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Lessons of the 2015 Clarion Write-A-Thon

03 Aug

Writing 150The Clarion Write-A-Thon is over for another year. This year, I wrote 40,570 words and raised just a hair over $400 for the Clarion Workshop! I didn’t quite manage to hit my word count or fundraising goal, but I did finish two short stories, gotten well underway on a third, post a series of extensive essays about something I care very much about, and refine a few of my fundraising techniques. All in all, it was a successful year in so many ways.

Thanks to the eleven people who donated to the cause for me, and the many, many others who signal-boosted my tweets and Facebook posts, offered encouragement and feedback, and kept me motivated through the last six weeks. I really appreciate all of you; this summer has been so amazing in terms of connecting with people, cultivating different facets of myself, and pushing myself to do more and be more, and you folks have been really inspiring through all of it!

I’ve learned a few things about my writing process through the Write-A-Thon, of course. It’s hard to do something like this and not learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t as far as your writing process goes. I’m planning to take these lessons to heart through the fall and winter; it would be a shame to lose the momentum I’ve built here through failing to put what I’ve learned to use. What were those lessons, you say?

MY BEST WORK IS DONE IN THE MORNINGS. I’ve long known this, but it really bore out over the past few weeks. It’s really easy for me to roll out of bed, and provided I have enough time, work up a really good head of steam before heading out for work. This isn’t true every day; sometimes if I’m anticipating a busy day or I’ve had a late night it’s better for me to get in some reading before work.

This encourages me to keep up with the schedule I’ve adopted this summer, waking up at 6 AM, meditating and preparing for the day, then writing or reading for 30 minutes before I head out the door. It feels great to already have something done before you even leave home, and sets a great productive tone for the rest of the day.

I MAY NOT BE A SHORT STORY WRITER. One of the things I’ve learned about the way I tell stories is that my natural inclination tends towards longer-form fiction. What really excites me about an idea or setting is something that I feel requires a deeper dive, and to be honest I just love having the space to really examine each piece that’s on the board, crawling into the skin so that I know the bones of the thing intimately. That kind of close exploration doesn’t lend itself to short stories, so it might be time to start thinking in terms of novels or serialized fiction.

One of the reasons I wanted to cut my teeth on short stories is to make sure I’m as efficient as possible with my writing. There’s not a whole lot of real estate when you’re telling a single story in, say five or ten thousand words. Each sentence, each paragraph works best when it’s doing two or three things. I know that I’m not careful enough in my writing to achieve that level of consistent strength, but if there’s any form out there that lends itself to developing those muscles, it’s short stories and poetry. For now, though, I think the idea that I need to learn how to write short fiction *before* getting to what I really want to do is holding me back. I’ll rush headlong into longer form stuff, and double back towards short stories if I have an idea that can be told within that space.

IT’S DIFFICULT TO SYNC A BIRDS-EYE VIEW WITH THE ONE FROM THE TRENCHES. I usually go into a story with a solid idea of what I’m going to write about and how the plot will move along. I have a basic understanding of my characters and what they’re like, and why they do the things they do to drive the plot. With stories that feel a bit more complicated, I like to do a little prep work by exploring the characters in detail or writing an outline of how the scenes will flow into one another.

When I’m writing the actual story, however, things almost never turn out the way I think they will. This has been a barrier for me for a long time, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to reconcile why the plan falls apart when I’m down in the trenches building the story brick-by-brick. Are the characters simply far different from what I’ve imagined them to be? What happens between plan and execution that makes the story go so far astray? I’m genuinely curious, because when I’m writing a lot of the time I don’t actually feel in control — I feel like a medium, briefly possessed by…something else that is telling the story through me. I know how strange that sounds, but that’s the closest description I can come up with.

I’m sure this will continue to be a thing when I’m writing longer-form stories, so I have to make room in my process for surprise and discovery. Characters will take on a life of their own and start to do things I had not planned for. A story that I think is about one thing will be about something else entirely.

Part of the reason this concerns me isn’t necessarily a need for control in what I write (though that’s a part of it, too). It disturbs me that there’s some…unknown recess of my mind that bubbles up these things, a void that I have no idea how to reach other than writing. What else is in there? What else does it influence? How much should I give myself over to it?

These are questions that will only be answered once I settle in to a consistent writing practice. In addition to the short stories I’ll be working on this month, I’ll be doing prep work on “Beast: Wild Genius” and “The Big Game”, two long-gestating ideas that are perfect for the serialized fiction I would like to tell.

Now that I’m all finished up with the Write-A-Thon, I can turn my attention to all of the other projects that have been laying fallow as well: The Furry Mental Health Podcast (Mindfurly?), continuing work on New Fables (!!), working on articles for [adjective][species] and Claw and Quill, making sure my Pathfinder game doesn’t go off the rails, and learning about project management, the technical ins and outs of my job, and the French language.

Never a dull moment for this rabbit. Onward!

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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