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 â€œand how about this?â€ Iâ€™ve spent much of the last year â€œstuck.â€ Very very stuck. Hereâ€™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 Iâ€™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?). Iâ€™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 â€˜nother experience, because it didnâ€™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. Untilâ€¦ I began to doubt. I was surrounded by writers of incredible talent, and I was reading the crÃ¨me 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 Iâ€™d never freaking learned to sketch. I didnâ€™t know GMC. I didnâ€™t know heroâ€™s journey. I didnâ€™t know 3 act structure. I didnâ€™t know buttski about publishing. But seriously, I didnâ€™t know basic things like action-reaction. I didnâ€™t know subtleties of characterization.
I didnâ€™t know what I didnâ€™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 â€œand theeeenâ€ litany. But Iâ€™m an educator. I LOVE learning. I dove right in.
â€œAnd thenâ€¦â€ I became a writer. Thatâ€™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 (donâ€™t look too hard at that metaphor). But ask me to deliver an oil painting and I went *blink-blink* frozen.
Donâ€™t get me wrong. Iâ€™m very proud of my books. Theyâ€™re not a hot mess or anything. But when you go and read something as perfect as Andrewsâ€™ Bayou Moon, and have all this technicality floating in your head, and then pile on some pressureâ€¦ 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, â€œJust write. Write anything. Not for any project or another. Just write a random story scene.â€ 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 thenâ€¦ Well. And then. I sat back.
â€œConflict,â€ I muttered. â€œDark Moment.â€ My fingers itched. â€œResearch,â€ I hissed. (Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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. Itâ€™s the melting where the rainbow magic happens. *Unicorn goes floating past in best Peggle formation*
I have very little knowledge about writing. Iâ€™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 Iâ€™d be a professional student if I were wealthy. But the thing is, I wouldnâ€™t get a PhD. Iâ€™d get about a dozen Bachelorâ€™s. Iâ€™d flit from cartography to bioengineering to philosophy. Iâ€™d constantly be stained with my latest, newest medium. Iâ€™m a jack-of-all-trades-but-a-master-of-none kind of writer, and Iâ€™m not sure how far that kind of attitude can take me.
But right now, Iâ€™m writing. Iâ€™m creating. Iâ€™m on the trail of a story and where a few years ago Iâ€™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 canâ€™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.