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Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself…

February 18, 2010

Wow, yesterday was huge on this blog.  I don’t recall ever receiving so many hits or so many comments.  I feel like a celebrity.  I know I’m not, but I feel like one.  I’m sure the curiosity over the new WotF stud (term used very loosely) will die down quickly.  I’m sure Laurie’s getting more of this than I am.  Lael would be getting a lot of attention, too, if anyone knew how to find him.

But with the incoming swarm, I decided I should offer a little more content than “me, me, me.”  I do that from time to time.  I should update my “useful posts” links so people know that.  Anyway, I decided — upon seeing it mentioned in blogs and message boards elsewhere — to comment on the perceived weakness of leaving stories unfinished.

Heinlein’s second rule of writing is to finish what you write.  Who am I to argue with Heinlein?  He’s Heinlein, for crying out loud.  So I won’t argue, rather offer my interpretation.  My slow, erosion-like interpretation.

I’ve discovered recently that I am susceptible to writer’s block.  I think I catch it from my students, though theirs seems to be a plague-caliber strain of homework block.  They need to vaccinate for this.  When it catches me, it usually means there’s something wrong with the story I’m trying to write and my subconscious writer is acting like a seeing eye dog and saving me from venturing further into danger.  (I’ve commented on specific cases in earlier posts.)  Those kinds of blocks are good for me.  They’re pains to get past, but they are good.  It suggests I’m an even better writer than I think I am (and with the swelled head I’ve gotten from WotF, that’s saying something).

For example, I intended my WotF story, “Poison Inside the Walls” to end with my protagonist making a huge discovery about the nature of her alien enemies and gain enlightenment and return home to try changing her society.  I kept stalling in the process.  It was a beautiful story idea, but it wasn’t the story I was writing.  The story wasn’t about the aliens, it was about the protagonist and her family.  Spending  four to five thousand words on the aliens at this point (which was what it was becoming) was going to rob the story of its power and bore whatever readers had been interested enough in the story to get that far.  So I set it aside while I stewed on it, eventually isolating the protag and letting the alien inspire her ultimate decisions.

Stewing on a story is like letting the dishes soak in the sink, it can soften things up but don’t leave it too long or it rusts.  I probably have a rusted story or two that have been stewing way too long.  I have others getting close.  I have a story on the complacency of religion that needs something I can’t quite place…maybe a stronger speculative aspect to suit my taste.  I have another that I’ve painted with too much culture and not enough theme, to the point that I’m having trouble recalling the theme.  (Maybe I’ll do a post on my definition of “theme” sometime soon.)  One of my most promising novels (yes, I have a half dozen brewing…shame on me) stalled out because I got to part of the story I didn’t really care about.  So why write that part?  Well, it’s an important part of the coming-of-age story; I just need to find a way to make me care about it.

So yes, it is important to finish a story.  If it ain’t finished, it ain’t a story.  If you have no stories, you ain’t a writer.  But it doesn’t have to get finished right away if you’re willing to return to it with fresh eyes later, be it a week or a month later.  It works for me, so far.  In the interest of full disclosure, I hate this system.  I want to be able to start the story, work on the story, finish the story, then move on to the next.  So far, my process doesn’t work that way.  I’m hoping the crucible of Clarion will help me with this.  But for now, I’m slowly cranking out stories I’m proud of, one postponement at at time.

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