Daily Writing Practice And Reflections: April 4 2020

I had originally planned to start with a frame and then work forward from it, but I decided that it wasn’t something I was really up to: I wanted to keep the cohesion of form that I had going and not take it away from, and by the time I finished writing the frame that I was going to use it became almost a full story in and of itself (a very short one, about 600 words, but one that nonetheless needs no expansion).

I didn’t really have a plan in mind when I started this, so bear in mind that there’s a little of everything. I did continue the Lao story that I began earlier this week.

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Daily Writing Practice and Reflections: April 3 2020

Tried doing something I don’t usually do today and made all five image-based quick-writes part of the same story. They’re not necessarily sequential in the sense that if I were writing with no time or length limits these might actually be in separate chapters, and there would be some pieces I develop more.

One of the things that doing something like this does is that it really forces you to focus on more distant associations to images. I didn’t have an idea for the concept of this story until about the second paragraph, but even then I didn’t figure out the central conceit of the thing until the third paragraph, basically writing as I went.

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Writing Practice and Reflections, April 2 2020

Another day, another bunch of quick-writes. Standard five by five minute writing sessions, but this time they’re divided into three stories, one stand-alone and two sections of two writes each. The final two quick-writes are extensions, nominally, of the Renee story from some of the previous quick-writes.

Really feeling like this was some good practice, even if the output is a little weird. I’ve been trying to get through Carl Jung’s Liber Novus, even though it’s a tremendously difficult text for me to engage with and try to understand in any meaningful way, and that definitely rubbed off a little on these.

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Writing Practice and Reflections, April 1 2020

Another day, another bit more writing. My raw output was better today, but I’m not necessarily any happier with the results than I usually am. Certainly I think the quality’s a little better than yesterday’s, but I was pretty exhausted by the time I got around to writing so that’s not exactly a giant surprise.

Five parts, per usual, between three pieces. Two are contemporary fic, one is a weird sci-fi piece that I just felt like doing. No connections to previous stories.

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Writing Practice and Reflections, March 31 2020

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I am incredibly tired and I caught myself making several typos and other errors during these pieces. I’m not going to go back and edit since I’m a little past my bed time, so please forgive any errors.

Five prompts, four pieces. One is a continuation of the Renee story from the 29th and 30th, the other three are new.

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Writing Practice and Reflections, March 30 2020

I’ve been doing a thing for a while where I go through and do timed writes to random images from Lorem Picsum, which is a tool intended to provide random placeholder images but which also works decently well for doing just a writing prompt thing.

My method here is to go through five sequences of writing based on different random pictures, taking five minutes for each.

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Writing Practice and Reflections, March 29 2020

I’ve been doing a thing for a while where I go through and do timed writes to random images from Lorem Picsum, which is a tool intended to provide random placeholder images but which also works decently well for doing just a writing prompt thing.

My method here is to go through five sequences of writing based on different random pictures, taking five minutes for each.

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Infinite Inadequacy

One of the things that I was thinking about recently was my motivation for writing.

For a while I’ve been somewhat uncertain about that, not because I didn’t feel driven but because I wasn’t really sure how to communicate it, so I’d often give an answer that wasn’t necessarily untrue, but didn’t encapsulate the whole truth.

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Review of Stephen King’s On Writing

I recently read Stephen King’s On Writing (Amazon affiliate link), which I found to be interesting. I’ve read a few other books on writing recently, so I figured it’d be interesting to compare King to other writers.

In the past I’d heard that King’s book was not really all that great for a writer, so I approached it with a certain amount of skepticism.

I split my reading across four days; the first two days covered roughly a third of the book each, then I split the remaining third up between the rest of the main text and the appendices.

At the end of the first day, I was in agreement with the skeptics. On Writing contains enough autobiographical content to be considered King’s memoir (which, coincidentally, is mentioned right on the cover, so there’s not really a surprise there). If you like King’s writing (I do) it will be a pleasant enough read, but other than seeing some traits and habits you can emulate there’s not a whole lot there in the way of practical advice.

The rest of the book, the remaining days of reading, were much more effective. King launches into a top-to-bottom overview of his writing process, which is quite interesting. Although it generally doesn’t do a whole lot of coaching on some of the elements, it gives a certain amount of insight to each.

And this is really where the recommendation gets tricky.

You see, King doesn’t give a whole lot of details about how you should write. He gives points you’ll need to address if you want to be a good writer, sometimes in a very basic way (e.g. “What is a good starting seed for a story and how can you tell?”) and sometimes being more specific (e.g. “How should you structure paragraphs?”), but he never goes into meticulous detail about anything.

For me, as someone who’s a fairly comfortable writer who wants to open up the world of creative writing, that’s useful. But I taught English, and while I don’t always adhere to best practices (do as I say, not as I do), I am at least familiar with them.

