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adventures in prewriting

So this weekend I sat down and Did a Writing Thing. Initially I sat down just To Write but after frowning at my laptop and making no progress on my work in progress, I said “No, okay, my brain has this other story it wants to think about and I’ve spent far too long being afraid of that idea and not letting my brain go there, so what would happen if I let it? What if I finally just, like, tried?” And I did. And I’m very proud of myself.

I know this seems simple, seems obvious. But nothing about writing has been simple or obvious for me for two years now, and I’m the type who likes to finish projects before she moves on to new ones. So giving myself the permission to set aside that other fic and develop a different idea altogether was a liberating moment for me.

But I even my liberation is organized, okay? I’m not the type who can sit at blank document and freehand sketch a story from nothing. Free writing is intimidating terrible bullshit for me. I am a crap free writer. I think a lot before I put a sentence on a page and prefer to have “seen” or “heard” a scene play out in my head before attempting to commit it to text. (This process happens either really fast or really slow; results may vary.) Anyway. I’d already written an intro and several subsequent scenes for this story—the stuff I’d seen/heard/felt inspired to get down when the idea first hit—but found myself stumped (for over a year) because I didn’t know what came next, what I was writing toward. Not specifically. And the backstory was a mess of “OMG WHAT IFs” living in the back of brain and, actually, that’s why I gave up writing the fic straight out—it felt like every new word I put down depended on all these decisions I hadn’t made about setting and time period and personal character choices. So this weekend, that’s what I did. I plotted.

I literally followed this post (appropriate gif is so appropriate), point for point, whether I felt like it was actually necessary for “just a fic” or not and my god. While defining the character profiles for this AU, suddenly a timeline plopped in my lap—yes, yes, it’s so obvious I need to set x event in z time period, holy shit that means I can work in b, and ZOMG now that means q and p will make sense! And while writing out the straight chronology of events (including that goddamn backstory) I found I had to stop my fingers from adding in too-detailed descriptions. I was automatically filling in those what comes next? blanks that had simultaneously felt like giant, unjumpable chasms and brick walls before—all because I sat down and forced myself to write a flippin’ outline. (P.S. It really did take all day. Or, two half days. Granted, I spent a lot of time poking at Twitter and Tumblr instead of focusing . . .)

The outline also gave me permission to strip out stuff I’d been clinging to. The clarity of and expediency of making a list made me see that, no, that cute little side conversation isn’t important enough to warrant throwing out these five other bullet points to make it fit, and that, yes, ending X makes way more sense than ending Y, even if it is achier and readers might hate me—it doesn’t matter, it’s what’s best for the story.

This was a really empowering exercise. I always outline my fics by keeping a bullet list of things I know need to happen, but I don’t often attempt to write stories that cover wide swaths of time or move beyond the bedroom (read: any convenient, available location or surface generally), so although I know how to write a character’s climax, I don’t really know how to structure a story toward a climax of the not-sexytime persuasion. But I think I’ve made a pretty decent attempt. What I have isn’t perfect. There are still gaps. I still haven’t quite seen or heard the climatic twist play out in my imagination yet. But I have a long list of other exciting things to develop before I get there, and now the gaps feel like room to play instead of endless scary stretches of darkness. Rather than just wanting to write this story, I feel like I can write this story.

Now to find the time . . .


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winter walk

Despite having earned a master’s degree in it, I never write nonfiction anymore. But this happened this morning, so I went with it. Call it a rough draft, even if it’ll never become a polished piece.

I walked through winter this morning, on my way to the coffee shop. My Saturday morning treks are a ritual I started when I moved to Newport, two years ago. Unlike other seaport cities that existed before their colonists declared independence, Newport has remained a tiny town—just 7 square miles of land, all told—and I live at the south end, within walking distance of a few hundred years of history and at least two favorite coffee shops. In spring and summer and especially autumn, I like taking to the street before anyone but the joggers is awake. It gives me a chance to gather my thoughts before I sit down to write for a few hours, to be a person in the world without expectation or hurry.

But this morning it’s winter. Not only that, we had a blizzard yesterday. This morning it’s still cold, real cold, and we still have snow.

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