Writing as a Shark (or an Artisan)

Earlier I made an analogy that I’ve been trying to keep in mind when thinking about my writing practice. As an artist, you have to keep moving — it does you no good to sit back on your laurels and admire the work you’ve completed. I mean, sure, some looking back is good for self-awareness, and there’s nothing wrong with being proud of what you’ve done. But as a writer, you can’t confuse the completion of a work with the completion of your craft. No matter how many really tough short stories you work out or how many novels you’ve completed, you’re never really done. Just like a shark can never stop swimming, a writer — or anyone who wants to take up the title of artist — can never stop creating.

So how have I been doing with that? I’m happy to say that creating has become a fundamental part of my life now, even though there’s often not a lot to show for it. One of my big goals this year was to make sure that I actually…you know, showed my work to an audience at some point. This requires completing all of those half-baked short stories floating around in Google Docs, refining them once they’re done and then making them readily available to my audience, wherever they may be. Each step of the process requires that I wear a different hat, and each of those can be equally rewarding.

When I’m writing, I’m giving shape to chaos, taking these raw, unformed ideas and finding a way to make them tangible. It’s during this step that you feel most like, well, a deity. You’re taking these atoms, these abstract notions, and putting them together to make something full of potential. Not to mix my metaphors here, but you’re scraping together atoms and finding new ways to put them together. Sometimes you end up with nothing, just dust and wasted time. Other times you end up with clay or steel, plastic or gold. Something raw and valuable that can be molded any number of ways.

When I’m editing I’m taking this raw thing I’ve created and I’m giving it shape. Depending on what I need, it can something crude, like a hammer or pot, a bag or a trinket. Or it can be something refined, like a fine dagger, a scalpel, a magnifying glass. This is where you look at the raw form of the story and see what sort of thing is lurking underneath it. What were you trying to say with this? What do you want the story to do? Answering these questions actually drastically changes the shape of it — it determines what aspects of your protagonist you should punch up, where the conflict should come from, whether or not secondary characters are useful. There’s a lot that gets cut there, and I think the most difficult thing to learn is not missing that. Does a potter miss the clay that gets lost when he’s making a pot? Does a woodcarver fret over the shavings she leaves when she makes something? The plot elements that you really liked or the characters that you fall in love with can be dropped, but they’ll always come back if they really resonate with you.

When I have a finished product, then I have to act as a merchant — which is actually really difficult. The marketplace for writers is really crowded, especially for furries, and it’s hard to drum up interest for your work. However, I’ve got a bit of a plan for that, based on what I’ve learned from hanging out with folks who have a fair degree of success there. Furries, for better or worse, will pay attention most easily to the things that titillate them (a lot of people are going to cry foul over this, but it’s true — and the subject for a post in the future). So, if you really want to build a name for yourself, I think you have to go where the people are — at least at first. You write stories that grab their interest on a visceral, physical level, while still trying to incorporate the other things that are important to you. I’ve found that while we like our sex, we also won’t really object to socio-political messages, musings on spirituality, world-building or any of the other stuff you tend to see in science fiction and fantasy. You give us something that excites us, you’ll get your foot in the door. Then you can slip in your other stuff once we’ve gotten to know you.

Anyway, that’s the plan that I’ll be trying to take this year. I have several ideas in the pipeline, and though I haven’t been enough of a creator and editor, I’m working harder on this than I ever have. If I’m a shark, then I might be oxygen-deprived and sluggish as a result, but at least I’m moving. And the more I push myself, the faster I’ll become and the more my movement fuels me. The momentum is slow, but it’s building. Hopefully I can build it through the course of the year so that by the end of it, I’m much faster, leaner and savvier as a writer than ever.

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