with it, then it was made within the framework of their capacities and constraints.
The reason that this is important to bear in mind when writing is because fun is personal in the same way. And pain, and sorrow, and joy, and boredom, and confusion – it’s all down to how we’re made up of the various influences that we are, and our responses to them, the way we cope with their inhabiting of our selves. So the reason you tell a story a certain way is because that’s how stories come out of you.
And it can change. I have learnt so much about myself while writing this draft; and on one hand, nothing has changed except for my level of awareness, because these things have been realisations, not changes. And the way I write has not changed directly as a result of every one of these recognitions.
On the other hand, both I and my stories are constantly changing and adapting, sometimes separately, sometimes convergent and contingent on one another. It’s unpredictable, and often seems unrelated, whatever the underlying mechanics may reveal with time: the point is, I don’t know now.
And so instead, I look to have fun. That is what I have learnt; if I’m stuck, I either give up, or try to make it fun. And that is another reason why this draft keeps getting away from me – fun is about engagement, not playing connect-the-dots. These two things are neither mutually exclusive or inclusive, and thus they are both.
And it’s all very heady and abstract and, in the end, perhaps interesting to ponder, but also doesn’t really change anything.
So have fun in the interim, because there is always an interim.
And in fact, just have fun in general. It’s a good way, in combination with patience, dedication, ambition and generosity, to get things done.
And for ‘telling a story’ – well, the most fun I’m having is working out how I want to tell it, and at the end of the day, that’s really what the drafts are for, I think. Not the what: the what gets you started, and while it can change, for me it remains relatively solid, and is simply added to and refined. But the telling is the part that changes the most, because it is the part that matters the most.
To me anyway.
It’s good to be writing again.
And it was good to take a break. Absence makes the heart grow fonder …