Thursday, December 13, 2007

Seven years, and I'm not itching yet

It was seven years ago this month that I sat down at the computer in our family room to see if I could write just one scene of a romance novel. I could, and that was such an exciting discovery that I just kept going. I spent two months fiddling with story ideas, and on Valentine's Day of 2001, I began the novel that would become my first published book, Finding Hope.

I had always been the go-to girl when anyone in my family needed a business letter written, and I pulled straight A's in college composition and even on my physics papers, which, while they might have been a little short on science, were beautifully written. But fiction? No, I had never tried that. When I finally did, I was stunned to discover how deliciously challenging it is to make up characters and situations and work out happily-ever-afters for them.

Seven years later, I continue to find the writing process amazing and mysterious. When people ask where my stories come from and how I put them together, I just smile and say it's magic. That's not me being coy--it's actually the best answer I've got. I may have a knack for writing romance stories, but if I don't understand my own thought processes, how can I explain them to anyone else?

I was thinking about all of that earlier this morning and remembering how, in the beginning, I assumed that just about anyone who could successfully mediate arguments between subjects and verbs was capable of writing a novel. Back then I gave little thought to storytelling, so it's something just short of miraculous that I sold my first completed manuscript without revisions. The next three complete manuscripts were soundly rejected by my editor, and it took me a while to realize why: the stories were weak. Just about everyone who has read my other novels says Finding Hope is still their favorite--but honestly, I wrote that book entirely by instinct. It was not remotely planned or plotted.

In general, writing--and by that I mean narrative and dialogue--is easy for me while storytelling--thinking up the characters, situations, and plots--is hard. I suspect that most romance writers would say the opposite. My friends' heads always seem to be crammed full of stories screaming to be told, while my head is like an empty barrel, the sides of which I must carefully scrape to get sufficient material for my next story.

How easy or difficult is it for you to come up with a story idea? Tell us in the comments.


writer wannabe said...

And I thought it was just me!

Seriously,what I just read--sitting at the computer to 'see'if I could do it, and yes! I could-- is exactly what I've been doing since school started in August & my boys are out of the house for a good 7 hours. Except now I feel compelled to 'learn' writing, so I enrolled in an online course that has me turned so bass ackwards I'm helpless. The only good thing coming out of it is that, out of frustration, I'm just breaking all the 'rules' & putting down the story as it comes to me. Hopefully when the conflict & plot finally work themselves out I'll be able to pretty it up & heed some writing rules. Or not.
These characters just keep talking & messing up each others' lives & their own lives...inside my head. I've just GOT to get them OUTTA there! So right now it just seems like (please pardon this) throwing up on Word.... Not pretty, but at least I feel better for a little while.

Neal said...

I have been able to write as long as I can remember (well, perhaps not quite that long). Seriously, putting words together in a sentence that makes sense is second nature to me, and I could probably be a bit more tolerant towards those who do have a problem with it.

But coming up with stories? Ah, now there's another thing. I come up with ideas, start to write the stories, and then convince myself that there's no way I could ever flesh this out into even a short story, let alone a novel. I'm sure that sometimes it's just a question of me being too critical. Other times, I probably genuinely have a week story that should be thrown in the bin. And yet other times I'm being impatient: wanting the cake to be presented to me ready for eating without putting the effort into the baking (not quite sure what sort of metaphor I'm going for there, but we'll pass on that). Whatever the reason, it's a problem for me.

And add to this mix the fact that, as a technical author by profession, I spend a lot of my working life trying to write as little as possible; that is, honing phrases down so that they are precise, bare-bones versions of their former selves, that I find it hard to do anything but that in my creative writing. I have heard other technical authors say that it is precisely this discipline that makes creative writing such a release for them: they can write as much as they want, and about whatever they want. But for me, the editor in me constantly makes me go back and fiddle and prune, meaning that I never feel like I make any real progress.

I am trying very hard, but it still remains a problem. While legible writing comes easily to me (you might question even that suggestion after reading this), I find it very very hard to convince myself that I have a story worth telling.

H.E.Eigler said...

The ideas? That's the easy part. They come from anywhere and everywhere and from nothing at all. It's getting them down on paper in a way that makes sense - that's the hard part. Kudos to you for doing it well for 7 years!

Kristin said...

I have a folder chock full of ideas. The problem I have actually turning them into fully fleshed out stories. Which idea to choose? Will I screw up my fabulous idea? I have a good beginning, but how will it end? What is the whole conflict/plot?

I am full of loglines...what if scenarios. It's the rest that takes a whole lot of work!

Brenda Coulter said...

Writer Wannabe, if you're writing, then you are a writer.

[Neal wrote] I spend a lot of my working life trying to write as little as possible; that is, honing phrases down so that they are precise, bare-bones versions of their former selves, that I find it hard to do anything but that in my creative writing.

It's difficult for me to pity you, Neal, when I so often find myself having to cut out the flowery stuff I've written and make things simpler!

H.E. Eigler and Kristin, your comments lend weight to my theory that most writers have plenty of ideas--and I'm an oddball.