“Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Thinking on paper.
A Chimera-Spotter's Field Guide
Thu 2007-01-18 13:34:50 (in context)
  • 4,462 words (if poetry, lines) long

Writing a story, we are told, is like sculpting an elephant: you start with a marble block and you remove the bits that aren't elephant. Except it's more like sculpting a chimerical beastie no one has ever seen before except you, just once, in a dream after a late night consuming too much tequila and not enough orange juice. You're not exactly sure what you saw, come to think of it. But it was cool.

This makes it a little difficult to figure out which bits of the marble block to remove.

And then there's the other big difference between writing a story and sculpting an elephant. Writing a story means you have to make the marble yourself. This is a point Chris Baty drove home in a pep-talk from his No Plot? No Problem! Writing Kit. When you write your first draft of the story or novel you'll later sculpt into something beautiful, you're actually conjuring up the raw material. Out of thin air. Poof.

I began writing this short story rather like I write a NaNoWriMo novel. I sort of just splortched out a series of babbled scene wanna-bes, filtered not at all for quality or connectivity, jumped around the timeline, deleted nothing, inserted whatever crossed my mind. The result is a hodge-podge that hasn't, in fact, coelesced into draft one. Apparently I'm fairly good at making mediocre marble. All my writing of late has been like that. Splortchy. And then when I try to revise one of my other stories, long or short, I end up stuck on paragraph two.

I've been in a slump.

I've been telling people that my slump is really just that temporary valley of despair a writer ends up in after a particularly intense learning experience. It's the paralysis that results from realizing that ye Gods, I really do suck, I have so much still to learn, I have insurmountable buttloads of stupid in my story, I am ashamed of even trying to write. It's not just me. A few other VPX alumni have copped to it, too--having a hard time jumping back in, wondering whether they were actually meant to be writers at all. But if you are going to be a writer, then you have to get out of the slump again. You gotta pick yourself up and get back to writing. If you do, lo and behold, you discover you can still do this, and even better than before, because you've begun incorporating all the lessons you just learned. And then suddenly it's easy and fun or at least rewarding again.

Getting out of the slump doesn't happen by itself. A writer has to put forth that effort. I've been procrastinating instead, and I'm running out of plausible excuses.

I've had several people suggest to me that outlining might be the best way to dig myself out. All this workshopping of late has got me fixated on details but has lost me the sight of the big picture. Whatever stage a given story is at, I need to make sure I have at least a rough field guide for identifying the chimera in the marble.

That's mostly what I've done today. Outlining. Asking myself questions: What's the theme? What's the plot? Who are these characters? And which bits of the splortched excuse for a rough draft have absolutely nothing to do with any of it? Do I need to quarry more marble?

And why am I stopping to blog this when all I've done towards answering these questions is fifteen minutes of thinking on paper?

...Right. I gotta go.