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Thinky thinky thinky.

First of all, for starglyph, princessofg, redbyrd_sgcfic, and zats_clear: as the fic currently NOT in your inbox will attest to, I will apparently be belaying that call for hand-holding, as upon review I have discovered that I am still at the 'aiiiiiiiieeee, this story is the devil!' stage. I will check back in with you guys when I upgrade to 'I do not currently want to kill this story and everyone in it' status and see if you are still available/willing, if that's okay? Which leads me to...

I have been having, thoughts, people. Thoughts! Vaguely internal-metaish thoughts, in fact, which is somewhat rare for me, as my thought process usually involves trying to decide how best to insert myself into the entertainment industry for the express purposes of getting someone to write me a Die Hard-esque action movie to blow stuff up in, or contemplating whether or not my favorite Sim family should get a puppy. (One of those things is 100% true and the other, about half. I withhold comment on which is which.) Lately, though... contemplative. Mostly about writing.

There's a level on which I think I wasn't able to finish this apocafic story last time for a reason (or several, one being that I'm not really sure I want to end the world, actually. I like the world! But then, I'm also the girl who wrote a whole story about everybody dying just so I could go butwaitnotreaaaaally! at the end, so clearly I have commitment issues when it comes to ending anything). But I also have been thinking, lately, about my writing process. Or, uh, lack of, which I think is a big part of the problem.

I write, but I don't know how to write, if that makes any sense whatsoever. Or, I often feel that I have very little agency in the mater. I'm always fascinated by writing meta posts, when people post them, or general musing on the writing process, but often I find myself reading people writing about their choices in a story or how they structured things or tried to hint at this or that, and I get it, but... I don't know how to do that kind of self-awareness while writing, really. If I write something, it's generally because it's already more or less formed in my head, and I'm just typing it. And when it's not in my head, it's just not, and it's totally beyond me how to put something on the page. On those days, which are significantly more frequent, I will maybe write... oh, a sentence, if anything at all. On a day where I have something, though, I will sometimes write a complete story in a sitting - 'A million years...', for instance, went from start to pre-beta finish in about 24 hours. I still have no idea to switch back and forth between the two, or even find some kind of middle ground, which is frustrating. And it's frustrating to feel like I don't really know what I'm doing as I'm doing it, and only go back to find themes or ideas that are trying to come across on later read-throughs.

All that considered, I've made it my goal to try and take little more ownership of my own writing process. It's not really something I'm entirely sure how to go about, though, which makes it an... interesting exercise. But as I've clearly learned with this ficathon debacle, sitting around and waiting for a story to form itself will not always do it. So I've been kind of experimenting. I've started playing around with writing some director's commentaries on a couple stories just to see for myself what I would say - I don't expect I'll ever post them, especially since I try to limit the amount of my rambling I inflict on the public at large, but it's been interesting to look at finished fic again with an eye specifically tuned towards why I did things or what purpose in the story something serves. I'm quite bad at it, but maybe it takes practice.

But that's not so useful on stretching myself much on the writing front, so, my lovely flist, if anybody has made it this far through all this prattling: consider this an open invitation, if you ever feel the urge, or are bored, or just want to watch me flail (hey, it could be amusing), to challenge me with whatever. (I mean it, prompts, drabbles, whacked out dares, doesn't even have to be fandom if you don't want.) Here, somewhere else, the comments of an unrelated post a month from now if the mood strikes you - seriously. I am a lazy, lazy writer, basically, so I'm enrolling myself in weird free-form bootcamp. Now, I will tack on a disclaimer there that I make no promises as to the quality or the success of any of these endeavors, but I will at least give anything someone throws at me a fighting shot, and if I fail spectacularly I'll at least give you a summation of why and how much I suck and how I will try to suck less in the future. (I shall call this Project Suck Less.)

