Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing.
If I’m honest with myself, this is likely due to a few different factors. The first, and likely the largest, is Mass Effect. Playing in an immersive, creative, fun universe sparks creativity. There are four full-length tie-in novels, an entire comic book series, and oodles of fanfic around this game. (That pales in comparison to some game franchises, like the Halo franchise, for instance.)
So, there’s no shortage of inspiration from a creative team of people and their product.
Whether I’ll take to writing science fiction or not is debatable – I’m not cut from that leather, I don’t think – but seeing a good story told in a fun (and interactive) way sure helps get the creative juices flowing.
The second factor is realizing why I’ve been so dry for so long.
See, I’ve been reading a really interesting blog series called “Writing Into the Dark.” By Dean Wesley Smith, if you’re curious.
With the help of my beautiful and amazingly insightful wife, I’ve discovered part of the problem has been the incredible amount of planning and plotting I’ve done for each and every novel I’ve outlined. She kept grinning at me when I finished the outlines, and said, “Now you’ll never write it.”
I got pissy about it with her, naturally, only to realize later she was right. Know how many of those outlined novels I’ve written? That’s right! None!
The reason is simple: I’ve already written them.
See, writers have two sides: the creative side, which loves to do the storytelling and just flow with the words, and the critical side, which is there in every human being to prevent you from doing things which could cause you harm. Some writers have overcome their critical voice and learned to live in the headspace of their characters. Other writers do a little of both, thinking and dreaming and creating while they plot and plan their novels.
But I – and this came quite painfully to me – am not that second person.
My wife had the most apt description of why I stall and never follow through when I plot and plan my novels and create a fairly detailed outline. She, through that knowing grin, says, “You’ve already written it in your head. Writing it again is redundant and stupid, a waste of time.”
She’s right, dead on. What’s happening, I believe, is the critical voice forces me to get the nuances of the plot right. No holes if I can find them. Weak events? Strengthen them. Move to the next piece. Try to get down to scenes, and then outline those scenes too. Before long I have an outline which can climb into thousands of words, be extremely detailed, and only leaves out dialog and setting.
So my critical side says, “Job well done!” and stops writing. My creative side, which slept through most of that, looks up, sees all that effort into a story, and decides to move on.
Lather, rinse, repeat. New idea, same process, same result: no novel.
Last night I discussed this with my loving spouse and beloved first reader, and she indicated she’s advocated for a long time I stop beating the kinks out of every story, stop getting caught up in minutiae, and let the creative voice speak for a while.
It takes a lot for someone with so strong and dominant a critical voice to trust the creative voice again, but what I’ve done over the last several years is allow the critical voice to overpower the creative one. The creative side has hence gone quiet. Writing isn’t much fun anymore. Why bother?
Well, maybe it’s time to do some pants-seat writing. There are, believe it or not, techniques for writing good stories without using an outline. Well-meaning people have taught us to outline our stories to death, but odds are, none of those people were published authors. And there are plenty of reasons to do a little of both, to help the creative side, instead of choking it.
I’ve learned some processes which can help; there are things to keep in mind when doing this writing without a net. “Rewriting” per se isn’t allowed – just because you’re writing off the cuff doesn’t mean it’s okay to be sloppy with prose. And it MUST be okay to write extra words, to explore what end up being dead end story paths and alleyways. The process must be like spelunking with a dim light. You can’t always see far enough ahead to know you’re in a dead end until you’re in it.
But the fix is simply to remove the extra, or perhaps back up to the split and choose another route if you’re in a dead end, or see whether you’ve actually gone past stopping point, if bogging. Lots of things I just…wouldn’t consider before.
In truth, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this. I don’t like driving without a map, or at least some directions, because I don’t like the idea of being lost. I certainly don’t like the idea of wasted words on a page. But I have to embrace and expect uncertainty. It’s part of this different process. Getting bogged down is part of it, too – it might be your creative voice saying you went too far in one direction or another, or took a path you shouldn’t have.
But more than any of that, the process fully depends upon embracing my creative brain, and trusting it to know what it’s doing.
In the end, this is the advice I’ve gleaned from one really great storyteller, and one really brilliant story analyst. And with just a bit more information in hand, I’ll be ready to try it. The hardest part, of course, will be learning to listen to the creative side, while learning to ignore the critical side.
Any writers out there who write without a map have any pointers for me? Consider me a newbie, I guess.