Sunday, January 2, 2011

Harder, better, faster, stronger

One of my writerly goals, perhaps the one most important to me, is to continue to improve. It is, as most of my writerly goals are, a nebulous one. Any time I even try to consider how I would quantify the improvement in my writing, I flash back to the scene in Dead Poet's Society, where they begin by graphing poetry and end by ripping pages.

But sometimes I get tangible proof that I can do things in my writing now that I couldn't before (and for the sake of my self-confidence, we'll call this improvement.) A little over a year ago, I was working on a short story. There was a particular form I wanted to use, an issue I wanted to address. I did those things, had a draft that I didn't love, but felt comfortable sending off to beta readers.

I got great feedback: what I had wasn't a story, it was an idea, and a little too on the nose. The deus ex machina at the end destroyed the character growth of my pov character. Those things were exactly right. But I didn't know how to fix them, and the suggestions I got on what might work weren't directions I wanted the story to go in. I poked at the story a bit, set it aside for a while, poked at it again, and realized it was just going to stay broken. I put it in a file, and pretty much didn't think about it again.

This morning, I woke up, and knew exactly how to fix it. Knew the shift in the character that would make it her story, not that of the deus or the machina, and that would serve to actually make it a story. It's a solution I couldn't have made work before, even if I had seen it.

I can't tell you what has changed in my writing. Maybe I have a more flexible brain, or maybe I have a better grip on my craft. Maybe I trust my story more, or maybe it's none of those things. But it's nice to put the pen down and feel like I've accomplished something.


  1. I once gave a speech that began with me re-enacting the scene from Dead Poet's Society where Keating stands on the desk. Most fun speech EVER. I love that movie so very...

    But on to the important thing: the pivotal moment. I love those ah-ha moments where you know how to fix something. It can happen in an ordinary-seeming moment, while you're doing the dishes or checking the mail.

    I like the idea of trusting the story. I've put aside a number of short stories (or beginnings to them), because they just never felt right. I know what I wanted to say, but could never actually say it. They're in a file, in case inspiration strikes.

    And yes, Kat--call it improvement. Evolution, even. :-) Great post. ~Ali

  2. Keep the file!

    It's interesting to me how often that ah-ha moment happens in the middle of something completely mundane and unrelated - vacuuming, or baking. If I have a spotless house, and a fully stocked fridge, it's a sure sign the story is being recalcitrant, and I'm desperately trying to encourage it.