Whew. That was long. I dunno how I feel about this thinking thing.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 18th, 2008 04:56 am (UTC)
Oh, I so, so, so understand what you mean about stories either coming all at once or not coming at all and seeing all the things people intend when they write and not knowing how to do that.

I'm not sure how to fix things, but I'd definitely be interested in following your process.
Jan. 20th, 2008 08:06 pm (UTC)
I have a feeling my process is going to have to be write, write, write, write even when I really don't want to or don't have anything to say. Which I know already I'm going to so drag my heels on. Woe! Where's the easy button? ;)
Jan. 18th, 2008 05:07 am (UTC)
I'll have to ping you sometime in the near future re: this 'cause the deluge/drought thing is pretty much how I swing, too.

I'm not sure how to fix it, although deadlines help (nano-style) as well as "someone's depending on me personally to write them a story (secret santa-style). A part of me wants to call the thing where the story won't come til it's ready lack of practice, or an immature writing process, but another part wants to say that that's just how it roles.

It feels ... not worth it? ... to sit down and only write five hundred words.

(For me, reading the meta posts about writing is in large part trying to figure out how my own brain ticks: how to strikes a balance between the hyperdetailed outline and the seat of my pants, how to get the story to just flow [like I've been poking the "nirrti had open access to the sgc" apocalypse kree prompt since I saw it a couple months ago, lonely and unwritten] and, ah, this appears to have devolved to me talking about myself.)

anyway, I don't remember having given you my AIM? you can ping me at p dactylifera or at whispers carry any time and I'll blither or be blithered at gladly.
Jan. 20th, 2008 08:19 pm (UTC)
and, ah, this appears to have devolved to me talking about myself.

Talk, talk!

Definitely agree with you on the benefit of having someone depending on you for a story - deadlines don't help me so much unless there's a person I'm writing for and then I buckle down. With much flailing and teeth gnashing to whichever poor person catches me on AIM.

And speaking OF - I added both your SNs, but I'm wondering if I'm having some AIM issues - you registered as having been online for about three seconds both times and then vanished and haven't shown up since, and there are a few other names I haven't seen in ages, and apparently at least two or three people don't see me when I'm online. SO, if you ever see me on please say hi, and I'll keep an eye out for you. (I think I gave you my sn over in your journal, right?)
Jan. 21st, 2008 01:23 am (UTC)
You're added and I see you; I've just been out all weekend (buying stuff I don't need and lusting after the complete series and generally being away from the computer. But I shall ping you in the near future!)
Jan. 18th, 2008 05:45 am (UTC)
I'm just going to wave hello and get in line and say, "Yeah, what she said."

I don't think about the meta behind the writing as I'm putting a story together (this could be my problem) until afterwards. Like alot of other folks, I write according to my whims, but examine little during the actual process. From one lazy writer to another : )
Jan. 20th, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm very glad to know other people can make the non-process work. Hope! :)
Jan. 22nd, 2008 08:05 pm (UTC)
You might find it interesting to read synecdochic's post about the 'writing brain vs editing brain'. She says herself that she can't edit while writing, and if she tries too hard, she can shut down the story completely. (And if someone as prolific as she is makes it work...!)

But that's rather the way I am too, at least in short fiction. And in longer stuff, I tend to break it down into 'scenes', each one of which is rather short-story-like.

And when you go back and look at it afterward, each scene should be accomplishing something toward the purpose of the story. That's how you decide whether it's working, whether it needs to be refined or whether it needs to be cut. With longer stuff, I've quite often got 'orphan scenes'- bits that I wrote and like, but which don't really fit powhere they were written. So they get moved into a notes file, or float out at the end of the story until I either find a place to use them or conclude they're not needed.
Jan. 18th, 2008 10:42 am (UTC)
Your writing process sounds a lot like mine. Lack of process. I don't know that it's a completely bad thing, because there's something magical about stories that are just there, in your head - but I think, in the writing of long, plotty stuff, it can be a huge problem. It's why I'm having issues with my apocafic: too much planning.

