One of the things I’ve learned during the last 14-15 years is that my when writing works, when my muse has the bit between her teeth, elements of a story seem to fall into place with relative ease.
First thing to take away from that statement is that I think of my muse as a separate entity. A mystical otherness that is temperamental at the best of times. Which is just another way of saying that I find inspiration in the idea. I’m not responsible if I don’t write; it’s the fault of my muse. That’s a cop-out, of course. She isn’t a metaphysical wild horse I saddle and break to my will. She isn’t outside. She’s me. She’s how my genes wired my brain and my experiences in life established patterns in my consciousness.
So writing is part craft, part talent, and, definitely, part dedication. Different people need different measures of those ingredients to put stories together. Lately, I’ve come to believe the last is the most crucial, and that’s why I know externalization of my muse is wrong as I move forward.
I recently read the introduction Dan Simmons wrote for Carrion Comfort for its twentieth anniversary edition. He noted how that book was the only one pulled from a dream, where he watched a woman chased through woods by helicopter. Only one dream out of his entire list of works. I find that amazing–except that I can only think of one myself, an unpublished short story I wrote called “The Poison of Fairies.” Charlie Finlay liked it when he read it back in the early OWW days, so I feel good about what I wrote, despite it languishing in my trunk; Charlie is a good writer, a guy who takes craft and dedication seriously, a guy I look up to when I sit down at my computer.
I believe part of my problem is that I don’t outline. I drop down into the middle of the darkest jungle and start hacking away with my ABCs, attempting to create a virtual paradise where nothing existed before I arrived. This Bear Grylls approach isn’t bad–as long as I keep hacking away. Kingdoms don’t rise from the jungle overnight, not when you don’t have a blueprint. Practice does make perfect, and the more I write, the more I refine what I’ve read throughout the years and tried to mimic as I find my own voice. The more I find the right balance between planning and improvisation, literary and pulp.
Outlines aren’t bad. Right now I just see them as limiting. That’s my fault, not its fault. An outline is a tool, and I’ll need to learn how to properly use it along with pitches the closer I get to my goal.
For now, I work toward a final scene. I know where a story needs to go, and my job is to move from that end toward the beginning. Call it a Memento approach. There’s a lot of rewriting and false starts to this method. Especially when you’re part of a writing group, where your peers regularly let you know you’ve put a foot wrong.
Writing groups aren’t bad. Feedback is essential if your goal is publication; you’re writing for an audience of more than one. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to write only what your audience likes. But if you’re part of a group, you’ve elected to join it, you’ve decided their opinions merit consideration and bear weight. Ultimately, though, your opinion is the only one that matters. It doesn’t hurt to receive the validation–it certainly helps–but it’s not a requirement.
So, I know the ending of the current WIP. I’ve known it for quite a while. What I didn’t know was where my Memento approach went. But I’ve got the players down now. They’re not the same players I envisioned. Not exactly. But I believe you’ll like them when you meet them.
And you will meet them.