Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Even Going Backwards Is Sometimes Going Forwards

Patti Nielson posted a great blog post this week about writing - and how her brain feels like it's going to burst trying to incorporate everything she's learning, and learning so much at one time she wonders how she can implement it all. I know the feeling.

Honestly, sometimes I think writing was easier when I didn't know anything. It feels like the more I learn, the harder it is to sit and write because my head is full of all this stuff I need to remember to do, and I can never remember to do it all. At least not at the same time. Or in the same story.

I focus on getting rid of backstory, and my tension goes downhill.

I get tension higher, and my characters fall flat.

I grab hold of my characters, and suddenly there's no real plot.

My advisor last semester is a great swimmer and has coached swim teams before. When I wrote him that I was frustrated that I kept forgetting stuff - that as I mastered one skill I seemed to be dropping all the other skills I'd learned - he wrote this, and I thought it was brilliant enough to pass along to you:

It’s a lot like when I coached swimming.  You’d have these pretty decent swimmers, who’ve been practicing for years, and you’d have to tweak their stroke.  So, suddenly they’re concentrating on the pull of their right arm.  And they’d just fall apart.  Forget to kick, forget they have a arm, hell, forget to breathe.  Then they’d get the right arm thing and the rest would start to come back. 


That is where I am so often... concentrating on getting one aspect down, and forgetting the other things I either am still learning or even those I've previously mastered. So suddenly I look like I have no idea at all how to write a story. 

But the more I learn and practice, the more I can incorporate this new learning into something that comes more naturally, and eventually the old skills kick back in.

I've come to have more peace about this process. Maybe because I'm now practicing on short stories, which allows me room to goof up more without completely wrecking an entire book.

But when I feel like I'm losing it - losing any thing that made me a decent writer to begin with - I go back and look at the stories I wrote before - a year ago, three years ago - heck, even six months ago. And am I better? Heck yeah. I almost cringe at my old writing.

So even though I'm stumbling sometimes through this learning process, I have to remind myself that I am still going forward, and when one aspect of my writing starts to slip, it's probably because I'm learning something else. And when I get that one new thing, the other things will come back, and I'll be that much better.

At least, I'm holding out hope it will all come together again.

On the other hand, I also hope I don't stop learning. :)


  1. Thanks for the shout out. Last week was information overload and I just had to write about it.

    Ignorance is bliss - right? At least for a little while, then you're realize that you're becoming stagnate and you're not improving and eventually you start to go backwards.

    My friend said to me after that post that she just keeps trying to hammer things into her brain so that it just happens naturally. Hopefully I can get to that point.

  2. I've felt the exact same way, too, and it can be incredibly frustrating. At one point, I think you just have to empty your head and let go and let the writing flow. I think our subconscious is very powerful if we allow it to be.

  3. Hey, I read Some Kind of Normal and it seems to me that you have it ALL mastered! :)