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bear by san

March 2017

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writing softcore nerdporn _ heres_luck

deep experience is never peaceful.

NPR is full of things to make me think this morning, mostly included in an interview with Joyce Carol Oates on Weekend Edition..

First, a Henry James quote:

We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.

Second, a discussion of Hemingway's inability to write while in the throes of depression and alcoholism.



I don't talk about craft here as much as I used to, and one of the reasons that I don't do that is because I'm not learning about craft as much as I was. I think I'm not learning new things as fast--well, I am learning them, or at least observing them, but the writing itself has become so much a struggle of using everything I know that I am not making new discoveries with any regularity. Right now, I'm struggling to integrate what I do know, to make it organic rather than intellectual, and that doesn't make for very interesting writing. Except more bitching about what a grind it is right now, and how hopeless it all feels.

I miss the epiphanies. They felt like progress.

But integrating all that stuff would be progress too, and if I could do that, I might be able to treat writing as play again rather than toil.

So I observe little chips of things brilliantly done, now, and think "I wish I could do that," while struggling to see any roller derby and any shiny in my own work. I think I have reached another plateau of "now write for ten years," which is in some ways both heartening and frustrating. Frustrating, because you know, one would liek to think one eventually gets good at this. Heartening, because, well, I got through the last one of these and didn't die.

I just need to keep telling myself that these books are not as bad as I think they are, and that what seems to me to be incompetence is actually just me being hyper-aware of all the many things that go into the narrative, and having to do them in stages. And you know what? Writing is not a performance art. It is okay to do them in stages.

I post a lot of examples here of revision, of the kind of sentence-level pickiness I tend to engage in. I do a lot of revision, drafts and drafts of everything. I also do a fair amount of stunt writing, by which I mean using the structure of the plot or the POV or the prose itself to support the narrative. It's one of my favorite tricks.

And it's not easy to do on the fly.

Anyway, I just have to have faith that this will get easier again, and give myself the time I need for my subconscious to put it together, all this new stuff I've learned, and build a process out of it. I'd really like to go away and stop writing for a year while I sort this out, but alas, that is unlikely to happen. So I guess it's one painstaking selfconscious step at a time, until I internalize all this stuff and learn to do it automatically. And I need to remember that conscious competence is, indeed, a stage of learning, and the fact that I need to think about what I'm doing doesn't mean I can't do it.

And now I need to go shower, and clean up my apartment some.

Comments

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I did hear Oates say she was depressed at the death of her partner, but when talking of Twain's long cynical decline, she didn't mention that his wife and most of his children predeceased him. Illustrative obliviousness, doncherknow.

But i might have missed something, there was a dogal emergency during the broadcast
That Henry James quote sounds oddly like Peter Gabriel lyrics to me. I wonder if that happened or if I'm just imagining it?
It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Gabriel would quote Henry James in his lyrics.

I just need to keep telling myself that these books are not as bad as I think they are, and that what seems to me to be incompetence is actually just me being hyper-aware of all the many things that go into the narrative, and having to do them in stages. And you know what? Writing is not a performance art. It is okay to do them in stages.

No, my friend, they definitely are not as bad as you think they are. Most definitely not. I think that the writing process and learning curve is not a smooth curve at all, but more a complex function with nodes and various shapes over the ranges of the function.

There isn't, I think, one way to be a writer--and more important, one way for the *same* writer to be a writer over their lifetime.

Love the Henry James quote! I always enjoy your sentence-level revisions. They're like mini-writing lessons; how to make it tighter, to make every word pull its weight.* Though you might label a post like this 'narcissism', it makes the rest of us newbies take heart that someone with as much experience as you still has self-doubt when it comes to your ability.

*As you may be able to tell, I could use some more of those lessons! ;)
I also do a fair amount of stunt writing, by which I mean using the structure of the plot or the POV or the prose itself to support the narrative. It's one of my favorite tricks.

Oh! I dream of doing this. Mebbe if I come to VP you can show me all of the ways I'm not doing this and then I will be learn-ed.

Or, maybe there could be baby-steps for me. Like I could, erm, get a narrative in place before I start trying to be a stunt-woman with it. *g*

I echo chant above--the very generous thing you are doing here...which is helpful to some of us...is showing us how you are learning, plateau-ing, learning etc. your craft. Those of us who are back there thinking "MY GOD I don't even know what happens next...I never know what happens next...my book has no PLOT!!! How will it EVER have a theme???"...well, we get a lot out of this writing craft wank, as you dub it.

