I have not been posting for a long time. The reasons may have slowly come to me as a result of taking a short adult-ed course on “creative writing.”
As preparation for this course I looked around and found a book entitled Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider. I found the book helpful before I started the course. It is in the mold of almost all of the self-improvement books that I have read, which is to say that it has a lot of personal stories and could be reduced to a fifteen-chart, fourteen-point font PowerPoint presentation. I did not arrive at this opinion of the book until after I started the course and, specifically, until I read the book recommended by our instructor, Vivian Grey.
The book that she recommended is On Writing by Stephen King (yes, the Stephen King). His book also contains lots of personal stories but they are of an entirely different nature than those of Pat Schneider. His stories are more about his life and how they inspired his writing and less about trying to build his credibility as an instructor of writing. One offshoot of his approach is that he is a lot more entertaining than Schneider. Of course he is also a far better writer than she is.
What I take away from my brush with these two very different authors writing about writing is that one of the main obstacles to writing is fear. Partially this is fear that others will not like or appreciate what you have written but I think that it is mostly fear of what you will reveal, even to yourself, by writing.
The process, advocated first in my timeline by Schneider, of writing may start by searching your past. You are looking for moments, scenes, ideas, feelings, odors, … that are for some reason that you may not consciously grasp come to mind. These are the seeds of your writing.
The odd thing about these seeds, though, is that there is no way to predict what species will emerge from the seed. In fact, sometimes the adult is not the same species as the child that emerges from the seed. You take these seeds and just follow them. Write it all down. Just keep writing until you run out of steam. And somehow the imagery fills itself in. The plot unfolds of its own accord. The characters speak with their own voices.
Strange but I have come to believe this. Our first assignment was to write a short paragraph. I started by jotting down a bunch of seeds as noted above. Then I took these and asked myself what variants, including opposites, might be interesting. Somehow I ended up sleeping under a newspaper under a bridge. Somehow I ended up with a limp from a war injury which led to my name and then to my nickname and the origin of the nickname was the way to introduce the primary characteristic of the character (he reads).
Fine as far as it went I missed a class but had a chance to read my work aloud at the third class — along with everyone else, although theirs was to have been in response to the second lesson. I was out of my comfort zone but wanted to proceed. It was seemingly well-received, although this may be a purely narcissistic observation.
The topic of the third class was dialogue. We had some confusion, never resolved, about whether I had written in the first or third person — I have since decided that I wrote narrative. In order to have dialog, you need two characters. Given that I was happy with Iggy I decided to expand the story that I already had.
I don’t know where the ideas came from, but I put an observer high above my first character and made this character as outwardly different as I could — female, living in an apartment, a writer. The problem was that I couldn’t just dump her into the story in order to satisfy the class assignment of writing narrative. What was she to say? There needed to be context: who is this woman and what do the two of them have to talk about.
In order to make this work I needed an end game. Perhaps my characters will show me that this is not to be the end game but, given what little I knew about them at this point, it was a credible endgame. She is having trouble as a commercial author, it turns out the he writes as well as reads, somehow she gets her hands on his manuscripts and publishes them. This has to end badly for her (how else could it be a “morality play?”) so I am supposing that she is revealed, her royalties are taken and given to Iggy, and (all too trite) she ends up under the bridge. OK — the last stretches credibility.
So I start writing and my character starts to reveal herself — procrastinator, daydreamer, conniver — and the mechanism of their meeting seems to flow — she will study him and then a minor mishap will get them talking.
This strategy got me to where I am in my little story. The whole reason that I feel compelled to write this in a blog has to do with these last few paragraphs.
My first character, Iggy, has started to speak with his own voice!