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Tag Archives: writing F&SF
Are you putting words on the page? Then you are doing it right.
You may not be creating publishable words. You may not be creating amazing words. You may not be creating words you like. But by creating words, you are doing something actual, tangible, verifiable. And that puts you ahead of all the people who aren’t writing.
One of the things I stress to students is that you cannot wait for the muse. And, in fact, the more you wait for her, the less likely she is to arrive.
For example. The last few days I’ve been working at getting back into the flow of writing daily. I held myself accountable and post daily word counts here or on Twitter. And lemme tell you, some of those words were difficult to wrestle out of my skull and onto the page. One way I can tell things are going in difficult fits and spurts is that I’ll hop around a lot from story to story.
I was thinking more about the idea of writing outside your comfort zone, and found something that’s happened recently pretty applicable.
I have never been a good swimmer. It’s quite possible I never will be. When I was a kid, my parents kept enrolling me in swimming lessons, and I kept being a terrible swimmer who refused to put my head under water. Part of it was that I’d learned by then that if I got water in my ears, an ear infection wouldn’t be far behind, so every lesson was a silent battle to avoid putting my head underwater. It wasn’t till high school, when several friends decided I would learn to swim (bless you, Ann, Ann, Anne, and Maureen), that I actually got to the point where I could float long enough to survive a (fairly brief) period if I ever fell off a boat. Couple that with an illness that made me extremely self-conscious in a swimsuit for a long time, and you can see why I just don’t get in the water very much.
So here we are in Costa Rica, with a swimming pool right outside our balcony, and a temperature that makes that pool pretty darn inviting.
We’ve all got a comfort zone, the place where we can function easily, where we know what to expect. It’s a nice place. It’s…well, it’s COMFORTABLE. Hence the name. It would be easy to stay there all the time.
But for writers, I think it’s very important to go outside on a regular basis. For one thing, your characters are going to be outside their comfort zones, being challenged, tested, thwarted, more often than not, because one thing about comfort zones is that they can be pretty darn boring to read about. Who wants a character for which everything goes right? (This is, I will argue, why the Richie Rich comic books were pretty darn bland.) How can you write a character outside their comfort zone if you don’t know what it’s like?
“The whole point of a short story is to assassinate the reader. You don’t have the time or the space to go to war or do large maneuvers, you can’t do chapters of elaborate setup, there’s much less room for character development—a good writer can get more character development in, but that isn’t my particular strength. Anyway, everything in the short story has to drive toward a short sharp point, whatever it is you’re trying to leave the reader with at the end of the story.” -Yoon Ha Lee
Collaborations can be a lot of fun. My first collaboration came about when Jeff VanderMeer asked if I’d be interested in working together on one and tossed me a 1500 word lump that would end up becoming “The Surgeon’s Tale.” That story remains among one of my favorite pieces of writing, in part because reading back through it evokes the pleasure of batting it back and forth, adding thousand or so word chunks each time, until it ended up in the land of the novelette. I think we managed to make the final result pretty seamless – I have trouble remembering who wrote some bits, although others stand out clearly in my head as Jeff’s or mine, because I remember first reading them or spinning them out.
I’ve been teaching an advanced workshop that’s been a lot of fun. I gave them one of my favorite texts, an issue of Swamp Thing by Alan Moore called “Pog.” You might want to read it before proceeding on to the discussion of it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
I picked that text because it has a high degree of emotional impact. It was a great starting point for talking about how to create that in a piece of fiction. In discussing how Moore achieved that, we realized that it is primarily constructed through the characters. While it’s nice to see the images, they are not the primary source of the impact.
Unlike the Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction Stories class, we are not focusing on one of the basics each week, like characters, plot, or world building. Instead, I am trying to let the class drive itself where it can. My hope is that everyone, by the end of class, has not just been critiqued a couple of times, but has a better sense of their writerly process and how to make it more efficient, more confidence in finishing stuff and getting it sent out, and new ways of moving story from idea to finished draft.
The following comes from an email exchange between myself and John Barnes, whose story I critiqued and who has given permission to reprint the exchange 🙂 I know that this question often comes up for newer writers. They see writers who write long, elaborate sentences and wonder why they then get criticized for overly long and complicated sentences.
Yesterday I spent a pleasant chunk of time talking to the Clarion West 2013 students, along with Django Wexler. Django and I were the “mystery muses,” a Friday feature for the CW students where people come in to chat about a specific aspect of the writerly life. Django spoke well to the experience of having one’s first major book come out, since his book (which I have read and heartily recommend) The Thousand Names just came out. He let us all know (to mass disappointment) that it doesn’t lead to being booked on the Leno or Daily Show or lavish book tours, though he did get to go to ComicCon.