So, um, Thanks.
I really like the way you finished the eaves even though the don't show very much. And the door knob is perfect!
I'd really like to go away and stop writing for a year while I sort this out

Could you really do that? I mean, financial and contractual considerations aside (which are presumably the why-not of why that's not a feasible plan right now) Could you really, actually not-write for a whole year?
It's worked for me in the past.
The NPR piece this morning that I found most interesting was the interview with Wangari Maathai. But Oates on James, Poe, Dickinson and Hemingway was insightful.

In any craft, I think, there's a point where you simply have to do, where the process of learning and the act of making become indistinguishable, where you don't realise that you are creating or incorporating new tricks into your repertoire.

By the way, I'm reading New Amsterdam and I want to note that my maternal grandmother's great-aunt was the author of a novel, occasionally inflicted to this day on students of Spanish literature called Los Pazos de Ulloa (The Manors of Ulloa</i>. Now, why would you have to make your vampire a Galician (of course, the Galician form of the surname would be de Ulúa)
Because he came that way!

I dunno. I've never hit that point in anything I've ever tried to learn, but I hear tell I'm a very intellectual learner.
Just wrote a nice long post about how writing is like climbing, and something ate it. Not sure I've got the oompha to recreate it, but it went something like this:

You know those posts about how you sent that 5.7 wall, but fell off the one you did last week? And how you're working to get your muscles and instincts lined up so that you don't have to think your way up certain walls? Writing's a lot like that. It does get easier, but it's never entirely instinctive. Every wall demands a different series of decisions. Every story teaches you how it wants to be written. Sometimes I love the results of such a struggle, and sometimes I look at it and all I can see is the times I tried and failed and how very ungracefully I negotiated the traverse. Usually, I'm the only one who knows the difference, though. It's just something one has to accept.
You are very smart.

And yeah. It's just like that.

Right now, I hate them for being hard, and I hate myself for not being better at writing them.

Unrealistic expectations much?
Hope does indeed. *g*

Silly writing, being hard and all.
While I do wish you were past the plateau, because it sounds so very, very frustrating, I'm glad you write these things down and allow us to read them. As others said above, there's something heartening about being at the beginning of one's career, and being able to look farther on and see a pro one admires also having to struggle. I know I've sometimes fallen into the trap of thinking, "If I write and sell blah, it won't be a struggle anymore and suddenly I'll know what I'm doing and can call myself A Writer." Even when I know that's wrong, I still got depressed when it didn't happen after I sold my first story. So it was good to look at the journals of the pros I know and be viscerally reminded that no, this will always be work, and while it will sometimes be fun, it will only be easy if I cheat.

So, thank you. You help me try to live in a more realistic space.
NPR morning edition sunday. Probably online by now.
I just need to keep telling myself that these books are not as bad as I think they are

Your books are pretty awesome!
Your learning-to-write process sounds like the learning-a-foreign-language process. This means: plateaus happen, they're inevitable, they suck, and there's no way to predict their length. You just have to keep slogging and trust your huge gigantic brain.
First - I want to thank you for letting me friend you.

Second (and the real reason for this comment) - I enjoy your posts on the writing process. I can see things that you (and other writers I have friended) go through that are part of a learning curve that sometimes seems intimidating. Knowing that the process is survivable encourages me to keep working on my own story.
It is a lot of struggle and toil, really. It's true.

But what are you gonna do about it?
I've always enjoyed your posts on the writing process. I've learned a bit that I've put into my non-fiction writing.

I've worked as a reporter, magazine staff writer, and free lancer and I understand the feeling that "this isn't any good" and I've definitely reached the point where I'm not seeing any improvement in my non-fiction writing.

The fiction side is another matter entirely. As far as I can tell, I'm still writing crap, but I need to keep writing crap and working to make it not suck before it actually doesn't suck. Of course, I've been writing non-fiction for 20 years and I've never been as serious about my fiction or written nearly as much.

I haven't read any of your fiction yet, but when I do I suspect I'll have to to read it twice. The first time for the story and the second time to look more closely at how you put everything together. I'm looking forward to it.

Btw, I enjoyed your panel on city building at Penguicon. Sorry I never got a chance to talk to you other then to say, "Hi," briefly at GwG. The wife and I had a great time at the con though. I'll keep an eye out for you next year, if you make it.
Thank you.

The city panel was about my favorite of the con, I think. As for next year--I am going to do my best, anyway.
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