I kinda sorta attended an online Catholic writer’s conference a couple weeks back. Kinda sorta because it began at 5:30 in the morning my local time on a Friday, when I needed to eventually go into work, and ran all day Saturday, during which I had a number of other obligations. So I did spend a good number of hours at it, but sporadically.
Anyway, what most impressed me was the relentless organization of the people who were successful. Everything about the process was ritualized, from finding writing time on down to handling rejection letters (and sending stuff out again). The pros move through the steps like a farmer plowing, planting and harvesting: you do what you need to do in the order in which it needs doing. Keep it up, and eventually there’s a harvest. Stories and books get done and get sold.
Funny how that works. Who would have ever thought?
Front and center in the general right between the eyes hit my slothful, chaotic self took was one little point I really, really needed to hear: you don’t have a story until you have a plot.
Again, what a surprising thing! Not like I haven’t heard this before a dozen times, nor that I didn’t know that’s what I needed – it’s just I’d never specifically done it, it being sit down and write out where the story starts, where it’s going and how it gets there. Some people, I suppose, do this in their heads without any problem. Of course, they might
think to themselves if they gave it any thought, plotting out the story is exactly what I’m *doing* when I’m writing. Maybe, I wouldn’t know.
Me, I have a million ideas running off leash at any given moment, and those cats need some serious herding if I’m not to end up as the writerly version of a cat lady. Whatever that means.
So, starting today, in my copious free time, I’ve begun writing out the plots to a couple of the never-ending (and hardly beginning) stories, specifically identifying what I’m doing at each point according to the standard (Aristotelian-based) story arc. A couple pages describing the setting, the characters, the problem faced, how it escalates, how it gets resolved. High-school-level stuff.
You’ll be shocked, shocked, I tell you, to hear that this process throws the holes and problems into bright and merciless light, and shows exactly what elements I need to leave out and what elements the story hangs on. IT’S ALMOST LIKE MAGIC! (*bangs head on the desk*). Suddenly, the dead ends and flabby meanderings become obvious. The source of all that frustration over the mountain of half-finished crap I’ve got cluttering up hard disk space becomes clear.
None of this means I can actually write, but at least if I can’t, I’ll be failing at writing an actual story, rather than creating a rabbit warren of words, paths and tunnels going nowhere in particular. And that whole discipline thing is still there – sloth may be my favorite deadly sin, edging out lust and gluttony, even. Nor does it mean the stories are any good even if I can write them out. I’d like to think so, but it remains to be seen.
But for now, I’m jazzed. Let’s see if I can’t finally knock a couple of these things out in the next week or two. Wouldn’t that be cool? Then I’m going to need some readers…