Digging Weeds from the Story Garden

Window in wall

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where my story is?

There I was, skipping merrily down the path, sun shining, the birds maniacally tweeting, and my brand new sneakers soft and bouncy. The path ended abruptly. I smacked face first into a brick wall, bending my nose 20 degrees out of joint. Where did this brick wall come from, you ask? Why, I put it there myself. 2/3rds of the way through the Newest Fantasy Novel, my little happy boat ‘o progress sank like a concrete mafia block with my characters tied to the sides.

I was stuck.

And not even at a hard part. I was stuck on something that I had written in the rough draft that sounded fine at the time, but now needed tweaking. My tweaker wasn’t working. I made four attempts at cleaning/scrubbing/spackling over the problem area. Nothing took. Me being me, I went back to the beginning of the novel and read it all again, 35 chapters. Along the way I went Oh. Hmm. I didn’t realize I did that. Wow, so that’s where that section derails.

I found my lost thread hidden several chapters back from the problem. I gave it a yank and it flopped out of the novel to hit me in the face like a wet fish. Here, dummy, this is where you need to be to get unstuck up the creek. I had been trying to write past the end point of the issue. Right there, in my problem paragraph, was the end of the chapter. I was just too caught up in making it conflict-y, lean and spare that I failed to take the idea to its logical conclusion. So I went back to the inciting thread, expanded that part a bit more, so that what comes later makes more sense. I expanded problem paragraph past its anorexic roots, and it worked. The paragraph was happy, I was happy. All is right in my imaginary world. Onward!

Moral of my story, it works for novels, and for poems. Lately I’ve been editing my poems with a chainsaw, when maybe some pruning shears would have been better. Seed, water, let it grow, then prune. Or if necessary, add fertilizer and let it expand. Within reason, because man, if you add too much, or the wrong kind, that stuff can stink. Don’t let your writing stink. Be a good gardener. Oh, and planting a flower or two along the way for later enjoyment never hurts.

How is YOUR spring writing going?

And I Quote—

Quotes to feed your writer’s brain

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will. George Bernard Shaw

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Seneca

Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you. There was a reviewer a while back who wrote that my pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was. Jackson Pollock

Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open halfway through. Wislawa Szymborska

Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae. Kurt Vonnegut

Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger. Franklin P Jones

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. Anais Nin

Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed. Michael Pritchard

People ask for criticism, but they only want praise. W Somerset Maugham

One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.   A. A. Milne

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is a part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us. Herman Hesse

The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. Marcel Proust

Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me. Sigmund Freud

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited. Plutarch

A writer writes not because he is educated but because he is driven by the need to

communicate. Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to

share is the need to be understood. The writer wants to be understood much more than he

wants to be respected or praised or even loved. And that perhaps, is what makes him different

from others. Leo Rosten

You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving

of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found

anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection. Buddha

Hell, there are no rules here—we’re trying to accomplish something. Thomas A. Edison

The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. G.K. Chesterton

If you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work. Kahlil Gibran

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. Douglas Adams

Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing. Robert Benchley

Why do writers write? Because it isn’t there. Thomas Berger

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. Albert Camus

A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled. Sir Barnett Cocks

In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it’s the exact opposite. Paul Dirac

The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. Terry Pratchett

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Maya Angelou

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Stephen King

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. Toni Morrison

I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged. Erica Jong

On Berating My Obstinacy and Resolving to Try Something Different


I reread my last blog post and thought, man, what mule-headed stubbornness. Is that really me? Turns out it is. So my goal the past few weeks was to do some research into what I disdain in writing advice, and find a way to give it a try. I researched some authors I like, that offer classes and books on the very things I don’t like to do. I read through every page of their website, read their philosophies, and picked one I thought I would be able to work with.

Cautiously optimistic, I bought a writing e-book by the author and dug in. Right in the first chapter I ran up against my prejudice. It had exercises. Exercises that were intended to make me do things. I think exercises are useless, I should be using my limited writing time to work on my novel. Write, write, write, right?

Turns out there is a reason for these exercises. To make my pea brain stretch, and think beyond my novel to the future. Where I want to be instead of where I am, and drill down to what my novel is about. When did I get so prejudiced against homework? I was a book and art nerd in high school, doing my homework and even extras for the sheer joy of learning. When did I lose that?

