Sunday, February 05, 2012

A New Approach

I've been thinking about blogging, and how I could make my blog more interesting.

I can't write about the business aspects of writing, because -- after 40 years of being published -- I don't understand writing as a business. In addition, publishing is changing rapidly, due to consolidation of the industry in the 1980s and 90s, and then due to technological changes, which make it easy to start a small press or to self-publish and which threaten traditional publishers and their profits, though we don't know how much yet. What I may have thought I knew 30 years ago is irrelevant. What I think I know now changes from day to day, mostly in response to other writers' opinions and stories.

I could write about writing itself, though I'm not sure what to say. My usual advice is just do it. Write every day. When I used to collect advice from science fiction pros, they seemed to have one of two systems: set a word count of 1,000 or so and write this much every day, or set a time period every day during which you have to sit at the computer and write. You do nothing else during this period. If words don't come, then you spend three hours staring at a blank screen or typing 'xxxxxx' or 'help' over and over.

This is not how I write. I knew 40 years ago that I wasn't ever likely to make a living from writing. Instead, I worked a long series of day jobs, mostly as as an office clerk or warehouse worker, and wrote in my spare time. This meant my writing was always (in a sense) secondary -- a hobby, fit into the corners of my life. Even though it was far more important to me than any of my jobs.

Now I can write full time, but my habits are still erratic. I had a productive day this past Wednesday. I finished (I thought) the current short story and began work revising a long-long-long overdue novel. Then I hit a wall and did no work for three days, except to think about the short story. No, the ending still isn't where I want it to be.

When I began to write publishable work, I wrote fiction the way I had always written poetry: a line would come and then another. I would feel my way through the poem or story, not knowing what was coming next. Many stories stopped after a few lines or wandered on, going nowhere, until I gave up. Over time, I have moved toward having an idea or maybe even a plot when I begin a story. But I still do a lot of feeling my way.

Decades ago, I thought I was tapping into my unconscious, and the feeling-my-way process enabled me to get to material that was powerful, somehow 'alive.'

I am less sure today what's going on when I write. I'm pretty sure it's easier to write, if you know where you're going. Plotting ahead really is a help. Though sometimes you end in really interesting places if you don't know where you are going.

My current story began as a Lovecraft parody: a prissy Boston lawyer discovers an elder god emerging from the bog at his family home. What do you do with a lesser god, who doesn't know why he (or it) has risen? As I've written the story, it has turned out to be also about the lawyer's cousin, a painter in St. Paul, and her struggles with her art. What is hanging the story up now is a description of the art the painter is doing at the end of the story. I don't have it right yet.

This came from feeling my way. The story is now about inheritance, art, coming to terms with one's family, global warming and (just a little bit) the Cthulu Mythos.


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