Precious things

The other day I was grappling with my laptop as it writhed in the throes of free-Windows-10-update agony, its screen flickering black every half second and rendering it funcitonally useless, no matter how many times I restarted or tried booting up in safe mode. Eventually I found the way to roll back to Windows 8.1, and I will never live down having to thank the fates for the opportunity to ACTIVELY CHOOSE TO USE WINDOWS 8 OVER ANY OTHER AVAILABLE WINDOWS OPERATING SYSTEM.

The upshot of all of this was that, for one thing, I spent much less time online than I would have otherwise – and for another, I got some writing done.

I wrote on paper with a pen.

I am now officially “old school”, and thus more credibler than you.

Anyway, I took this opportunity to start thinking of Tallulah in terms of the words I wanted to use, rather than the events that I wanted to happen. I find that this is actually a fantastic way to get around my revulsion towards planning out a story before I write it; it’s taught me that planning out events isn’t off-putting because it’s “all already done”, it’s because I’ve put down a vague outline and now have to go through all the effort of making it precise. The solution? Get precise right from the get-go; lock yourself in, limit your options, and think of your story in terms of the words you want to tell it with, rather than the images you want to put in people’s heads. Obviously both of these approaches will theoretically lead to the same outcome, but since the medium of writing is, well, writing, you may as well take advantage of it.

It certainly worked for me; I wrote a lovely little opening paragraph and then a whole chain of ideas came rushing in on its heels, and I had a little writer’s high so intoxicating that I had to stop writing, lie back on my bed and just think some thoughts of what this story could be. You gotta ride the waves when they come, because they ain’t going away anytime soon.

As soon as my computer was working again, I copied that paragraph into a word document and then expanded on it. But I found that my expansion was not what I wanted. It was an idea, not part of the story, and so today I’m going to go back in and cut it out. I’m going to hold onto that first paragraph, be precious with it, and let myself write the whole story in little precious pieces. I’ve done the whole throwing-paint-at-a-blank-canvass thing, and it worked very well. Now I need precision, and what better way to be precise than to cut out “and then I guess this could come after” nonense? That’s filler. I hate filler. Filler destroys good stories. Filler causes climate change. Filler ruins the economy. Don’t do filler, kids.

(Unless you’re writing a first draft; then do whatever the hell you want.)

(Filler will mar your soul.)

Story-planning with words rather than cinematic images works because it’s basically just writing. Obviously don’t do it and then neglect to write; hopefully you’re thinking of awesome paragraphs and lines and sentences – if you’re particularly inspired, entire chapters – and then immediately writing them down when you feel they’re right, even if you suspect you might think of something better if you wait a while. Because you will, but you can’t know how long that’ll take, and you have something that feels solid right now, so write that. Always go with what’s reliable right now over what might be awesome a little further down the line, because the thing about writing is that if it is awesome a little further down the line – just go back and edit it in! That’s what revision is for. Do your revision, kids. Save the orangutans.

(Seriously though save the orangutans; they are beautiful and majestic creatures whose natural habitat is being destroyed for palm oil, which if you don’t know by now does not come from orangutan palms please go read some stuff on the internet and I bought a t-shirt in Malaysia where the proceeds went towards an orangutan preservation effort so yay me.)

(It’s a really nice t-shirt as well.)

So I’m looking forward to this. Think I’m gonna have to start carrying that notepad around with me; I might become one of those writers who writes things down on paper first and then types it up digitally afterwards. Neil Gaiman does that, I believe. Seems to have worked out for him.

In any case, I have started to write the way I’ve always wanted to write, even if I haven’t always known it: within limits, the limits that writing presents, because writing isn’t supposed to be anyone’s everything. I honestly think that, where there is truth to the manic-depressive tortured artist stereotype, it’s because they’ve cornered themselves by making their art everything that matters to them, and that’s a hell of a lot of denial to be dealing with. We need more than any one thing can offer us, and sometimes that is a sad truth, because the other things simply aren’t available. That’s how it’s been for me, but it’s starting to change, and as a result I can now treat my writing as simply one thing of many that I love spending my time doing.

I think it’ll make me much better at it.


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