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bear by san

December 2021



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bear by san

The first one's free.

greygirlbeast said something interesting today, about people talking about craft of writing and how it seems to her to be a search for the magic button. (We've talked about the magic button here before, I think.)

I talk about--and think about--craft a lot. An enormous amount, really. And as I can only speak for myself, in my case, it's not a search for the magic get-published button. I've got that, after all. What it is for me, actually, is an attempt to break away from the magic get-published button. To move away from what I do by rote, automatically, and into a wider space. To hone the craft that makes the most of my talent, in other words.

Here's what I think about talent. It's true: some people have more than others. And I suspect if one is going to make it as a writer, one walks in with a free card. One thing you can do coming out of the gate. One aspect of the tremendous interwoven craft of writing that you're naturally good at. It may be worldbuilding or plot or voice or language or structure or theme. Something you do right, from day one.

Here's a secret. Once you reach a certain level of competence, books and stories sell because of what you do right, not because of what you don't do wrong. You want to talk about what J.K. Rowling does wrong? We can talk all week.

It doesn't matter. Because of what she does right.

But here's another secret. The more things you can learn to do right, the more people will like your work.

I got characters for free. I earned pathos next. Grounding detail. Then I learned how to plot. Theme after that. Then voice. Started selling stories about then. What's that, six?

Worldbuilding... um... still working on that one. Sentences too. Getting better at sentences. Worldbuilding. Heck. This is complicated by the fact that "you can't cut one clean." Like a cobweb, every thread affects the shape of every other thread. Cut one, they all shiver.

Ideally, you do them all well.


Surgeons specialize.

Doesn't mean I can't dream.

Progress notes for 15 August 2005:


New Words: 1,631
Total Words: 38,288 / 44250
Pages: 177

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
44,250 / 110,000
Reason for stopping: end of scene
Mammalian Assistance: Marlowe came and was huggy cat for a bit. I am persona non grata to the dogges because yesterday was toenail day, and I did poorly. Three bleeders. One on the Dane that would not quit. kit_kindred is a hero of the revolution, as he handled most of the deck swabbing.
Stimulants: Seltzer, Rumpleminz
Exercise: none today. Previously, walking and gothercise
Mail: nomail, unless you count a Locus
Today's words Word don't know: entangler, surplusing, Siddhartha, branes, mistressed, consciousnesses, burdenless  
Words I'm surprised Word do know: illation
Tyop du jour: n/a
Darling du jour: If we can't be trained, we can be broken.
Books in progress, but not at all quickly: Richard Overy, Russia's War: A History of the Soviet War Effort, 1941-1945; David Riggs, The World of Christopher Marlowe; David Crystal, Pronouncing Shakespeare; Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Pashazade
Books read: China Mieville, Iron Council; Peter Watts, Blindsight; Jaroslav Pelikan, Whose Bible Is It?; Constance Brown Kuriyama, Christopher Marlowe: A Renaissance Life
Interesting research tidbits of the day: n/a
Mean things: Sneaking up on Vincent figuring out just what Angelo did. Bad Angelo. No biscuit.
Other writing-related work:  I should probably read this slush.


Fear Death By Fanfic. Just gorgeous. via rutemple


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Amen, world and words without end.

(Except where we choose to interpolate explosions and/or conclusions, of course.)

I'm not entirely sure what I got for free. Characters I struggle with. Scenes I struggle with. Hm. I think I'm good at dialogue, and I'm pretty sure I have a good strong grasp of language and how to bend it to my will.

Where did you get that magic button? I want one!
Where did you get that magic button? I want one!

You get it free with fifteen years of practice.
And I suspect if one is going to make it as a writer, one walks in with a free card. One thing you can do coming out of the gate. One aspect of the tremendous interwoven craft of writing that you're naturally good at. It may be worldbuilding or plot or voice or language or structure or theme. Something you do right, from day one.

Uncannily true. Thus far, I've got exactly one thing going for me: I can do inner monologues. Everything else is a painful grind.

I'm adding this entry to my memories for present and future reference. Thank you.
Just. keep. pushing.

Thanks for the kind words about Hammered/Scardown in Your Other Blog, BTW. *g* There's one more set of covers to rip off, I fear....
I like your free card concept. I've been blessed with one or two myself -- description, setting, world-building stuff. Long before I knew a character from a carrot, I could do that stuff. Now if I only understood how to communicate motivation...
Urgh. Exposition. Fuck a duck. How the hell does one exposit properly?

I agree with that assessment of holding the cards for writing.

Like, Diana Wynne Jones probably walked in with the characters card and actually, I think she was lucky and also walked in with the plot card. But she's got them ALL by now.

