Like most writers, I love craft books and workshops and blog posts and insight into writing better, smarter, stronger. There’s always room for improvement, and I’m absolutely convinced that somewhere out there is the magic ingredient for a bestseller.
I keep a notebook with those gems from each workshop that will change my writing life. I highlight and sticky-note passages in craft books that elicited a moment of “ohhhh wow.” I listen with awe as fellow authors talk about the life-altering moment when a particular method brought their story into focus, then promptly run out and devour that same material.
In August, I jumped at the chance of seeing Donald Maass present The Emotional Craft of Fiction in person after doing several online workshops with him.
And in September, I was at the Women’s Fiction Writers retreat where Lisa Cron presented a two-day workshop. I’d read Story Genius before the retreat, and I sponged every bit of additional information that came from her mouth. I marveled as fellow authors typed away on their story notes, excitement building with each new element they figured out. For weeks after the retreat, I exchanged messages with my critique partner as she applied what she’d learned and plotted out her next book.
I knew, just knew that when my time came to start on my next project, I’d rock this writing gig. Then a couple of months ago, I started a new project. First time in a couple of years when I’ve sat down with a fresh Word document and a shiny new story idea. I pulled out the notes and workbooks and started brainstorming character arcs and origin scenes and inciting incidents. I pondered the dark moment and backstory. This new book was going to be the best one yet. Because finally, FINALLY I was doing it right. I was going to have all the pieces in place and the story would be a breeze to write.
Yeah. Not so much. Because here’s the thing … while I love workshops and craft books and learning new awesome approaches to writing, I absolutely, positively, cannot apply the methods to my work. Writing, for me, is an organic process. The nuggets of a story grow and branch out piece by piece. When I force the various elements, they shrivel.
Character profiles? I know enough about my characters to get a story started. I learn about them as we grow together. When I sit with a character profile sheet and attempt to flush out who they are and where they came from, they get shy and clam up.
I know all about the various act structures — even have a huge poster board with handy, dandy guidelines for the six-stage act structure and space for sticky notes that I made after attending a weekend workshop with Michael Hauge.
Dark moments? We all face them and so will my characters. But I can’t tell you what it’ll be before I’m armpit deep in it. And forcing the plotting of it turns it from dark moment to boring beige.
I tried. I reread a couple of the books and scanned through notes. I printed worksheets and bought more sticky notes. And, the harder I tried, the worse it got. After a couple of months trying and failing and falling further behind on my deadline, I gave up.
While my writing colleagues were thriving, I was floundering. And I was embarrassed to admit it. How can I be the only one who’s not getting it? What’s wrong with me?
But sometimes you just have to admit defeat, suck up the shame, and move on. I put the craft books back on the shelf, shoved the worksheets into a desk drawer, and dove into writing. Once I gave myself permission to not have to follow a path, the story came together.
So, am I suggesting that you abandon the workshops and stop reading craft books? Absolutely not! Take as many workshops as you can, read every craft book out there. Yeah, you’re scrunching your eyebrows at me — I see you.
Here’s the thing … bits and pieces of what I’ve learned are in my head. I hear Donald Maass reminding me to explore emotional misdirection. I chuckle and rewrite when a cliché attempts to escape from my fingertips. And when the story is done and I’m ready to revise, THEN I bring out the poster board and sticky notes.
Ass-backwards, sure. Efficient, not necessarily. But it’s what works for me, and I’m okay with that. Because at the end of the day, it’s not how you get there, but that you get there!
That’s my confession. Anyone else have something that they feel they should be doing but can’t or am I the only flunkie out there?
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After years in the corporate world (most of it in the space industry), Orly Konig took a leap into the creative world of fiction. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, an active member of the Tall Poppy Writers, and a quarterly contributor to the Writers in the Storm and Thinking Through Our Fingers blogs.
Her debut women’s fiction, The Distance Home, released from Forge, May 2017. Carousel Beach will release May 8, 2018. Find her online at www.orlykonig.com.