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Author of the Month, Mima


GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME

I used to write. I mean, with a pen, in a notebook. It was an activity on par with sticking my fingers in jelled paint and slicking them across a paper. That is, it was a riot. A messy, colorful bomb of “and how about this?” I’ve spent much of the last year “stuck.” Very very stuck. Here’s my journey of how I got stuck, and unstuck.

Before publishing, in my notebooks, I wrote notes about plots without ever creating a sentence of story, I wrote family trees for a person in a magazine ad, I wrote lyrical, overwrought scenes about masks. I wrote whatever little snippet I felt like and I’d close the book and walk away, pleased. It was ridiculous.

You have to understand, the first poem I ever seriously edited and held up as a keeper was about a unicorn (I was 10, okay?). I’ve been socially inept all my life, even in my writing. My ramblings in the notebook were never meant to be looked at by anyone. So when I finally achieved BICHOK and wrote a book, it was a frenzy of self-discovery, like picking up pastels for the first time, and trying out a piece of black paper. I was dazzled.

Then I wrote a sequel. It was short, and different. It was a whole ‘nother experience, because it didn’t have the same journey at all. Watercolors are, like, hard.

And if you want to write an arcing, ten book series where each book reveals a different aspect of the same world? Well get out the oil paints, sister, and settle in for the long haul.

Everything was very dazzling and new. I leaped from one idea of how to dabble with story to the next. Until… I began to doubt. I was surrounded by writers of incredible talent, and I was reading the crème of the crop, instead of compulsively mowing everything like I used to before I wrote.

The issue, I realized somewhere in the middle of my path through the well-received Bonded fantasies, was I’d never freaking learned to sketch. I didn’t know GMC. I didn’t know hero’s journey. I didn’t know 3 act structure. I didn’t know buttski about publishing. But seriously, I didn’t know basic things like action-reaction. I didn’t know subtleties of characterization.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, completely and totally. I just knew story logic. I was really really good at imagining a complete person, then like a kindergartner, following behind them in a never-ending “and theeeen” litany. But I’m an educator. I LOVE learning. I dove right in.

“And then…” I became a writer. That’s all it took: the understanding that there was a craft to fiction, that it could be broken down into skill sets. Everything came to a screeching halt when I set out to learn to sketch. I doubted every sentence. I researched until my pores bled Alizarin Crimson.

I read professional articles and joined RWA and took online workshops. I stopped writing. I was having a blast talking and playing and doing assignments. I got really good at understanding writing. I could sketch on demand like a diving pony (don’t look too hard at that metaphor). But ask me to deliver an oil painting and I went *blink-blink* frozen.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of my books. They’re not a hot mess or anything. But when you go and read something as perfect as Andrews’ Bayou Moon, and have all this technicality floating in your head, and then pile on some pressure… Well. The paint dried while I fussed with the easel.

A ways into this frozen-by-the-stream-of-time fit, someone very wise (named Dayna) said, “Just write. Write anything. Not for any project or another. Just write a random story scene.” Without much interest, I dutifully took up my next still life tableau assignment.

And as I wrote this disconnected scene, I suddenly remembered writing. Physically writing. I went and got my notebook but it was too toddling slow so I sat back at the computer and my fingers flew.

Nothing happened in the scene. There was barely characterization. It was all about a moody moment in a setting. And this world popped into my brain, and the girl popped into my fingers, and then… Well. And then. I sat back.

“Conflict,” I muttered. “Dark Moment.” My fingers itched. “Research,” I hissed. (I’m a librarian, and yet research had become a dirty word, a hideous pre-writing block like tacking my canvas.) But no. I put my fingers back on the keyboard and FORCED myself to write. I kept to the simple phrase and then.

I get a picture in my mind. A child sitting at the edge of a busy bazaar with a warrior in the shadows watching her. A woman poling a reed boat through cattails, muttering nonsense to herself. A clerk in a futuristic bakery blushing when a compelling customer comes in. This is always how I’ve written. A scene. A person. Follow it.

I wrote a new scene, a pointless, random, not-great scene, and it was like being doused in electricity. Queue Slow-mo Theme Song:

Moving forward using all my breath. I want to stop the world. I want to get better, all the time. It’s the melting where the rainbow magic happens. *Unicorn goes floating past in best Peggle formation*

I have very little knowledge about writing. I’m not proud of that. I WILL keep learning. I so enjoy picking up practical ways to edit a scene or layer a character. I have joked I’d be a professional student if I were wealthy. But the thing is, I wouldn’t get a PhD. I’d get about a dozen Bachelor’s. I’d flit from cartography to bioengineering to philosophy. I’d constantly be stained with my latest, newest medium. I’m a jack-of-all-trades-but-a-master-of-none kind of writer, and I’m not sure how far that kind of attitude can take me.

But right now, I’m writing. I’m creating. I’m on the trail of a story and where a few years ago I’d have no idea how to end, now I have some sort of basic grasp of plot. I know how to punch up an emotional scene and trim down an intense action sequence. I may have done that before but it was by instinct (or mistake). Now, I understand how I can go back and analyze.

I just can’t get caught up in that. It has to come after the bones are down. I need to float along, fingers dripping glops of color, singing And then? to my characters. I finally learned that to be a writer, means to figure out what works FOR YOU.