I’ve been thinking about my Mirus series a lot lately, particularly as I am currently managing to juggle dual projects–DOTH as primary and a secondary project that is a Mirus novella about some totally new characters. I know that will make Mirus fans mucho happy. It feels good to revisit this world, and I have to say that the time away from it has been good for me. While I’ve been off having my brain thoroughly hijacked by teenagers, the Mirus world has continued moving behind the scenes, somewhere deep in my brain, with new characters, new threads weaving through. And now, nearly 2 years later, finally surfacing.
There have been a number of contributing factors to my complete and total block on this series. Most of them I won’t get into. But one factor in particular sticks in my mind. I took a class on how to write a series. I was always a marvelous student (when you suck at sports and other stuff, academia is where it’s at!), so I threw myself into this class with verve. There was loads of information in this class, and I immediately set out trying to see how the series I wanted to write fit into the system (I’m a big fan of systems).
The short version? It didn’t.
But I was only 2 novellas and a short story in. There was still plenty of time to make it fit. I hadn’t yet passed the point of no return.
That whole process was very much a square peg, round whole kind of thing that absolutely paralyzed my brain. Because I got hung up on the idea that I had to make it fit. And I couldn’t. Every creative instinct in me rebelled. And so I wrote other things.
Y’all, this was the single most damaging thing to my creativity in regards to this series. And it’s taken me two years to forget what I “learned” while taking this course, so that my brain was free to go back and tell me what happens.
Does this mean that the course was a waste? No. There was, I think, some very valuable information in there, stuff that I think will be very helpful for writing a future, different kind of series. The problem was in my erroneous belief that there was only one (or, in fact, six) ways to write a series and that anything else was wrong.
There was also an issue of not really considering the source of the information. I’d never read this particular author’s work. She’s multi-published, so I made the assumption she clearly knew what she was doing. I’ve tried to go read a few of her works–and I didn’t care for them at all. Having not gotten through a single book, let alone a full one of her series, I have no idea whether the principles she espoused in her course really work in a broader sense. Does this mean her work is crappy and nobody should listen to her about anything? Nope. Just means it didn’t work for me. And that’s cool. Different is what makes the world interesting.
But this highlights a salient point that Claire’s post about Coming To Terms With Your Writing and made me think about. We as writers are a particularly vulnerable (and gullible) lot. If we weren’t, fewer people would’ve been taken in by John Locke’s book about how he sold a million books. We want to improve (most of us), to find a system that works, some means to make us better, stronger, faster, [insert positive adjective here]. And because a lot of people will write about what works for them in such a way that it is very concrete and “THIS IS THE WAY! THIS IS THE LIGHT! ANY OTHER WAY IS WROOOOOOONG!” it leads to writers (novice and pro alike) kind of obsessing about method and freaking out when something doesn’t work. Because they’re CONFIDENT and sound like they know what they’re talking about. How many times have you read the fiction that was a result of that process and verified they actually produced good stuff? Not often, I wager. So, really, why are we listening to them in the first place?
Consider the source.
Newsflash: Other than technical stuff like, how to change the font in the editor in Scrivener, or how to format ebooks, or how to turn off the annoying crap that Word tries to do for us that messes stuff up, there IS NO ONE WAY TO DO THINGS.
Does that mean we should stop sharing ways that work for us and stop testing out other people’s processes? No. But we should definitely consider whether the people we listen to are legitimately experts in whatever they’re talking about (I mean, do you really want to follow the craft advice of someone who has not been published, traditional or otherwise?), and for whatever we do try, accept that not everything will work for us, pick the aspects that do work, and move on to something else.
We should also accept that what works for one book, may not work for another. Our own personal process will probably continually evolve over our career. And that’s good. As writers, we should never be static, should never stop learning and trying to improve. The moment we do, our work will become flat, and we’ll end up as one of those authors who disappoints fans because everything feels the same.
My list of questions and template I now use for writing short stories? I recently came up with a short story where I had the idea, glanced at the questions, thought “Eh, let’s see how far I can go without this”—and I wrote the entire story without the questions and with slaughtering my template.
But I like the story. I still need to run it by a friend who knows more about guns than I do to make sure I didn’t screw up the jargon, but I like the story. (And yes, it is an actual story, not a vignette.)
If I’d been “married” to my questionnaire and my template, I never would’ve written this story.
Realizing that actually scared me. When I share my “helper” ideas, who am I hurting? Who’s looking at my tips and saying “Oh, I have to follow this pattern!”
It’s a scary thing. I have a scene questionnaire I use when I get stuck–a collection of factoids about the kinds of things a scene can cover, and follow up questions when stuff isn’t working to try and jar loose a thought. But I’m definitely not married to it.
I’ve been skeptical for a long time about the “credentials” of many of the how-to book authors. I’ve often asked myself “What makes this person an expert?”. That’s why I’ve hesitated to read craft books. If I were going to pick up a craft book today and read it, it would be Stephen King’s “On Writing”. He’s an author I trust. He’s done his time and rose to the top. And still…his methods might not work for everyone. It’s nice to get good advice…we have to decide whether or not to take it.