(THURSDAY, MAY 23, 2013)
Completing the “Writing Machine” parts 8-10
Once upon a time, I created a work-flow model based on conversations with, and study of, hundreds of writers. A “critical path” of what seemed to be the most important characteristics. Most excellent writers have these skills in some form or other, often at the level of “unconscious competence” but it is possible to extract and refine them separately.
In communicating them to students, I gave this process the name “The Machine” or sometimes “The Garden”, depending on the preference of the student. Over the last weeks I’ve parceled them out, but as I’m taking off for Keycon SF convention today, and will be in crash mode for our movie next week, I wanted to encapsulate the first seven steps, and then complete the entire structure.
There are undoubtedly equally good, or better, ways to look at this, and I invite established writers to make their own suggestions, and all writers to modify to their own needs.
1) Create an output goal (a story a week, or a story every other week. Or a
2) Read 10 X what you write. Read one level “up” from your writing
3) Write stories that reflect the values, beliefs, and concerns of your own life, in indirect form.
4) Keep your stories circulating in the mail until they sell
5) Don’t try a novel until you’ve sold ten short stories.
6) Model the healthy attitudes, actions and beliefs of the writers you admire.
7) Once you’ve finished your first draft, ask “what is the meaning of my story” and
re-write from the beginning to sharpen this. There are two things to write about: what are human beings, and what is the world they see? “Who am I” and “what is true?”
8) Follow structure (plotting and consciously planning) until you have mastered it (selling at least 10 short stories), then try freestyle. If you have problems, revert to
structure until it is internalized.
My own structure concentrates on two things: plot and character. I see them as being two halves of the same coin. “Plot” is what a given character does in a given situation. “Character” is best revealed
1) by action and
2) by the character’s internal monologues and self-image, as well as the “stories” they try to sell about who they are. The GAP between observed behavior (concentrate on their career, their physical fitness and their relationship history) and this “story” reveals an entirely new and fascinating level to their personality. To deepen your understanding of this, one painful thing is necessary: applying the exact same standard RUTHLESSLY to yourself. By the way—you won’t be able to do this if you do not love yourself deeply. In a way, it is like performing exploratory surgery on your own child. Yuck. But critical if you wish to move forward in life.
9) Separate the “Flow” state from the “editing” state. Learn to enter “flow” state at will. This means constantly refining “left” and “right” brain modes of operation (not neurophysiologically elegant models, but hopefully the distinctions communicate.) I would suggest meditation and the study of the most logical and intelligent human beings you can groove with. Daily. Logic and Intuition, shaking hands across the Corpus Callosum.
10) Develop a circle of writers and readers to evaluate your work. Choose
the smartest, toughest critics you can find, and learn to take the discomfort. There are, of course, examples of writers who work in solitude, but even these have an “internal community” of role models and great artists in their minds, coaxing them toward greater skill, production, and honesty. The most fortunate people have both.
Remember: your “editing/reading” brain has far more experience AND ALWAYS WILL than your “flow/writing” brain. It will ALWAYS be better at criticizing what you’ve created than creating new text. The only exceptions are those unfortunate individuals who really haven’t read very much, but believe they have a calling to write. Every writing class or workshop instructor encounters these unfortunates with stories to tell but no skill with which to relate them…sometimes with few foundational skills such as spelling and grammar! But most of us have read hundreds of books for every book we write.
Don’t you get the joke? You must read to improve, but that means your “editor” will always be vastly more experienced than your “creator”, leading to insecurity, lack of confidence, and even disgust at the huge “gap” between your first drafts and the finished work of the masters, or the Platonic ideal of the artwork you saw in your mind, felt in your heart.
“The Machine” is designed to strengthen, polish and bring to conscious awareness every basic link in the chain that leads from initial idea to published work: generating ideas, selecting ideas, researching, rough draft, polished draft, rewrite and integrating feedback, submission and repetition of the process throughout a career of ups and downs.
ANYTHING that disrupts this process is “writer’s block.” Not reading/researching, not writing, not finishing, not polishing, not submitting, not beginning your next project and continuing the cycle.
Not enjoying the process, even if it is the savage satisfaction of facing the Gorgon of our own doubt day after day. Caring enough about criticism to learn anything useful, to feel the pain without it decisively impacting our capacity for joy in process.
No one can promise you a financially successful career. But you CAN guarantee yourself a lifelong immersion in the fantastic world of creation, a daily sojourn in the blessed kingdom of Flow . You CAN get better and better from year to year, and have more pleasure and satisfaction than most people believe is possible or reasonable.
You CAN fulfill a childhood dream of self-expression and communication. All these things are available to you, if you embrace the Machine…or cultivate your Garden.
Writer’s choice. As always, the choice of metaphor is up to you.
Write with Passion!