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On Writing: A Failure's Style
Writing is most certainly not for the faint of heart. When attempting my first novel, I admit, I failed. And fairly miserably at that. Okay. It’s not that I completely sucked; it’s that I had not taken into account the various (and many) factors that play into writing something longer than a high school essay. Plot, in a good novel there is often more than one; theme, in a good novel there is also more than one; characters, in a good novel there is often more than one. See a pattern? Plot, theme, characters, structure, genre, motifs/symbols, setting, etc… It is mentally exhausting in a way I never imagined it would be.
More than one hundred pages in, is when I realized I was going nowhere. It was a sinking ship that had more holes than I could plug with the gum I sat chewing while watching it go down, bubbles rising from the depths of fictional failure. It was tiring; in a way to know I was failing. Not knowing what to writing, where to go with the plot, what characters would I have to introduce to make the story plausible. Was this actually a story someone would actually want to read? I am feeling the beginnings of a headache as I think about it.
As my creative juices, once white water waves came to barely the trickle of a leaky kitchen sink faucet, I soon felt defeated by my own thoughts. Those were my own words on the paper weren’t they? So why did they intimidate me as they did? I internally raised my hand and answered my own questions: They were. The words that I had written had as much power to make a decent story as they did to completely decimate what I had been working on so diligently. You see, as my reader, you are subconsciously criticizing my writing. At the end you will say, “Wow that was interesting writing. Very insightful into the writing process.” Or the alternative: “Jeez, that was not cohesive, coherent, or the like. She thinks she can write?” Actually I don’t know what you’ll say, although I should hope it’s positive. As I was saying, my words had the ability to help or harm me. Help me: the words act as a life raft to carry my novel on to the safety of the good graces of a critic. Harm me: I may as well construct a literary noose and figuratively hang myself with it.
The thing I underestimated the most: the outline. I failed (miserably) because I was ill-prepared. I was going in blind. I made it up as I went along. Soon, I realized that to construct the next great novel I would have to learn how to plan before hand. Plans, outlines, drafts, oh my! Never was I the organized type, the type to sit down and have a systematized brainstorm. I was more for orderly chaos. Soon after thirty seven pages typed in Word, I could hardly push myself to compose another decent sentence. Big oops.
There are many paths on which a story can travel, and it is my job (or your job, if you are indeed a writer) to choose the path with which to take. When facing several forks in the road, it can often be intimidating. It was for me. If I chose the incorrect path, I would regret it one hundred pages later, where I would have to journey back to the fork and take the next time until it, eventually, lead me to yet another creative dead end. Frustrated, I soon gave up, defeated.
Then I get inspiration for a new story line. One thing I also need to do: carry around with me a notebook and a pen, or pencil, I have no preference (although I don’t want to show bias to one writing utensil over another, now that just wouldn’t be fair). At random, and sometimes inopportune, moment, ideas burst open the door to my mind as if to say, “I’m heeeeeeerrreeee,” drawing out the one syllable word to two. At this instance all I can do is make a mental note not to forget I have something to write down when I get the chance. I most of the time forget(I forget most of the time?). Some of those ideas are genuinely decent, and I intrigue even myself to see where it will lead. Again, I was never the planner so I wouldn’t even know where my story would lead even though it’s, well, mine. Peculiar, I know.
I also tend to think of my life as a novel. When someone comes up to me to talk I write the scene in my head, as a writer would write it. Or something happens. I jot it down mentally. Most normal people probably don’t do this; I must be the oddball. It is almost as though I am stretching my literary muscles, practicing when I am not actually putting my nose to the grind and writing.
So when inspiration did hit me again, and I wrote it down, I decided right then and there to be wise about this one. I had a good feeling about it. So instead of diving head first into a pool with no water, I opened a Word document and started to construct my first outline. I admit that it was not pretty. I had no obvious format, well to the untrained eye I didn’t. To me, it was very cohesive. It took no formal pattern but every new idea was separated by a space and organized by number and letter. So whatever. It worked for me. That’s all that matters. Anyways, to begin my outline, I started generally. As my creative tidal wave came crashing (leaky faucet fixed) I became more engrossed in the story I was creating. And I honest to God became motivated to start writing again.
The tricky part of the outline is what to put in it. Is it just a plot? Is it the logical brainstorm my teachers had forced me to do? For the first time outliner, I was fairly clueless. You would think that there was nothing to writing an outline. Well I tell you there is an art: you just have to discover it for yourself. Everyone’s outlines are different. Once I started out generally I was able to construct my thoughts and gear them in a more logical manner. So as I developed what I was going to write about, more and more ideas were coming to me. This time they didn’t burst open the door, they completely annihilated it. I saw many forks to my story, and not just in one spot. At every turn in my thought process I was asking myself questions like, “Should I have this happen? Or should I do this first? But how do I connect those thoughts? Or I could have this happen. And if that happens then I could have this happen…” And so it continued. I would write every possible path I could think of, every possible to twist to trick my readers, every detail thought and planned carefully. Then I noticed that as I was directing my thoughts in a coherent manner, I could make connections, I could unite characters with setting, or plot with theme; I could marry ideas that otherwise seemed impossible to link.
So there it was; I had effectively diagramed the plot (and there were multiple ones), the theme (always my weak point, but outlining helped), the setting (because where you are makes a whole lot of difference who you are), and finally the characters
And there I had it. The skeleton, the starting point, the concrete foundation.
And I was proud of myself.
But of course, even though I have started my other novel I still go back and look at and change and add to the outline. If my outline is outdated, what good is it? None, that’s for sure.
With only the prologue and first chapter completed, I have quite a ways to go on my path to publication (or not, who knows how this thing is going to turn out). The important thing I want to keep in mind is that I am not going to be defeated this time. I must prove to myself that I am capable of finishing what I started (I may even go back to outline and start my first story again, after this one is concluded). I’m not sure, but I think it will feel empowering. Or at least I hope it will. But not just for self satisfaction, I want my audience, whoever it may be, my parents, or the world, to enjoy the journey of reading it as much as I enjoyed the journey of writing it. That will be the greatest satisfaction of all.