Sunday, March 07, 2010

What Am I DOING?

Let’s face it. Some questions, you never stop asking. And some you should never stop asking. How am I with God? is one of those questions.

But another one of those questions is also the title of this post. It’s something I think we, as writers, especially need to ask ourselves. And sometimes ask, and ask, and ask again.

Because if we stop asking it, we can get way off track.

Case in point: my recent posts about being sidetracked into writing things that I didn’t necessarily start out to write, didn’t necessarily believe in, and didn’t find I could carry off for any sustained amount of time. The “inspiration” for such projects tends to flare, get fed by others’ enthusiasm, and then fade when one is by oneself with one’s Muse wondering How I Got Into This Predicament, Anyway.

And today, I caught myself on the edge of doing it again. But I think I’ve pulled myself back in time. :-)

I have a story I’ve just begun. I have 15 pages or so, not counting a couple of pages of scrap and/or material that may go in another spot. (When I write, I always, always, always have a “scrap” folder. ‘nuff said.) These 15 pages started out very businesslike. Very clear. Very cogent. Very competently written.

But they weren’t “story.” At least not of the kind I was trying to tell.

My crit partner got a hold of them, suggested things to make them muchmuch better. After I stopped banging my head on the desk, I rewrote them muchmuch better as a result.

But this story’s still a baby story. I don’t know all of it yet. I do have a “climax” scene in mind for it, what the whole thing’s going to “point” to. But what I don’t have…yet…is a middle. Or a firm idea of word length. Or even, heaven help me, any kind of idea how to “categorize” it.

And that’s what almost got me into big, Muse-bruising trouble.

Because, you see, there’s this wonderful contest I was thinking of entering with this story. I could do it, if I wanted to. I’ve got the contest-length entry of 15 pages, and given a few more hours of work, I could come up with the optional one-page synop that an entrant can include to give the judges a little idea of where the story goes.

The only problem is, this idea originally came to me as a short story. This may be God’s way of keeping me creative on the smaller bursts of energy I have of late; the jury’s still out on that matter. But that aside, this particular story, as I know it right now, isn’t broad enough in scope or complexity to be the basis for a long book. Maybe it’s a novella. That’s certainly possible.

Only this contest I was thinking about doesn’t have a novella category. It’s longer books, or it’s nothin’.

So what did the Wise Catholic Writer Chick do when she realized that dilemma?
Did she smile, shrug, and tell herself that when the time was right, she’d look for a short story contest or a novella contest at which to aim this work eventually?
Uhhh...not exactly.

What I did—which I still don’t understand!—was start thinking of ways I could “expand the word length.” And find a category for it. And find the best judging team for it. And...

I started thinking of deeper places the story could go, places that were deeper than anything I’d ever had in mind for it in the first place.

Not more emotional, mind you—the story as I’ve conceptualized it so far is gonna have plenty of emo for the taking. But just places that were more complicated. More detailed.

I started thinking in terms of adding characters, putting in a “way the story can come full circle.” A way extra people could get involved way beyond the scope of what I originally dreamed the story could be. (I literally did get the concept of this story from a dream…just so we’re clear.) Before long, I was mulling over a connection from the heroine’s past, and then a hunky guy who could challenge her...

...and my little short story started turning into a romance novel.
And I started thinking in terms of “how many plot elements” I’d need to make it 50K words.

Then, suddenly, I hit a wall.
Because in my heart of hearts, I realized...
I’m not writing a 50K word romance novel.”

Or, as my crit partner’s fond of saying, “That’s not what happened!"

I realized this sometime this afternoon. When I was in the 3-p.m. doldrums of a Sunday on which I felt tired and not at all willing to sit down and “try to come up with more” for this story, to “try to polish” an entry for the end of March, to “try to figure out how to make this” into...whatever kind of box I thought it might be fun to fit into.

Something in me finally rebelled, and said no.
And I heard a little voice whisper, Writing isn’t supposed to be “trying to come up with more.”
Writing’s supposed to be...creating. It’s supposed to be...telling what’s written on one’s heart.

And I very nearly lost sight of that again for the sake of a blasted contest.

If I hadn’t been suffering from fatigue...I would have surrendered yet another story idea to a grinder from which it might never have recovered.

I would have sat down and “tried to make” this story something that it might not be, instead of just writing from the crazy, wonderful warm feeling I took away from the dream and wanted to put down in words.

That, ladies and gentlemen, would have been wrong.
And it would have broken my spirit and my heart…yet again.
And I would have wondered why I couldn’t bring myself to finish yet another story.
And I would have doubted my ability...yet again...when ability isn’t the issue at all.

But thank heaven, I was tired enough, over-“thought" enough, and daunted enough by the prospect of trying to do all those “usual things” that, instead of sucking it up and being a good solider, I just looked in the mirror and said, “You idiot. What are you doing? Why pressure yourself to do something like this for a deadline again, something that’s not even what you started out to do in the first place? Why don’t you just write what you want to write…and then see what happens?”
There are times it’s good to be an idiot...if you catch yourself before you go too far with the idiocy in question. This is one of those times.

So I ain’t gonna stop asking that question—every time I catch myself stepping onto the idiot course—until the answer makes me smile again.
And I’m gonna let the enchantment come first...before I polish it, box it up, and get it ready to be shown off.
It has to come in that order, or it ain’t gonna work for me.

And in the long run, that’s how it’s supposed to be, anyway.


1 comment:

Deb said...

I'm glad you hit that "to thine own self be true" moment. Without blasts of insight like this, where's integrity in writing?

Don't sweat this year's contest. There will be others. You will be ready.