Hi. My name is Sally, (Hi, Sally) and I’m addicted to playing with words. I’m addicted to letting my ability to turn a phrase distract me from crafting deep, heart-felt conflicts.
That’s why craft Tuesdays scare me. The niggling weasel of self-doubt always perches on my shoulder and hisses in my ear, “What do you know about craft? You’re not published, and you started your first serious novel over ten years ago. . .” And the hateful little beggar just keeps going and going like a twisted, sadistic, incredibly ugly Energizer bunny. Well, this morning I gathered my thumb and forefinger together and gave him a solid thump to parts unknown because, as it turns out, I do know a little something about craft:
It’s all about the story.
That’s my great realization for 2009: it’s all about the story. I think a lot of writers are in the same boat I am, a veritable Titanic of belief in the beauty of well-crafted sentences, gorgeous metaphors, and grammatical perfection. I’ve never doubted my ability to write, and that’s been a large part of the problem all these years. I grew too confident in college, bolstered by the admiration of professors who complimented my writing and sometimes gave me higher marks than I deserved because I wrote so well about a probably nonexistent connection between Thomas Malthus and Charles Darwin. For several years, I told myself I was a shoo-in because I could craft sentences and paragraphs and sprinkle in transcendent description.
As it turns out, I was dead wrong.
In the realm of commercial fiction it’s what you say, not how you say it. (See yesterday’s beautifully crafted AND highly poignant post from Michelle.) As I’ve progressed from “Your-story’s-so-bad-it-doesn’t-even-merit-a-response” to a terse “Not for us” to a more optimistic request for a full to a rejection letter that mentions my babies by name and compliments my voice and writing skills, I’ve learned a few things. It’s all about the story. I can’t just sit down and start to write, losing myself in my own little world. I can’t let my muse guide me through sunlit fields to make daisy chain tangents. No, I have to think the story out from start to finish, focusing on who my characters are, why they act the way they do, and making sure that their actions organically evolve from who they are. I have to do crazy things like put up poster board and sticky notes in the hallway leading from the garage so that my husband and kids think I have officially lost my mind.
The craziest thing? Plotting is fun, and writing is easy and exciting when I know where I'm going. All these years I thought outlines and plotting would rob the process of its mystique, but I was so wrong. So, from now on I’m going to focus on the story before I start writing. I need to know where I’m going and harness the words instead of letting them drag me to parts unknown.
So, what have you learned about craft this year? Any great revelations? Anyone else out there who’s brave enough to join me in Word Lovers’ Anonymous?