When is a writer not a writer?
December 23, 2003 12:28 PM   Subscribe

I've long enjoyed writing fiction, but I seem to have somehow drifted from the enjoyment of actual writing to the enjoyment of planning -- I love to develop characters, plotlines, locations, etc., but when it comes down the the actual writing, I seem to lose interest. That being the case, I have two questions: (a) What can a fella do to get back in the swing of writing, and/or (b) if I don't write fiction based on them, are there any other useful things I could do with the characters, plots, locations, etc., that I come up with?
posted by oissubke to Writing & Language (19 answers total)
Are there any websites where you can post these kind of things for other people to use in thier stories?
posted by woil at 12:36 PM on December 23, 2003

You could try national novel writing month to get back into the writing habit- it's a pretty sink-or-swim approach, but even if you don't finish, you'll be used to writing again. The downside is that if you strictly followed NaNoWriMo rules, that would mean waiting until next November.
posted by COBRA! at 12:39 PM on December 23, 2003

Response by poster: Are there any websites where you can post these kind of things for other people to use in thier stories?

If anyone knows of something like this, please let me know. If I could find a someone who loves to write but can never think of anything to write about, it'd make a brilliant partnership! :-)
posted by oissubke at 12:50 PM on December 23, 2003

(a) For me, developing a writing ritual works well. I pick a general time and place and gather all the essentials for good writing: red wine, laptop, comfy clothes, etc. Knowing I have a chunk of time blocked off for writing helps me focus. At first, I might not be too productive, but I eventually get my ass in gear, since I have to sit there. Also, don't get bogged down in the details of character and locations. Fiction is about story first and foremost.

(b) Keep a file. What might not work in one story may work in a story yet to be born.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:52 PM on December 23, 2003

I was about to say, my problem is that I love to write, to describe things and create dialogue, but I'm terrible at coming up with good story lines. However, I doubt I'd actually feel comfortable writing someone else's story - the writing I really enjoy is the completely free part; once I'm committed to a plot or a scene, the tightening, filling out, editing, and just plain finishing often does feel like drudge work - so my problem's not so very different from yours. The excitement of creation, whether your creative moment is more evident in the use of words or the structure of stories, is the good part; the "work" is actually getting it completed.

Everyone goes through slumps, of course; I'd say the best way to get out is to just commit yourself to a certain task or number of minutes/hours or number of words per day, and stick to it even when it seems like nothing's coming of it. If you feel like you have some good, tight, well-figured out plots, then I'd start with one of those, and just commit yourself to the boring part so you can feel the sense of accomplishment of having a story done. If most of what you have are tangents, aspects, bits and pieces, then - well, keep writing, and save all the tidbits. Often things will come in handy later on.

on preview> better said above :)
posted by mdn at 1:12 PM on December 23, 2003

What can a fella do to get back in the swing of writing

Nothing except sheer will. There's no such thing as inspiration. I suggest reading lots of autobiographies-- St. Augustine's "Confessions", for instance-- to give you info about the struggles and motivations of great men.
posted by 111 at 1:14 PM on December 23, 2003

If I could find a someone who loves to write but can never think of anything to write about, it'd make a brilliant partnership! :-)

In addition to looking around at online writing websites, look for writing groups that meet in your area. The Barnes & Noble near me, for example, hosts several different writing groups organized around genre. Public libraries are another resource for writing groups. It might help you find a writing partner.

Heck, put up a flyer at your local coffee bar and see who bites!
posted by briank at 1:33 PM on December 23, 2003

For me the only thing that works is to deny myself access to any distractions. If you have the plots and characters, you need to unplug your dsl or whatever, and start writing. there are a lot of basic exercises that really help (me at least) such as writing a 10 minute uninterrupted stream of consciousness, then setting it aside and working on my real project. The development of plots and outlines etc is a very seductive form of procrastination, it enables you to tell yourself you aren't procrastinating. It looks to me as though you've realized this. The next step is to forbid yourself from doing anymore. I think it may be a mistake to insist on incorporating what you've already written. Try jumping in, writing a page or ten, until you get really stuck. Then look at some of your notes.
posted by Grod at 1:35 PM on December 23, 2003

Oissubke - Why not simply redefine your goals so they sync up better with what you most enjoy doing?
posted by troutfishing at 1:54 PM on December 23, 2003

Response by poster: Oissubke - Why not simply redefine your goals so they sync up better with what you most enjoy doing?

