Friday, April 19, 2013

First time around, Tell Don't Show

I avoid writing like no one else I know. I love reading books on how to be a better writer, and I find more books to read about how to be a better writer. I love learning and I love research, which is great and useful, but it's also a very convenient avoidance strategy.

Finally I admit to myself that once again, I'm avoiding, and I beat myself up for it. Why can't you just sit and write? 

So lately, I've tried a new strategy. Instead of finding a new avoidance activity, I'm "tricking" myself into writing.

Normally when I discipline myself to sit and face the blinking cursor, I painfully write a couple pages of a story that's good quality. Not perfect, but it captures almost everything needed in that scene. It's the actual story. Not an outline or notes or fragments. But I find that way really hard. I've also tried outlines and once I'm done, I'm bored with the story and have no interest in writing it.

So the other weekend, I decided to tell myself the story that's been twirling in my mind. It's not THE story- the one the reader would see. It's not an outline of organized scenes and its components. I start at the beginning and I write fragments, visuals, bits of dialogue that come to mind, and instead of writing fully from the left to right,

I write like this.
In short fragments
That scroll down the page.
Which allows for my stream of thoughts
That aren't organized in book format yet.
Thoughts pop up as images, impressions, sounds, and dialogue.
They don't arrive neatly packaged as a book
So I write them as they come.

I'm Telling myself what the story is. This happens, then that.

Woman gets off the train
Frigid air
Boy shows her a peak of his toad in pocket
Boy in dirty overalls

I'm also sort of outlining as I go, but it's not rigid. It's fluid and flexible. When I come back to it, I rearrange or delete, although I mainly try to move forward at the pace my mind is going, as it flits, usually too fast for my fingertips. It's almost like the movie trailer. I know that I'm missing scenes and words as I go, but I figure I can always go back to fill those parts in.

By now it's been drilled in every writer's mind that they need to "show" not "tell" their story, and I agree- but only in the final product, the story that's for the reader's eyes. In the first or second draft or as the story is morphing, "telling" the story and "telling" it to myself rather than to the readers, is much easier and it gets me writing. It's also more exciting to first discover the story for myself than trying to write for an invisible audience.

I don't need to "show" the story to myself- that part is already in my mind, and some of that "showing" will manifest on its own if I allow my mind some flexibility. But I do have to get my stream of random unorganized thoughts on paper- even if it's not fully organized on paper the first time around.

Some "showing" is important in the first draft, but it's too much pressure to always be "showing" in the first draft. Sometimes in the beginning stages, all I know is that the "woman got off the train." Why struggle through "showing" everything about that scene when my mind is ready to "show" a fragment of the next scene that's in the barn?

I'm not sure what my next step will be. How or when I'll write the story that's meant for the reader. The skeleton will be there, but how I go about filling in the muscle, heart, and smile, is still a work in progress for me.

Feel free to visit my blog to learn more about writer's block and other insights into the world of writing: Lynn Doezema

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