If you’re writing and you worry that the quality isn’t good enough, King doesn’t really have a lot of stuff for you, other than the reminder that he practiced a ton and wrote a lot of subpar stuff before he got good (which is largely communicated in the memoir portion of the book). If you’re putting out work that other people find unintelligible, you’re going to need to learn to fix that elsewhere.

I think this is best illustrated by his example for editing.

Now, this comes from work that was contemporary with On Writing, so it’s after he’s already become an expert writer, but his first drafts look tremendous compared to any first draft I’m currently in the realm of (not that I’m a good benchmark for quality), or any I’ve ever seen outside Stephen King’s (people do not usually rush to present me with first drafts, so again I’m not the best benchmark here).

By the time King’s showing us the process, the manuscript would probably be in a publication-worthy state for a lesser writer.

Now, a lot of that’s because King doesn’t want to waste his reader’s time time; proofreading isn’t the focus, revision is.

But it is an example of how the book generally goes.

As someone who’s been through four books on writing in two (three?) months, I think it’s a great example of a companion to other books. A more advanced, less specific book that leaves more to the individual and treats them like a journeyman or master instead of as an apprentice.

Plus, it’s written by Stephen King. Even if the lessons are occasionally thin, the writing is good enough that I found it a pleasant read; King intersperses humor and examples well enough that you forget you’re reading what could be an incredibly dry book (and I’ve read the dry writing manuals, ones with exercises, for crying out loud!).

The Curse of the Writer

Yesterday I woke from sleep (or, rather, trying to sleep, because the process has always been a drawn-out one for me) twice to work on a story. Both times I was consumed by a fit of energy and a desire to write so fervent that it was just a step below a religious experience.

This energy is brilliant, it flows through me like a river flows when a dam has burst, it fills me with a joy that is difficult to describe because it is something so pure that it lacks words. It is purpose, completion, motivation, drive, flow, unification of the self, inspiration.

I’ve felt it before, but not as strongly, not as vividly. It still echoes and resounds in my soul.

But there are things that threaten to drive it away, and not just sleep deprivation.

Going back and getting a master’s in creative writing was supposed to help me teach, but the mere act of pushing myself into that stream has awakened the writer that has been dormant for some time. But it also opens a door to the unknown.

You see, for all the joy that I’m feeling as I give myself more permission to write and bask in the presence of like-minded individuals, there is a lingering shadow that comes along.

I’m losing the mysticism. Now, that’s not a literal statement. After reading Carl Jung, a part of me will always be drawn to mystery and secrets, a part of me that also knows that they will never be achieved.

But actually opening the door to craft, that’s something that’s scary. You step into a shallow stream, and you can walk across to the other side. You step into a deep river, and you’ll be pulled to the bottom.

I’ve only been a critical reader for a minority of my life, and one who reads for the sake of writing for a short time.

And it makes me nervous to go forward and take that plunge. I’ve been reading King’s On Writing, and one of the things that he talks about regularly is the idea that one grows as a writer by writing and reading.

But I’ve always read as a reader.

My first memories involve books. Most of my second ones too. I stop and read signs. I read all the legalese in contracts and license agreements (well, in contracts at least). I even play games you have to read, for crying out loud.

I’m slightly obsessive, in the sense that if I don’t have something to do I slip into anxiety. Reading is one of those things that can satisfy that, so that I don’t have to run around the room pacing (in multiples of five steps), wash my hands until they bleed, or chatter excitedly to myself. Usually I combine these things, when possible (especially the pacing; I like to get the steps for my fitness tracker and it makes the anxious reptile brain part of me very proud when big numbers show up), but in the case of the last resort reading by itself is enough.

And the curse of the writer is that you cultivate something inside you that reads in a different way than my adolescent reading for pleasure. You read to learn.

But, looking back on it, did I ever read except to learn? Poetry, perhaps, or the master-works of someone like Ishiguro or Dostoevsky (or Tolkien), whose prose can transcend the banality of life.

Isn’t the beauty just a way to teach? Isn’t the consumption of beauty just an attempt to learn?

In the introduction to his book, The Stuff of Fiction, Douglas Bauer writes of reading a story and analyzing it:

After coldly, ruthlessly, dissecting it, all you have to do to bring it back to life is read it again.

Douglas Bauer, The Stuff of Fiction, page 4

The problem is that I’m not sure I believe him.

But this joy of writing is something that could transform me. All change comes with the risk of destruction, but I also suspect that the changes we bring upon ourselves are not really changes, but awakenings.

So I will seek that awakening, risking the writer’s curse.

At the very worst, I’ll be pacing about wringing my hands at the end of it, which is not all that different from how I am now.