Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Different Stages, Different Questions

It’s funny how the questions you face as a writer shift and change at different stages.


Just starting out, I was preoccupied with things like:

How do I find story ideas?
How will I make time to write?
What even constitutes a story?

These are issues dealing with PROCESS – where I was still trying to figure out what to do. I’m to the point now where I’ve created a life around my writing (and I know how lucky I am to have the ability to do this). By making writing a priority, by owning it, these types of process questions have started to fade. Ideas come because I’m writing.

Then, for a very long time, different kinds of questions took over. Things like:

How do I show, not tell?
How do I layer description into story action?
How do I manage pacing?

And so on. These are questions of TECHNIQUE, as I’ve learned my craft in fits and starts. I’ve encountered different aspects of craft in each writing project I’ve attempted. Not every project will encompass every skill or technique we need to have in our bag of tricks. That’s why we’re told to write a little bit of everything—not only to see what we like, but also to expose ourselves to different aspects of craft and learn by doing.

Personally, I’ve found the gap narrowing between what I do and don’t know technique-wise. Doesn’t mean I’m awesome. But I’ve tried enough different kinds of writing that I’m much more comfortable when a trusted reader points something out that isn’t working than I was when I first started out. Because now I know things to try to fix it, where before it was more often than not a stab in the dark.

Doesn’t mean I’m right every time, but I have enough skills in my arsenal to get the job done. Eventually. I think ;)

But this iterative process can take a long time. At some point you start wondering why you didn’t come up with a sound story idea to being with, instead of one that needs so much fixing to get right. A different set of questions then:

What makes a compelling character?
What makes an exciting plot?
What makes a good story?

These questions about STORY are deceptively simplistic. After all, I’ve been writing a long time (it seems) and one of the questions I started out with is: “What constitutes a story?” In some ways that was the wrong question to ask. I eventually learned to write a story, but that didn’t automatically make it good. But until I got to where I am now, I didn’t realize how big a deal that was.

The difference between a story and a good story is the difference between unpublished and published, between newbie and pro. And that’s a huge difference.

And I’m still figuring that part out.

Have you found a similar pattern in how you approach your writing?

5 comments:

Laura Lee Nutt said...

I hadn't consciously thought of it that way, but yes, my questions have changed with experience. My approach has also changed. Instead of looking at the blank screen thinking, "How on earth do I begin?" or careening through scenes I hope eventually turn into a good story, there's a lot more control and strategy when I write now.

Good insights. Thanks for sharing.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Yes, my questions and concerns have changed over time.

Now I'm worrying about synopsis's and query letters.

Sheila Good said...

This post was great. It also applies if you belong to a writer's group and all the members are at different levels of expertise. I am currently working on a template checklist of sorts to help bring consistency to our group so that everyone feels as if they understand the critiques and get the help they need as the progress.

Great post.

Marian L said...

Great blog

Donna L Martin said...

Greetings!

I'm hopping over from GUTGAA and thought I would start visiting some blogs early. Nice to meet you...lovely blog!

Donna L Martin
www.donnalmartin.com
www.donasdays.blogspot.com

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