Haven’t been writing, have been reading

Meme image about avoiding writing process.

I’m going through some old public posts from my Patreon that never got shared here and cross-posting in an attempt to get back into blogging, like them old days of the early 2000s. This one is from November 2018.

The mentor from the SFWA I was recently paired with recommended Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer, a book I 100% would not have picked up on my own.  I’m reluctant to read guide and writing process books, partially because I hate what their tone tends to be and partially because it’s all about stuff I cannot even give two shits about. But I’ve connected with my mentor well enough that I trusted her judgement and I liked how she’d presented it, as a way to think about the writing process and get more receptive to ideas. I often feel a little overwhelmed by fragments and figments, so why the hell not give this book a try?! Also, I had a big ol’ Amazon gift card from winning an employee of the month equivalent at work (??!!) so I got a physical copy as per her recommendation, since it’s full of illustrations and diagrams. 

I pretty much fell in love with it right away. I feel so blessed whenever someone can recommend something to me, and this book really seems written for anyone, on any level of skill, who wants to tell stories. I’m going to share some of my favourite bits in the first two chapters I’ve read.

The first quote is from the first page of the first chapter and basically sold me on this book. The second is from basically the end of the second chapter and I like how they work together.

“Inspiration” is often inadequately defined as the initial spark or sparks that lead to a story. In fact, the word describes a continuing process that occurs throughout the development of a particular piece of fiction—an ongoing series of revelations put together by your subconscious and conscious minds working in tandem.

The particles known as words accumulate, each sentence building up or changing in ways both minute and potentially earthshaking, our perception of characters, the mood and events.

Storytelling is something that happens in layers and moments that rely on each other, like adding washes to a painting or the process of stitching and ironing and stitching and piecing a piece of clothing. These are things I know but I need to see and be reminded of. Related to the above quotes is this, from somewhere in the second chapter:

Don’t become impatient with the amount of time it takes for a story or novel to come alive in your mind before you start writing. Thoughtfully considering what you write is an essential part of the process.

Remembering it’s okay to let an idea stew is good. I make food this way all the time, why can’t I remember it’s okay to let thoughts render all the fat off the bone! Like food also it’s good to remember you have fuckups and failures to know what not to do, and that the writing process can be a flexible one.

The layout of Wonderbook is sort of like a textbook, with insets and margin notes and special sections by people who know what they’re talking about. This is a bit from a section by Kim Stanley Robinson on exposition: 

It’s also always okay to have one character explain something to another. This needn’t be an “As you know, Doctor” embarrassment, because in reality we teach each other things all the time, sometimes crucial things: so moments like these are simultaneously exposition, characterization and plot.

A lot of the book so far isn’t really so much saying a lot of the formulaic, hero journey, seven-point-plot, Save The Cat advice is wrong as it is spending time explaining the organic nature of storytelling and the range of ways to tell a story available.

My mentor encouraged me to just try to do one short story a month, which is what I had been trying to do and failing, but I think with her encouragement it’ll be easier. Get in this grind! Get in this pattern! Don’t keep getting distracted by the things I’m reading!

My mentor also suggested some very awesome short stories to me and I tore the hell through them, so let me share some faves with you!

The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zací by Benjamin Parzybok
Immersion by Aliette de Bodard
The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu
Makeisha in Time by Rachael K. Jones