Writing: What I'm Working On

I thought I'd write about meditation and my mental health today, but it turns out I'm not feeling it. Instead I'd like to write about writing fiction. If I'm using the blog to write about my process, maybe it will encourage me to, you know, have a process. To actually write.

Writing fiction was probably the most important thing that fell away while I attempted to manage people at work. That and my mental health. Maybe they go together, writing and mental health, wherever they go. I could draw more connections there... Suffice to say I'm glad this isn't a blog about management styles.

What if this was the first time in ten years this yellow iris had bloomed? True story!

What if this was the first time in ten years this yellow iris had bloomed? True story!

In the past, I've always been kind of secretive about my writing process. Once I had something written, I shared my drafts, took feedback, and made revisions, but the path that leads to a share-able draft is long. There are so many ways to develop a story. I've tried writing from prompts, writing with a form or length in mind, writing from a character, writing from a "what if?" question, plotting, outlining, etc. But somewhere along the line, I got the idea that those processes should be explored alone, or with a book about writing, but certainly not in public. Also, I thought that ideas for stories should be kept to myself. If I was thinking about writing a prose poem about cats and raccoons, I wouldn't tell anyone, because if I did, I might never write it.

I have no idea where this taboo against talking came from, but I kept my ideas and process to myself. I guess my fear was that if I told the story verbally, I wouldn't feel compelled to write it. I think that warning is probably in a writing book somewhere. 

As it turns out, I can talk about a story all day long and I just get more and more excited about it. Sometimes the idea gets better. And I'm not very good at telling stories out-loud. I leave out important details. I forget what I've said and haven't said, and err on the side of saying less, which tends to leave people confused. Now that I think about it, trying to tell someone about my story ideas probably just reinforces my need to write it, so I can tell it correctly. 

So I've got this idea for a novel. It came from a dream, which is another thing you're not supposed to do, take ideas from your dreams, but I've had some success in the past with that approach. It helps that I like surreal tales, magical realism, fantasy of a sort (Murakami and David Mitchell fantasy, not high fantasy). Dream-like tales. 

This picture could illustrate the story I didn't write about getting drunk on Easter. 

This picture could illustrate the story I didn't write about getting drunk on Easter. 

In his book On Writing, Stephen King comments that he likes hanging out with other writers because they don't ask him where he gets his ideas, because they understand. Ideas come out of nowhere. In the shower, while you're looking for your lost keys, when you're shopping. Some of mine come from dreams. 

When I stopped writing, story ideas continued to come to me for a while, then they stopped. I found them frustrating when I wasn't writing, and the feeling was probably mutual. During this period I wasn't making any special effort to remember my dreams, either. Then last year, I tried to go back to writing morning pages (a journaling practice from Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way), as a way to write something, to clear my mind, whatever. But it wasn't working. I wasn't motivated to write them and I didn't do it. Then my counselor mentioned that she had started keeping a dream journal, and that idea clicked with me. If I remembered my dreams when I woke up, I wrote them down. And once I started writing, it was easier to keep going. 

Dreams are like story ideas in that the more you do with them, the more there seem to be, or at least the more I seem to remember them. So in this current period of dream-remembering, at the very beginning of thinking about writing fiction again, I had a dream that seemed like a potentially interesting story idea. It came with a great main character, a fun setting, and a conflict that I have no trouble imagining as part of a larger plot. 

So far I have a couple pages of notes and ideas, but what I've decided to work on first is the plot. I've written every short story I've ever written without a plot, letting it develop as I went, then revising to make it better, but when I tried that with a novel in the past, it didn't work so well. I know other writers do it, but I felt like the novels I tried to construct that way ended up without a good structure, like I'd hung wallpaper before plastering the walls. 

I'm in the process of rereading all the writing books I have that deal with plot, taking notes, and thinking about how I might apply what I'm reading to the story I want to tell. I hope to end up with a solid plot outline, then I'll flesh out my characters and settings, write a good (hopefully) beginning and go from there. I want to avoid the types of rewrites where I have to go back and change something about a character because it doesn't work with a later plot point. Right now, it seems like a lot of my novel-writing problems in the past have been caused by plot failures. Developing the plot first might help, no? 

That's where I am this week, reading books about writing, thinking about plot, talking a little about my story idea, taking notes and planning. I realize I didn't share my idea in this blog post. I guess I'm not quite there yet. 

The End

PS - While searching for a link to The Artist's Way, which I haven't read since the mid-90's, I realized there's quite a bit more religion, spirituality and capital-U Universe in Julia Cameron's work than I remember. I mention this because I honestly don't remember those parts at all, and this book really does deserve credit for helping me figure out that I wanted to be a writer. I guess I took what I found useful and ignored the rest. I should do more of that.