I realized the other day that I’m very similar in mindset to Wile E. Coyote. I am the Queen of Random Fix-it Plans. I’ve got a new plan almost every week for a variety of self-improvement projects. Examples?
1. The No TV For A Week Policy – In which I cut myself off entirely from TV in order to devote more time to writing and reading. (FAILURE – Hello, my name is Maggie, and I am a TV-aholic. I go into withdrawal after two days, and crack with an all-day marathon of TLC shows I don’t even like. Fail. Major fail.)
2. The Reading Room For The Promotion of Reading Together Plan – In which we made a corner of our office into a mini library with two nice seats and good lighting, where Andy and I can read together. (FAILURE – The cats have invaded and covered the black cushioned seats (not my first choice of upholstry, but the only one available from IKEA at the time) and the chairs are now in serious need of a (daily) waxing to get all the hair off so they’re not disgusting to sit on.)
3. The Something Old & Something New Plan – In which I planned to read one older (4+ year old) SF novel and one brand new (this year or last year) SF novel in order to increase my knowledge of the SF cannon while simultaneously broadening my awareness of the stuff coming out currently (FAILURE – I ended up reading only non-fiction and classic lit).
4. The One Dish Set Policy – In which my husband and I have our own individual set of a bowl, a salad plate, and a dinner plate, with specific designs to differentiate them from each others. We can only use our own plates/bowls, which means we *must* wash them out ourselves before using any other dish, thus preventing dish-pileup in our no-dishwasher apartment, and training us to rinse out our dishes after use. (FAILURE – as of today, though it has worked in the past. We just need to start up again.<–optimism.)
But does knowing the failure rate of my “awesome plans” ever stop me? Nope! So here we go with the latest of my amazing, cannot fail plans for improving my writing process (HA!).
New plan title?–The Author, Editor, Agent Split Plan (or AEASP for those who like acronyms).
The premise?–To try to better isolate the individual elements of the writing process, so the activities of each persona don’t overrun (and thus paralyze) the activities of the others.
Now there’s a story that goes along with this, at least a bit. I won’t go into the whole thing, because it’s long and arduous and navel gazing, etc., so I’ll summarize. The other day I was speaking to my mother (also a writer herself) about the oppressiveness of success ratios in fiction (particularly, my own current ratio, because I’m whiny sometimes, and she’s the only one other than myself and my husband who will listen to my high-pitched cyclical-logic rants for extended periods of time). And she asked me–because this is something she herself has been thinking about–this question: If you never, ever publish another thing ever again, if you never “make it”, if you are never “discovered”, would you still write?
My paranoid side immediately thought “OH G-D, I’M SO SHALLOW, I WOULDN’T, WOULD I?!” but after a momentary panic, I realized that was bupkis. I absolutely would keep writing. I might not ever edit anything, but I’d definitely keep writing. Which made me ask the question (with a little prodding–my mother’s doing her Masters in mental health counseling, so I like to think I’m helping when I dump my crazy on her), Why do I write? What draws me to write, what has always driven me to write? There have been times–mostly back in high school/college, with periodic depressive bouts–in which I thought “Frick it, I quit. Screw this. I suck at writing, and I’ll never be any good,” and actually tried to stop writing. Sometimes I’d succeed for a few months. Sometimes for a whole year or two. There was a long period between the 8th and 11th grades when I didn’t write much of anything. But I was ALWAYS thinking about writing. Even when I wasn’t putting a single word on the page, I was thinking up characters, plotting their successes and failures, obsessing about their personality traits and back-stories and sordid affairs.
So what was it that kept that alive, even when I wasn’t thinking about *being* a writer? I came up with this:
1. I love creating. I love making up worlds that don’t exist. I love developing characters out of nothing that I come to adore (or adore to hate). Which leads in to:
2. I love being absorbed into a fictional world. I love becoming consumed with the stories around the characters I come up with, and I adore losing myself in them. I love living vicariously through those characters–perhaps especially the ones who aren’t like me at all. I’m a relatively passive person in real life, but in fiction, I can be one heck of a troublemaker without any relational complications I can’t control. Yes: I’m a bit of a control freak, too.
This all came into account to help define what I should be trying to do when I write. Not worrying about everything stylistically or structurally wrong with a piece, not stressing over “to be” verbs (thanks Mr. Tulloch!), and not worrying about what will sell.
However, deep down, I don’t want to just write a bunch of rough drafts that just sit around languishing. I want them to be as clean and polished as they can be. So the obvious next question was this: If (all of the above = professional failure as a writer/dying without selling another word), why do I edit? What drives me to make a story better?
And I came up with this: I’m a tweaker. A nit-picker. A bug-fixer. I remember working with basic HTML when I was a tween (yes, I just used the word “tween”), and how much I LOVED working out the kinks in my code. I didn’t use any fancy programs, just a TXT file and DOS to upload (which made me feel like a hacker at the time, but you know tweens). I loved adjusting things, squinting at the screen in joyful irritability. Nothing was more gratifying than tweaking one table setting and having the whole page fall into place, just as I’d planned it. I don’t want to hate the thing I’m working on (which is what happens when I’m still in the “author” mindset and approach rewriting a relatively new story), but rather, I want to fix it up, polish its edges, give it a little love and care and turn it into the thing it could be, not become hitched-up on its multitude of flaws. You know that scene in Toy Story 2, when the vintage toy technician fixes up Woody?
*THAT’S* how I want to approach fixing my stories. I want to give them all the best fix and polish I can, and I’m learning a lot lately about structure and style that could be very applicable to many of my stories. Most of the fiction I’ve sold has been polished only with my own input–I need to trust my senses more, and worry less about what others (particularly markets) will think about them. When editing, I need to indulge my “fix it” side and just let that inner editor have a ball turning the poor, broken story with no character motivation and weak climax into something lovely that the author-side of me will later be able to look at and go “hey, you know, that’s not as bad as I remember it being…”
Likewise, as with the others, I had to also ask myself: so why do you submit? For the record, I haven’t submitted much at all this year. In fact, I’ve been very lax in that arena, something I mean (and need) to remedy. But to answer the question: I submit because in some dark, shadowy place in my soul, I’m a closet bureaucrat. I adore forms. I love files. Spreadsheets and graph paper make me a little giddy. Tracking things and labeling things are my secret delight. Considering how disorganized I am on a regular basis, it amuses me that I *do* have this neurotic neat-freak, form-filer side that lurks just outside my peripheral vision. Likewise, I’m also rather competitive. I like thinking about going head-to-head with other writers, of competing for those select, shiny spots in magazines and anthologies, like the drive and passion it brings out in me. I really enjoy researching new markets, reading magazines to gauge whether or not anything I write might fit with them, and feeling that when I submit something, I’m not just shooting in the dark. I also like the productive feeling I get when I know I’ve got two or more manuscripts out there searching for a home. Rejections, in large part, don’t actually bother me too badly, if I’ve got the next market lined up, and if I like the story myself. Shrug, and move on.
That’s my Agent side. Research, marketing, (promo blogging), and tracking submissions: I like it all.
HOWEVER: I do NOT like any of those three getting all up in each other’s business (says the crazy lady, referring to her multiple personalities in the third person). I HATE it when I can’t seem to write a word, because I’m hung up on some stylistic thing that isn’t working. I HATE it when I approach a story to edit it, and can’t help thinking that it’s not quite the right tone for X market, or doesn’t meet the word limits for X magazine. I HATE it when I let the creative side get all self-conscious, second-guessing, and depressed over a favored market’s form rejection, because I’m sure the piece is just GOLD, JUST GOLD, and how could they not love it, because it’s beautiful, just beautiful, I’m sure it’s beautiful–it’s beautiful, right?
Nope, all three–Author, Editor, and Agent–need to keep the heck out of each other’s business so I can do exactly what I love about each role: creating, fixing, and hunting.
So that’s WILD PLAN #32, otherwise known as The Author, Editor, Agent Split Plan. It may fail. But why not give it a try? If anything, all of my crazy wackadoo plans typically teach me a little something about myself and my process that I didn’t know before. And what could be bad about that? :D
And I apologize for talking your ear off. :0)