I find if I can write a story out in one or two sittings then I love it more, and it's much more coherent, than something I've spent weeks over. Character insights just appear, plots work... whereas if I spend ages working on a story, it ends up flat, the characters don't do anything new, and there are plot holes all over the damn place. It's so frustrating.

Also, I had a prompt idea recently, so I will fling it in your direction: Goa'uld Technicians. The minor deities in the service of a System Lord, working on all the science / technology stuff that they keep secret from the Jaffa. Maybe the Goa'uld equivalent of McKay - a god in his own little world, not really caring that he's technically under the command of someone else, because OBVIOUSLY he's superior in every way.
Jan. 20th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
Hah, icon!

I think you're right on the non-process process maybe lending itself more to relatively shorter stories compared to the plotty ones.

I find if I can write a story out in one or two sittings then I love it more, and it's much more coherent, than something I've spent weeks over.

Me too! I think I know just what you're talking about here.

Very cool prompt - although the phrase "the Goa'uld equivilent of McKay" may give me nightmares.
Jan. 18th, 2008 11:02 am (UTC)
I hear you. I don't really think about my writing process either while writing. I mean, I think consciously about the order in which I write things, and I think consciously about dialogue and imagery and some set up, to a certain extent. But I'm always amazed by the writing meta out there in which someone dissects their own story and makes it sound as if every single detail is a well-thought out, well-placed idea. I just... I'm amazed by that, because I don't think about it much at all. And then I get people reviewing my fic and saying they love how I did X and Y and it all related to Z, and I'm like 'wait. I did what?' And when I re-read it, I see it, but it wasn't something I consciously thought about while writing. And then I feel a little guilty for taking credit because I'm not sure who did all that, but it wasn't me. (To make this sound less sickingly humble, when I mention this to friends they tell me to just suck it up. That regardless of conscious thought, it was my writer brain that set it all up and obviously it isn't half bad that way.)

Maybe you're entering a period of change in your writing! I find I tend to go from plateau to plateau as i evolve. I sort of breeze along on one plateau, and then it's a period of struggle as I evolve to the next plateau. Hopefully I just keep getting better, you know?

Hmmm. Challenges. ;)
Jan. 22nd, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC)
And then I feel a little guilty for taking credit because I'm not sure who did all that, but it wasn't me.

Ooooh, I know just what you're talking about here - but, right, there's never really a good way to phrase it that doesn't kinda sound like false modesty even though that's really what it DOES feel like.

I think one of the things I like about reading other people's writing meta so much is checking out all the different ways that people get to the same end... the people who seem to have such control over what goes into their stories are baffling, though.
Jan. 18th, 2008 04:02 pm (UTC)
Ooh, interesting. Let me organize my thoughts for a minute. Okay (and my generalizations are based only on my unscientific reading of lots of other people talking about writing):

I think that it is far, far more common than not to simply write what is in your head in the first draft. There might or might not be some idea where the story is going, but I don't think that most people plan every detail beforehand. (Okay, that's the cue for legions to pop out and say otherwise.)

I also think that the kind of 'sit down and write the whole thing from start to finish in a sitting' story tends to work best at short lengths. Because there's only so much level of detail you can keep in your head. It's when you write at longer lengths that you need more organization. But even at longer lengths, a lot of writers just kind of set out and discover what story they're telling in the first draft.

I find that there are two times that being more structured is useful- when you are writing very long works, and when you go back to edit anything. (I should point out here that synecdochic has done a lot of interesting and thinky writing and editing meta which is way more cogent and detailed than anything I'm going to say.)

So, specifically- in editing a short story, it helps to take your draft and compare it with the basic elements of story structure. Ask yourself what is this about? You should be able to sum it up in one sentence. ITLOD is 'the story of how Sam Carter was possessed by a Goa'uld-like alien'. Does your story follow build to a climax followed by a resolution? Does your story express the idea/theme you wanted to express? When you reread it, have you introduced other ideas or themes that you hadn't anticipated, and if so, do you want to keep/emphasize them in rewrite, or eradicate them?

