Two sisters, their cousin, and the Art of War

Today is a writing day—thank goodness, and much-needed it is! i had a solution come to my mind yesterday while making cookies (sometimes a different task is the best way to open up the brain and solve a problem), but i wanted to let that simmer for awhile, and talk to Jonathan about it, before jumping right in and putting it in motion. (Also, the kitchen was a wreck after yesterday’s bakesplosion—three batches of cookies.)

So, the plan for today:
1) Start the dishwasher
2) Read a little bit of something i didn’t write—a chapter or so
3) Find a likely writing challenge and complete it (half-hour)
4) Write out yesterday’s solution, and ask J what he thinks of it
5) Implement the solution, or at least get moving on it (it’ll be a many-sessions-long implementation).

So far, i have done 1, 2, and 4. The dishwasher is churning merrily away, and J thinks that my solution is narratively sound, so that’s what i’ll be working on today. It is a variant on the little-e-in-year-four model, for those who have heard me whine about little e and its multitudinous variants.

My preferred method of writing is what is called, in the NaNoWriMo world, “pantsing,” or writing by the seat of one’s pants. i like to make a person, give them a background and discover their personality, and then plop them down and watch them go. Give them some stimuli, some relationships, some conflict, and see how they manage. What solutions do they come up with? What decisions do they make? How do they surprise me, and what does it mean? Then repeat.

This isn’t working for Rixi right now. i got into a terrible muddle about two years ago with a nasty nest of continuity errors, and now i have about a dozen partially-written versions of the events in my head, and they are all simultaneously true. It’s like a forked universe; all possibilities are actually happening in one parallel reality or another, but i am omniscient and am hyper-aware of all of them. They blend together. It’s like a terrible dream, where realities that are unrelated in waking life collide and conspire and conflagrate. So my preferred method—Just Write—isn’t working.

Neither is Just Write’s better-behaved sister, What About, who starts with a specific idea or solution rather than a blank slate. Often, if Just Write doesn’t work, What About will come up with an idea, and that will jump-start a similar organic approach, but from (or to) a particular concept or event. i can plan, and lead up to, or develop away from, something specific, rather than just explore and see what happens. But What About is not working either; that’s where i got the dozen versions that are now all simultaneously true.

What’s left? The sisters’ rigid cousin, Outline. Oh, i hate her. She is uppity and legalistic and joyless. She refuses spontaneity, scowls at discovery. But her cousins are flitting about at random, and i can’t make them behave. Entre Outline, bane of first drafts, and the muse who brought me yesterday’s solution.

Now i have not only a concrete place to start, but a concrete place to go, and sign-posts along the way. Will this steal my joy in the writing? Hardly. i am well beyond first drafts; i am in deep, tempestuous waters. Outline, rigid and demanding though she is, will see me to shore. She will provide a heading. She will, in the final analysis, restore my joy, as i begin to see land ahead through the fog and the lashing rain.

So that is 4 on my list for today.

For Thing 2, i debated for a moment whether i should read something fiction or something nonfiction. i decided on nonfiction, primarily because if i start fiction i will never stop, and because i received a bundle of writing books in the mail yesterday and i am eager to dive into them. They are all by James Scott Bell, who is the Writer’s Digest‘s Instructor of the Month right now. (There was a sale.) The books are Conflict & Suspense, Plot & Structure, Revision and Self-Editing for Publication, and The Art of War for Writers. i didn’t feel quite ready to dive into something specific and heavy, so i picked up The Art of War. So far, four maxims in, i can already see that this book will benefit me. Most of what i have read at this point is about diligence and hard work and discipline. Here is one bit that particularly stood out.

Know the difference between a hero and a fool, … and aspire to the heroic. If you want to be a writer, know this: A hero knows it takes hard work and a long time to get published; a fool thinks it should happen immediately, because he thinks he’s a hero already.—The Art of War for Writers, 3 (p 16)

(There were many other insightful contrasts between heroes and fools as well.)

So, i go on to my writing craft—a half-hour challenge to exercise languishing muscles, and then a deep, deep dive into those tempestuous waters. Outline, come to my aid!

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