Turns out it wasn’t lost, just buried deep beneath a layer of inexperience and attitude. In trying so hard to convince myself I could do this, I convinced myself I knew HOW to do this. One of these things is not like the other.

So I cautiously printed out the exercise pages from the pdf, and began to read the damn directions. I did the exercises. In order. (A first.) I actually got excited to write a scene to the specified criteria. (Of course I had to stop in the middle to research exactly what shade of brown I needed to describe. For the record, it was Raw Umber.) I was pretty happy with the scene I wrote. So happy I’m thinking it needs to go in the novel and I know just where to put it.

You’ll be pleased to know, I’m 2/3 less stubborn about writing advice than when I started. There’s some things I still have a difficult time believing is going to help. But I won’t discard the advice, until I give it a try or two. What works might not be readily apparent at first impatient glance. If it still doesn’t work for me, why then I’ll fold the exercise into an origami mule, and place it by my computer as a reminder.

Sometimes you just have to slap your own hand, loosen the reins, and gallop wildly forward, careening over half-baked, rainbow hued obstacles until you crash through the brick wall.

Or is that just me?

Ignoring Writing Advice


Ignoring Writing Advice

I’ve never been much for following the rules. Which may or may not be why it takes me a year or more to write a novel. There is so much advice out there on how to get started, how to write, how to edit, etc. that is sometimes contradictory. I’ve sifted through the Internet, bought books, and quizzed author friends. Worksheets abound on outlining, beats, plotting, character development, character motivation, scenes, POV, world building, query, synopsis and more story ideas than you can shake a computer mouse at.


I’m a pantser. I tried being a plotter, I really did. It didn’t work for me. I went back to pantsing, and I’m much happier. I prefer to do all my organizing afterwards. Which may not be the best way, but it’s the way I like, and it may take longer. It works for me. It may drive me crazy at times, because conventional advice insists you do certain things at certain times in the noveling process. Good luck with that.

I jump right in, feet first, without looking to see if there are rocks below. I have an idea, it’s usually is in my head a year or two before I start writing. I ponder the characters, run scenarios through my mind, over and over. I play the ‘What If’ game. I love the What If game. I love circling around and around ideas until the story firms in my mind. Or turns to Jello.

Then I write.

I sit down and write frantically, from beginning to end, seeing where the story takes me. Then I rewrite. Then I do a third draft, fine tuning. I’ve been informed this is not the way to do it. That I waste a lot of time with the rewrites. I probably do. For me, it’s like building a sculpture. I smooth layers of clay over the foundation, and little by little the form emerges. Sometimes things jump out at me like a boogeyman from the closet. Other times it’s the drip-drip of a leaky faucet.

In my current novel, the first draft was in first person. Reading it through, I realized the story wasn’t solely about her, and another character needed his time on stage. Demanded it. Since I hate multiple first person POV novels, I changed it to third person, and immediately felt more comfortable. My other novels are in third person, that’s my happy place. I always wanted to try first person, and now I feel I can do it. When the right character comes along and is greedy enough not to share stage space.

So, rules. Like making up a character sheet for each character—I don’t do them. I carry the characters in my head, (it gets crowded in there). The problem with character sheets, is, they’re not made for fantasy characters. I suppose you could twist them to fit, but the character’s magic ability, and what effect it has on them and the world needs to be addressed. So I made up my own character sheet of sorts for fantasy folks. And quit using it as soon as I figure out the elements that fit the story. Yes, they are useful for things like height-weight, eye color, hair color and the like. But I’ve never ‘interviewed’ my characters, or built a character arc step by step according to formula. After a year of thinking, I know what they want, where they start, and where they should end up. Figure out what works, and go from there. Doesn’t work? Toss it in the cut file. For me, it’s all about the journey.

What am I trying to say? To quote Fleetwood Mac, “Go your own way”. It could be messy, it could explode in your face. It could take time. It could be a hell of a lot of fun. That’s why I’m in it, for the fun of creating my own world, and populating it with characters I like. Or hate. And guess what? Most of my characters don’t follow the rules, either.

Imagine that.

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