Yesterday, we discussed 10 Career-Killing Doubts and How To Squash Them. And I promised you a full post today on doubt # 3.
There’s something wrong, and I don’t know what to do.
Remember how I said you’re probably too creative for your own good?
I started my novels at age 19. After pounding out about two or so chapters, I hit a wall of writer’s block. Hard. That’s a lie. Writer’s block is a lie. And yet, after reading my draft, a well-meaning friend (and English major) told me I didn’t need to go to college for writing. I had the gift. The creative touch with words!
Can anyone spell ego trip, even with my low self-esteem?
Unfortunately, this friend never mentioned the caveat to that.
The truth is, I had no clue what I was doing.
A novel is not a 10 page paper, and I had to learn my craft.
You see, all the talent in the world won’t get you a dime if not paired with a stiff dose of practice and a stiffer dose of Irish whiskey… Okay, skip the whiskey. Sober is best when creating. Or in general, really. 😀
Drinking jokes aside, I had no clue I still needed to read about the craft, consume everything I could, and learn the art and form of storytelling. I thought I could just let my characters tell their stories, and I’d have a great novel. Which ended up looking like this.
Two and a half confusing chapters, four point of view characters, no discernible main character, and no discernible story.
I wrote those chapters roughly ten years ago.
In November of 2015, I wrote another 45,000+ words in eight days. (Side note: Never do that untrained. It’s bad for your sanity.) The only problem was they didn’t mesh with the first few thousand words I had.
Character-driven and character-written are not the same. How delightfully naive…
I had a problem, and I didn’t know what to do.
Now I needed to fix it. But how?
Read A Craft Book
No, really. Go to your local library or bookstore and get a book about structure. Read a blog about story structure or scene structure. I’m not talking some feel-good, spiritual path-finding through your creative art mumbo jumbo. I’m talking books on heroic structure, Hollywood structure, archetypes, mythic structure. Drop $99 and go take one of Kristen Lamb’s classes (or Joel Eisenberg’s). Kristen’s also got great blog posts on story and structure.
Because nine times out of ten, it’s not the creative content of your story that has a problem, it’s the structure. And yes, if you’re anything like 20-year-old me, you don’t want to hear that.
You don’t want to be weighed down by structure and rules. You want to be a maverick. Tell a story no one else has ever told, in a way no one else has ever told it!
Fine, but there are some things that MUST remain. For example:
Soiuej wmty zoyuw vnwy qoy ww tooyt.
I have just created a sentence no one else has ever created. And it made NO SENSE AT ALL. To quote Stephen L. Gillett from World-Building, “Sure, lots of letter combinations are prohibited by the rules of English, but no one seriously considers that a drain on creativity.”
Granted he was talking about using real science in world creation, but the point remains the same nonetheless. Utilizing the rules of sound storytelling gives you a framework and the added value of craftsmanship. And this is why the SECOND sentence came up.
Swallow Your Pride
I’ve mentioned 19-year-old me a few times. Well, that person was an arrogant sod who thought they knew everything there is to know about writing, story-telling, and the world. After all, you just let the characters tell you the story, and you’re good.
How wrong I was.
In the last three days, I’ve completely rearranged the beginning third of my first novel, changed the gender of a key character, and removed another character entirely. I’ve learned the value of letting little darlings die.
I didn’t always know that value, though. There was a time when I would’ve clung to the pink-haired psycho because she seemed to give the real villain some redeemable quality. Well, that does nothing for the story. Goodbye, pink-haired psycho. Especially since you’re like a bad anime villain, poorly written by a high-schooler. And that high-schooler was me.
The real trick about pride though, and I’m talking the pride that halts your progress as an author, is it gets tricky to recognize. Sometimes, it takes the form of false humility. Statements like:
- Oh, it’s only a hobby for now. Someday, I hope to make it a career.
- Yes, I’m a writer, but I’m struggling with writer’s block right now.
- Well, I’ll finish it someday, when conditions are right.
Yes, I still consider these marks of pride, the kind born of fear. The kind that says, I can’t do it because I must be perfect first. And so you must confront it. The best way I know to do that is step one. Find that book that’ll challenge you to get better, and read it.
LISTEN TO THE BOOK
Really. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t. All the craft books in the world don’t do a bit of good lying on a shelf collecting dust while you scroll your feed. In fact, if you have one you’ve been meaning to read, step away from this blog and go spend a half-hour on it right now.
Well, not quite right now. First, tell me which step you’re having the most trouble with. What do you hate most about reading craft books? What’s the most difficult part about implementing their ideas? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll respond when I’m online!