August 26th, 2008

You know what is awesome? Looking at a story I wrote two years ago and actively seeing what I was trying to master when writing it. Oh look, I’m practicing kinesthetics. I’m telling you whatever people are doing physically at all times. And for my finale, I’m going to have a three person fight in a closet.

I tend to think I don’t take (enough) risks with my writing, but there it is right there, three person fight in a closet, when I had trouble describing someone walking across a room. Not that it’s a good three person fight in a closet. It needs some work. But I was consciously trying to tackle something I knew I sucked at.

And you know, my kinesthetics, lo these many months later, aren’t exactly going to split open the world but they no longer suck either. Passable. Nice, from time to time, to be reminded of progress.

I’ve been talking to people lately about how I feel that if I write to my strengths, I’m cheating. I’m amused when readers, after several stories, get ahold of one where I went the easy way. They get a look in their eyes: “Why’ve I been reading crap from you when you can do this?” Their critiques are wildly complimentary. They suddenly realize I actually can write, when I put my mind to it. (Except I’m always putting my mind to it, see, even when it sucks.) Everybody thinks I’m crazy when I say I avoid writing what I’m good at. Of course you write what you do best, they say. Well, no, I try not to, I say. And I’ve had a hard time explaining why that is, why it feels like cheating. Maybe it’s just arbitrary constraint setting or fear of failure, but I think it’s something else. Reliance on what I’m already good at doesn’t help me get good at anything else. In fact, reliance on what I’m good at (narrative voice, primarily, though I’m fair to middling at setting and sensory details) can carry people along in a way that obscures other flaws. So I write three person fights in a closet, and clumsy trying too hard omni, and action scenes that come across as brittle and unrealistic. I avoid first person, which I do well, in favor of painfully constructed plots, which I do poorly. Because I want to be able to write every kind of story there is. I’m overly ambitious, and don’t want my smidge of talent in my way. And it’s not just all the shiny techniques I long to master, either. Ultimately, I get tired of writing the same way all the time. If I forbid myself the easy first person pull-you-along narration most of the time, then when I use it, it’s still fresh and pleases me. And I know I’m choosing to use it, not just falling back on it. It is a weirdness, and perhaps a flaw, but it’s what I do. Right now, for example, I’m working on two basic things: non-linearity and subtractive writing. I’m usually a classical unity girl, and while I love that and will still use it most of the time in short stories, I’ve also started breaking away from unity of time. I have been consciously putting in flashbacks, and writing things out of order, even if I rearrange them later. Usually I prefer an intensity that stays in the moment and goes always forward, but there are stories that need to be told out of order, and I want to do that kind too. Right now my cutaways are pretty stilted and obvious, but eventually, one hopes, I’ll get better at them. Subtractive writing is an experiment in methodology and probably merits its own post, when I’ve seen more results from my attempts.

As for my will to submit, I sent out two stories before the one I was panicked about bounced (and two days after I made the PANIC post, so I guess we can count it as accountability instead of procrastination – GO TEAM ME!), then turned the bounced one around not once but twice because I sent it to the fastest market ever, and got the one day rejection. So right this second I have four things out, counting the piece that bounced back to me from the “Haunted Legends” anthology. (So sad. But ehh, what you gonna do.) I dusted it off and sent it out again. It ended up being called “Mi Buenos Aires Querido” because apparently you can’t copyright song titles. Sorry, Gardel. I’m pretty proud of it, even though it didn’t make the cut for the anthology. I’m not saying I didn’t hate it for a while. I spent – oh, I don’t know – three or four days playing Civ III and pretending it didn’t exist and trying to talk myself out of sending it for the antho. But in the end, I sent it to collect its rejection. GO TEAM ME x 2!

So one could say I am down to 13 things needing rewrites, because I made good on “Mi Buenos Aires Querido” (though not without dithering and wailing). However, I just finished a new story (tentatively named “Ephemeral Marginalia”…I’m not totally sold on the title, it may be too librarian geeky and the story’s not about geeks or librarians), so I guess my inbox is back up to 14. Yes, I am uniquely positioned to make work for myself. At any rate, two of the currently out stories are nearing the last leg of their journey before surcease, so I need to revise at least two replacement things and get them out the door in the next six weeks. This is doable, as they say. Ideally, I suppose, I’d get another two things out in addition to the first two and then be looking at something like six subs out, a new record for me. And that would leave my to edit pile at around ten. If I can lop off one more I can reduce my stack to single digits. Whoa. Still, my track record on edits is abysmal, so let’s just wait and see how I do in the next six weeks before getting too optimistic.

Also there’s research for the new novel to engage in. Ha. Yes, I have a new idea I’m poking around at. In fact one of the 14 stories waiting for edits is set in the shiny new world of the maybe next novel. I wrote it the easy way, as a get a feel for it exercise. People like it and keep telling me to fix it and send it out. Take a number, story, get in line.

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