I walked in with the plot card and maybe half of the world building card, but I HAD NO CHARACTER card. Woe. My journal is named after the first character I wrote who felt alive. I'm still working on it. So occasionally I steal other people's characters and write fanfiction about them to get a feel for what alive characters feel like. Then I put them back and try my own again.
It's so true. I walked in with characters and had to learn everything else.


Mad, I tell you.

You know, you could just change the names. ;-) it's okay to cheat as long as you don't get caught.
I got characters for free. I earned pathos next. Grounding detail. Then I learned how to plot. Theme after that. Then voice.

This is very, very interesting, because I can think about my writer friends and pinpoint a Thing (or two) that each one does naturally. I got plot and characters for free. Grounding detail is coming along nicely, thx to a certain fuzzy bear who took some time a while back to sport me a heads' up.

Still working on the other stuff. *sigh*
*g* Your worlds feel alive. That is in it self very good.
Fear Death By Fanfic.

wasn't that hot?
Talk craft all you want. It's like absynthe to my newbie muse.
collect the set!
Characters are mine, I think. Everything else...not so much.

Hee. I once got a comment in a workshop about how well I did a main female character's youth and immaturity. Thing is, Kalian's only a year or so *younger* than me. I hope that since nobody's mentioned the male characters in their mid-to-late-thirties, that means I got them reasonably right.
*nod*. Also, doing characters that most people fail to do well, well, makes them stand out.

Most people write teenage girls realy badly. *g*
Thank you for this post. I got description and plot. I am still trying to learn POV, voice, and theme.
You're very welcome.
The elusive magic button.

Thanks for the post, that's a lot of how I feel. I'm not sure which card I got when I came in, and I'm not sure which I've collected since then... but hey. I can write lots of words :)

And I liked the bit about Rowling. I get into snits with friends all the time about "blah blah blah famous author X can't write blah blah blah" and I defend that for all they are doing wrong, they have to be doing something right. Something that appeals to the audience, no matter what one's opinion of the audience is.

Me, I just want to do something right that appeals.

Thanks again, this is a topic I've run into so many times. There is no magic button, and what works for one author, is not going to work for all of them.

what works for me may not work for you

Exactly. I think it's a learning style thing, frankly. I know my own learning style. It's try, fail, intellectualize, try again, fail better, internalize the failure, intellectualize some more, try, fail at something else this time.

The bits where my brain is chewing away on stuff are like the moments in a fight where the combatants fall back and stare panting at each other, waiting for the shift that will tell them what to do next.
What a fascinating concept! It's like Pokemon. You need your six beasties before you can challenge the level boss!

Seriously, I like how some of these skills look like they nest or have prerequisites. Sentences is (are) a part of Language. Voice is a part of Language, too, or maybe Sentences contribute to Voice, like, if you have Sentences down cold, you get Voice for half price. Structure helps with Plot, which helps with Theme, which helps Structure. Grounding Detail contributes to Characters.

Described like this, learning writing as a craft is like my experience learning history. Once you've got one element pinned down, like really knowing about the Napoleonic War, or really knowing what women's skirts were shaped like in Europe for the last 400 years, you can pin everything else relative to that. If you walk in with one writing skill solid, it's that much easier to learn the other bits, because you have a stable place to stand. Now all you need is the lever of insanity and the fulcrum of dedication and 99% perspiration.

Sorry for the horrid mix of metaphors. I'm up past my bedtime. Just had to comment.
Yes. You get pieces, and they make part of a bigger whole, and every one informs the next one. It's also like carpentry, where you have all the pieces and the tools and you have to make a house of them, so you need the skills, too--and the blueprint isn't the house, you know?

Or rugmaking, tapestry weaving.... whatever.
Great post. Thank you. I figured out for myself recently the same conclusion you've come to...that all serious writers walk into writing with one or more gift cards, as you put it. And after that we have to work to find the rest, to add to our deck, so that it's stacked in our favour when we most need good fortune.

*nod* Anyway, the books I'm writing now I couldn't have written three years ago. There's a lot of picking up shiny rocks that happens along the way. *g*
I don't see the disconnect between examining craft and process and enjoying the story and the magical process of producing it. For me the examination is entertaining, partly, and I do need to learn more about the stuff I didn't get for free.

If I got anything for free, it was plot. And the basics of grammar and spelling, which I wouldn't count except that after critting so much awful stuff I'm grateful that no matter how bad anything I write is, it's at least not incomprehensible gibberish.
I agree. I don't see a disconnect either.

But everybody's process is different. Specifically, for some people it's *very* black-box. They put stuff in, they get stories out, and what happens in the middle is a bit mysterious.

And dude, what works. You know?
You may have a knack for something particular, but that particular craft needs to be honed and practised, to add expertise to talent.

Yes, yes. Very yes.
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