Tuesday, March 26, 2013


That's right, it's navel-gazing time for Lesli again.

Please don't take anything that follows as a sign that I'm looking for cheering up. I'm hoping writing things down helps me figure out answers to some of the questions I've been working on.

I've been in a weird position lately with writing. I have something that I can do fairly easily, which is take a small germ of an idea and bang out a first draft story with a beginning, middle, and end and a couple of characters in it. They're not BAD little stories, though they're often pretty obvious. The ideas are often worth a smile. They're significantly better little stories than I wrote a couple of years ago.

But I'm dissatisfied with them. They're not good enough.

I had a writer friend come by the last week and we talked about process. Mine is very often slap-dash. All throughout my academic career I could write a paper the night before and run away cackling from the scene with a relatively high score. When I joined a writer's group with monthly contests (and later one with weekly prompts) I did relatively well by the same methods. I've sold multiple stories that were written fairly quickly; not terribly complicated pieces, but small quirky things that were over too quickly to be examined all that closely. The bulk of my sales are flash.

I really like quirky flash- I enjoy how much a tightly focused story telling structure lets me leave to the reader's imagination by implication and by omission. I'm very very good at the discipline/skill of saying "that information doesn't need to be in this story because that's not what this story is about" (laugh if you want, that's very hard for a fair number of people, and is the genesis of numberless info-dumps).

But I don't want that to be the only trick my pony has, and I find these days I'm much more self-aware about when I'm failing to live up to my ambitions. I wrote a story about two weeks ago and when I went back today to see what it was I'd marked down as a finished story (I keep a count of goals accomplished or not) I had completely forgotten what it was about or what happened. It's not a bad story- it has scary psychic twins, it has some fun images and some weird behavior, it has a character arc for the narrator somewhat separate to whole psychic twin bit; and of course it has a beginning, middle, and reasonably satisfying end- but I was so unimpressed by it I actually completely erased it from my mind. Like doing etch-a-sketch drawings when what you really want is to be a capable painter.

I'm worried that volume is not helping me, and trying to make sure I produce a certain volume in the interest of constant practice is detrimental because it keeps me from focusing on taking time to craft something more ambitious.

Except I also tried doing that and ended up just staring at the screen in despair when that wasn't structurally sound enough to avoid crashing into flaming ruin.

I've been trying to focus on editing these last few months; taking mediocre stories and making them good ones. I'm getting to the point where I do feel like I'm making the stories better, at least (I had an earlier period where I abandoned a lot of things because every pass at editing I did seemed to make them worse), but nothing has turned out as good as I would like.

I recognize that these are growing pains. I have improved, and I'm continuing to improve, but I'm at a point right now where I can't see what the next productive step is, and treading water feels exhausting. There are a lot of false starts, and right now I'm spending a lot of mental time on forensics of my own inadequacies- where did these things fall short of being the stories I wanted? What could I have done better?

Part of the problem, though, I think is that I want to surprise myself and lately I've been doing some pretty unsurprising things. It's possible I've run to the limit of what I can currently do intuitively. I've been trying to make sure I'm doing exercises to counter that, but training in any direction requires me understanding what I need to fix and working out  a program specifically for that.

So, yeah, like I said, growing pains. Looking for answers. If you're still reading, bless you for your endurance. 


  1. I get the pony thing.

    You write your pony, and you give them sometimes two legs, or four. You color them pink sometimes, and you make them breathe under water, and then other times you make the pony microscopic, or you make them robotic. It's still going to look just a pony with different parts to you, because your approach to writing doesn't change.

    But if you think about it, a robotic, tiny, pink water-breathing pony is not really a pony anymore at all. Especially not if BCS buys it from you. To them it's a fucking awesome mechanical krill, and they've never seen anything like it, and they don't care that you are hanging on to the idea that it might just be a pony in disguise.

    Don't be so hard on yourself, and be grateful you're not trying to be a runway model. THOSE people have a limited amount of time in which to matter--we have all our lives to become awesome writers.

    (Seriously. BCS. Stop the navel gazing.)

    1. Hey Sylvia, sorry I didn't get back to you sooner on this. I appreciate how willing you've been to listen to me on this and offer advice.

      The point on process vs. end product is well taken. Editing especially figures into this for me, and that's a thing I'm working on.

      I don't mean to give the impression I'm beside myself with insecurity over this stuff, or that I'm not writing. I do try to keep improving, and I get frustrated when I feel like I'm not improving as much as I would like. I'm just trying to get my head around how to do the best I can with the time I have to write.