In longer fiction it can get much more complicated, if only because you tend to be trying to do more things at once, and it's a lot harder to hold all that in your head.

I've cowritten an original novel, and we found that it was most useful to have- not a formal English-class style outline- but a rather informal list of scenes we thought we'd need. So we started with a rather vague concept and wrote a few scenes. But by the time we'd written a bunch of those, we figured out generally what the climax of the novel would probably be.

So we wrote a bunch more scenes and then looked at the structure, and said- 'too talky, we need some action to pick up the pace through this section and build to a series of lesser peaks before the climax') so we wrote some action scenes, and then said, 'now we need to explain how the characters got from point A to point B' and wrote those scenes. And then we said, 'we haven't adequately explained the motivation of these characters', so we went back and rewrote some scenes to make later character actions more plausible.

So, in short fiction I tend to write a bunch of scenes, and then say, 'is this a story', 'what story am I telling' or 'what does this need to make it a story'. But novel-length stuff tends to have more upfront structure.
Jan. 22nd, 2008 07:35 pm (UTC)
The unforeseen benefit of posting rambling writing meta: getting lots of free, great writing meta back in the comments! This was so interesting to read, thank you.

The differences in structure and writing between long and short pieces makes a lot of sense - longer stories I'm still not so good at, so a lot of that's all theoretical for me, but I always love heading what works for other people.

Definitely gonna be coming back to re-read this
Jan. 22nd, 2008 08:29 pm (UTC)
The thing about longer fics is you have to look at them as a bunches of shorter things. I had *enormous* trouble with this (to the point where I had hardly ever finished anything, even short fic), until I happened to be doing some writing for a role-playing-game. And for gaming writing, you have to write simply, and for a plotty game, you tend to structure the game as a series of scenes, and leave clues that will lead the players from scene to scene. But you *also* have to have more than one way to get from one place to the other, and you have to be prepared for someone to make a wild leap of intuition that either cuts straight to the climax or else to have all the characters completely miss all your clues and go off in some totally random direction. So each scene is kind of self-contained.

And as I was writing I was realizing, 'Wait! I can use this in fiction. I don't have to write a story going from point a to point b. I can write a bunch of scenes. And then I can chain them together. And then I can play with the pacing.' So it started to turn into 'what cool scenes can I write?' And it was like each scene for a story had a mini-prompt.

And yet it all goes together.. Don't recall if you've read anything of mine, but one of the fics where this is most noticeable is Marking Time, because it really is a bunch of random scenes or mini-stories. And some of them started as, 'I have to tie up this loose end from canon' or 'I want to write something that provides a backstory for events we see in S4'. But when I squished them all together, the theme kind of developed as I was writing- it wasn't something I was really aware of until I was well into the editing process.

And I will second princessofg in saying it's okay to write in whatever way works for you. There are lots of very good writers who don't consciously analyze what they do. It is helpful to be able to analyze in the editing process, however, because it makes it easier to figure out what to do if you're stuck or unsatisfied with what you've written.
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Jan. 22nd, 2008 07:50 pm (UTC)
How much do I love getting all this free thinky meta from people to read. Heh, I've had to spend the last few days getting settled into school and I was like, "B-b-but my commeeeents!" ;) And as a bonus, all these writers I admire the hell out of - like you - saying they do the same/similar things. Well, I feel much better. Still frustrated, but better.

I overthink stuff like commentfic and random prompts sometimes, I think - not that they shouldn't be taken seriously, but I get a little too caught up in figuring things out instead of just writing something. I'm going to try to play a little more with just writing whatever and editing less (at least on first drafts) and not taking everything So Very Seriously.

The al-kesh sequel that you're talking about I think is - it was in comments and pretty short, so it doesn't have it's own post, but that's the thread. And color me wildly flattered and blush-y and stammering to be considered recable, as always.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )