Thursday, October 16, 2008

(Finally) Writing Sins

Forgive me, for I am but dust and ashes, and I have no good deeds to my name. Forgive me for your own sake, if not for mine.

I have written self-consciously *thud*

I have engaged in excessive self-criticism *thud*

I have declined to write when the opportunity presented itself *thud*

I have refused to seek out the opportunity to write *thud*

Please forgive me, Avinu Malkenu, etc etc etc.

* * *

If you're Jewish, you probably know what I'm blathering on about. Otherwise, there's a good chance you're completely confused. That's ok, because I like to write, and presently I will explain myself.

That was a slightly tongue-in-cheek reproduction of part of the Reform Yom Kippur liturgy (pronounced, by the way, 'kip-poor,' not 'kip-pur'). Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, one of the two holidays (the High Holy Days) that mark the beginning of the Jewish year. Jews who observe this holiday (which includes many Jews that don't observe any other holidays) spend the day in fasting, prayer, and contemplation. Imagine new year's resolutions, but with an aspect of community and a built-in resolution of the previous year's failings, so that the resolver is set up to succeed rather than set up to fail.

Yom Kippur is about contemplating our misdeeds and figuring out how we can do better. For most people, this is a purely moral process. How have I been a jerk in the past year, and how can I stop being a jerk in the year to come? For writers, who, in my experience, agonize over our writing as much as some people agonize over their moral status, Yom Kippur can take on a new level of meaning. As writers, what are we doing wrong, and how can we do right?

That's a good question.

I'll start off with the big writing sin, the one we all commit from time to time: not writing.

Oh, we make excuses. We make deals. We tell ourselves that it's ok, it's not our faults. We didn't get to write because we fell asleep on the train. We didn't get to right because it was raining and we were depressed. We didn't get to write because the dog got sick. We didn't get to write because we fell asleep on the dog and got depressed. We'll write more tomorrow. We'll make it up. We'll be better.

But the fact is that only I can choose to write or not to write. Once in a great while, something will happen such that I am completely robbed of the opportunity to write. Maybe I'll get sick and spend the day throwing up. Maybe some catastrophe will occur. But basically, I have the choice to write whenever I want, and if I don't, it's because I chose not to.

Now that that's out of the way, what do I do in particular? What are my personal writing misdeeds?

Well, I alluded it in my introuction, but I can be tremendously self-conscious when I write. I have a hard time letting go of making it read perfectly, even during a messy first draft. Sometimes I even catch myself adding or subtracting words to make the paragraphs look right.

I also confess to having a hard time with outlining, setting-bibleing, and any sort of long-term planning. It either bores me or contributes to my loosing track of the story and writing an awesome setting that I don't know what to do with. Those, I use for rpgs. My response is to take the idea, develop a rough, unwritten feel for where it's going, and let it take me as far as it can. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it crashes and burns.

I also have a deplorable tendency to write incredibly long chapters. I mean, seriously, some of the chapters of A Knight of the Land are up to twenty pages double spaced.

What am I going to do about these assorted misdeeds?

The solution to the first and oldest writing sin has been to write. I've set myself a goal (currently suspended due to finishing edits on my final drafts for White Wolf), and I've achieved it, more often than not. I know that right now my writing is in a good stage, a creative upswing, and the real challenge will be when the pendulum shifts and swings back the other way, but for now I feel good about that particular sin.

As for the rest, I am having more difficulty. Keeping chapter length under control is still a problem for me when I write novels. The answer is probably to write more short stories, to learn how to exercise more control over my wordcount. The trouble I'm running into is that that discipline runs completely counter to my third goal of being less self-conscious as I write messy first drafts.

And with the final problem - poor planning - I don't seem to be getting anywhere at all. I sometimes wonder if I'm just an intuitive sort of writer and I shouldn't beat myself up for poor planning. If the story is inconsistent at the end of the first draft, I can always go back and fix it later. That's what editing is for, after all. Then, I wonder if that's a cop-out.

* * *

I want to know, what are your writing sins, and what do you plan to do about them?

And of course, what do you think about my writing sins, and what do you think I should do about them?

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