Reading, Read, Writing (or not writing, as the case may be)

I am at one of those weird places where I am simultaneously reading 3 books, and don’t know what I want to read. I am also feeling unsure about my writing.

About the books I am reading:

  • The Name Of The Wind  by Patrick Rothfuss- audiobook. I started this one on my drive up to Chattanooga for the Writing the Other retreat and workshop. Interested in finishing it, but got some books from the library I needed to get through first.
  • Partials by Dan Wells- a reread of this books so I have the background to read the second book in the series, Fragments. is my nightstand book
  • The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker – audiobook – checked out from library, based on in-podcast recommendation from Howard Taylor of Writing Excuses

Books I just finished:

  • Shaman Rising –C.E. Murphy – last in the series of The Walker Papers – author did a great job wrapping up the story, and bringing characters back from earlier books to get resolution
  • The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennett– by Bernie Su and, Kate Rorick – See my blog post

Seeking Book to Read

bookshelf-closetAudiobooks have their place – car rides and housecleaning. My nightstand book is a book I leave to read before bed. I usually also carry around a book in my backpack /purse / grubby-little-hands to read when opportunity arises. Having finished Shaman Rising and the Lizzie Bennet book, I stopped by my bookcase this morning to try to pick my next read. (Yes, with the exception of top shelf, they are all two deep. And yes, that used to be a closet – my husband is quite handy 🙂 )

I skimmed the shelves of books I’ve read and books I’ve not yet read, and I nothing struck my fancy. I know myself well enough that if something doesn’t jump out at me as “ooh, I want to read that,” and instead I go with “I guess I could read this”, I either read the first 3 pages and put the book down, or carry it around for several days without cracking the spine (so to speak), or reading a word.

And this morning I began to wonder if my feeling antsy and uncertain about what I want to read is in any way tied in to how I am feeling antsy and uncertain about my writing.

What I am Writing, or What I am Creatively Procrastinating from Writing

My current work in progress is a retelling of a fairy tale in a modern setting.. I had a very specific end goal, and I had trouble starting the story. I gave myself permission to start the draft with “Once Upon a Time”, and was able to go from there. And get stuck again. And again. I finally got a 7 point plot outline I mentioned, and thought I was good to go.

Nope. While I had identified main plot points, I still wasn’t making time to write my story. I took two very productive walks while visiting my in-laws this weekend that let me think through some of the issues, and resolve some character stuff.  I emailed a reference librarian with questions about how local governments worked.Yesterday, I sat down with the 7 point outline, and made a new outline of all the events that need to happen to get from the beginning of the story to the end. I ended up calling my sister part of the way through the 30 minutes I set for myself to write (the minimum “butt-in-chair” time I was aiming for), and in a 10 minute conversation worked through the antagonist actions that my protagonist is actually having to fight against (I knew *why* the villain was working against her, I just didn’t know *how*).

And will all those things done, and my shiny new outline, I called it a night. And wondered what to read.

And today I wonder if my being unable to find something to read is the subconscious part of my brain not wanting to take in more, because doing so will somehow spoil the work I’ve been doing on my own story. I wonder if my mind is percolating on all the elements, and tonight when I down for my writing date with fellow writer at the library, I should expect brilliance.

And I know that is not fair to myself. I should never expect brilliance, because getting the words down on the page is enough – I can clean them up later. And I wonder if that is what is holding me back. That I’ve been expecting brilliance from myself, comparing myself somehow to the books I’ve been reading – you know, the ones authors have spend time writing, re-writing, editing and agonizing over. And I am somehow expecting myself to create something I feel is on par with that – in a first draft.

So even if it is not my subconscious trying to tell me anything, my sitting down to analyze this had taught me something – well reminded me. Tonight, when I sit down to write, the only thing I need to expect of myself is that I will write. The brilliance can be worked in later.

Writing with 7 point story structure

I am currently working on a short story. I started it at the beginning of June, and have been working on it off and on since then. There were some days that I had what felt like productive writing sessions, even if I did have to literally start with “once upon a time” in order to trick myself into starting on the concept I’d had in my head for weeks.

I say “off and on”, though that mostly means “off”. Granted, I did take some time in there to work at a writing retreat (more on that later), and to edit and polish a separate short story for submission (ditto), but some days when I sat to write on the current fairy-tale based WIP, I only got about 50 words before getting stuck again.

Fortunately, in my life, I have had the opportunity to surround myself with like-minded people, and over a series of conversations with other writers, I identified several problems with my story.

  • the beginning I wrote didn’t match the ending I had envisioned
  • I was hesitant to bring back the narrative POV after diving into a closer 3rd person POV, even though the story called for it
  • I had the power balance between the protagonist and the villain wrong
  • The villain didn’t have motivation beyond “working against the protagonist”

Once the problem areas were identified, I realized I’m going to have to start over. I will probably be able to use some of what I’ve written (about 2000 words on paper so far), but will have to change it to accommodate new idea.

Time is running out if I want to submit this story to the anthology I had my eye on, especially since I want to run it by a critique group first. So I decided to pull out one of the new tools from my writing toolbox, and see if I could figure out how it worked.

The tool is the 7 Point Story Structure, as presented by Dan Wells. (I have added my notes and a link to the video series on my Writing Resources Page.)

I’ve had intense discussions with my critique group around this tool – using it to flesh out the various threads for novels – but I had never tried to apply it to an uncompleted work. Honestly, it took me a bit of time, and I’m not sure what I came up with is perfect, but I can say that by following the steps, I got ideas. I knew the ending, and by looking at the beginning next, I realized that some of the new elements I’d discussed with my writer friends needed to be applied in the very first scene.

I had the most trouble with the pinch points, but in looking at them, I realized that I could call back a character from the first draft, and use this person not only as an aid in the pinch point, but also to make the relationship between the protagonist and the villain more dynamic.

Overall, I am pleased with the results, even if what I came up with doesn’t exactly match the 7 point story structure as it was taught (I think I’ve got one or two subthreads, that maybe deserve their own 7 points, mixed in), it helped me to come up with an outline for a story that has been broken for several weeks. The 7 point structure is providing support for the story I wanted to tell, making it whole. And even if the results from the exercise aren’t what I expected/ hoped – I have a story I can move ahead with, and that’s what really matters.