I think in a way that's what I'd like to do. That's probably what I was getting at with question B. I enjoy creating characters and situations and so forth the most, but I don't just want to be an eccentric recluse with notebooks full of notes. I'd prefer to find some way to put them to good use.
posted by oissubke at 2:08 PM on December 23, 2003

You might want to check out the usenet group alt.fiction.original. It's a group of writers (mostly hobbyist, a few published) who share their work and critique each other's pieces. A monthly challenge is posted every month as an exercise, and it seems like a good place to start if you want to get back into the habit of writing. They seem more than willing to have new contributors, and on the whole they have a lot of knowledge to offer (if you can ignore a troll or two). The group's website (which includes the FAQ) is here.
posted by jheiz at 2:09 PM on December 23, 2003

The world needs eccentric recluses. It gives us other writers something to write about. :-)
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 2:20 PM on December 23, 2003

oissubke - have you ever written for the theater? that is, in dialogue? You might try writing a few short scenes for the characters in a very spare way, just getting out on paper (you know what I mean) what they would say in a given situation. It doesn't have to be one from the plot - it could be something analogous or askew. But it might help get you into the groove and spur further, longer-form writing. Even if it doesn't, well, you'll still have some short scenes to perform at parties with your friends.
posted by soyjoy at 2:31 PM on December 23, 2003

I completely understand your question, having been there myself.

Without a real purpose to write the words down, the writing process will end before it escapes your cranium. This is not all bad, in that part of the writerly experience is internal. Writers structure their experiences as narratives, and have incredibly active internal lives & imaginations. Hard to beat for cheap entertainment. But seriously, if you just put all your stories on a shelf after you write them, what's the point of putting pen to paper? Either publish, or give them as gifts, or turn them into a website, or leave them tacked to a bathroom wall, or something. It's having some purpose that brings them out of you (and deadlines are an amazingly catalytic component of that).
posted by scarabic at 3:35 PM on December 23, 2003

Are there any websites where you can post these kind of things for other people to use in thier stories?

There's at least one private office on the screenwriting section of zoetrope.com that's exactly for that kind of thing. For some reason, I think the office has the word Bone in it (throw me a bone or something like that). If you can't find it there, ask on their disccusion board. It's definitely in the screenwriting section as I've never been anywhere else on the site.

Personally, in these circumstances, I say fuck altruism. Keep your characters/stories in a database and refer to them when you DO come back to writing, which you'll very likely do if you were meant for it. (As Harlan Ellison once said, "i write because I can do no other."). I keep all my stories/ideas/characters/lines of dialogue/premises/whatever in Notational Velocity (a free program for Mac OS (get it at versiontracker.com)).
posted by dobbs at 4:28 PM on December 23, 2003

I'm with dobbs - If you are driven to write, archive your good stuff, and mine this trove when you can organize your material around a defining concept.

Soyjoy mentioned playwriting. playwriting or screenwriting might be a good venue....

Or, to riff off Dobb's point - treat your work as a valuable commodity, and post a few good (not great) ones as teasers, for free. The rest can be pay-per-view, with an ironclad legal clause attached - if the script hits the big time, you get a percentage. Just a thought. You never know.....the Coen Brothers have hit a dry spot, I hear.
posted by troutfishing at 6:04 PM on December 23, 2003

ois: You say you enjoy creating situations, but to what detail?

When I started writing, I floundered just as you are now, until I realized that to write a page-turner, I needed at least one new situation on each page: 200 pages = 200 situations.

Not every situation needs to be earth-moving; after all, pacing is as critical an element as any other. However, once I had my sequence of situations in hand and had framed each with expository text, filling in the chinks not only became fun rather than drudgery but also provided further opportunities to create new situations.

One side benefit is this minimizes my getting bogged down in some tangent that does not advance my story line.
posted by mischief at 12:44 AM on December 24, 2003

I had the same thought as soyjoy and trout - it sounds like play/screenwriting is a very logical avenue to explore, and also lends itself much more readily to partnership if you find someone you can work with - especially if that someone is knowledgeable about dealing with the "big picture" in terms of direction, pacing, etc. Your situation really sounds ripe for brainstorming and working with a congenial soul.
posted by taz at 12:52 AM on December 24, 2003

The awful thing about writing is that nobody can do it for you, so if you're going to tell a story, the only way to get it out is to do the work and write it down. After a certain point, notes are just another way of not-writing. (I work better when I don't know where the story is going--having everything planned out ahead of time generally works against me because I get bored. It's the surprises that happen line by line that make the story, its own life and logic, and you'll never be able to get there with notes.) However, there may be a way you can trick yourself into turning notes into fiction because the line between the two is permeable: if you can ratchet up the level of detail in your notes, they can become the fiction--by increasing the resolution, you might be able to turn the map into the terrain. Just write down everything you know about the elements of the story and keep adding more detail to your outline, actual paragraphs or lines of dialog ... and you might end up with a story. But ultimately, there is no substitute for doing the hard work of writing.

I also second dobbs' recommendation of Zoetrope Virtual Studio.
posted by muckster at 8:45 AM on December 24, 2003

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