Why I write

The Terrible Minds writing challenge this week is to write about why you write.

I think I write to try to make sense of the world. It’s like out one of those Zen desk sandboxes. It’s got lumps, and rocks strewn about, and it looks like hell. Writing is like taking a little rake and smoothing out the lumps, stacking the rocks pleasingly, making patterns that just seem right. I’m seeking some kind of placidness. Which, now that I see that on the page, explains a lot about why I have trouble finishing things — I never feel like I fully understand anything. I could always know more, could always explain it better. And even if I think I’ve got my one tiny sandbox raked fairly well, does it really matter, when there’s a whole world full of messed-up sand out there? It can be paralyzing to think about.

Most of what I write is nonfiction. In my day job, I summarize scientific research for a lay audience. My task there is to reach in, pull out the bits of information most relevant to the reader, synthesize them, and present them in such a way and with enough context that they make sense. I’m pretty good at that. I’m not thrilled about my style (inasmuch as you can really have your own style in this kind of writing), but I’m good at explaining.

My other nonfiction can be broken into roughly two categories: noodling around, trying to understand something (like this post), or persuasive writing. Which is really just me noodling around trying to understand something, then trying to get it to make sense to somebody else the same way it does to me.

When I write fanfic, it’s usually because there’s a piece of the canon that just doesn’t sit right with me. The characters aren’t acting the way I would expect them to act. The plot is riddled with holes (of the sort that even I, someone who doesn’t primarily read/watch for plot, can’t ignore). The narrative sets up a development that it never pays off. So I write a story around it until it makes sense to me.

Original fiction doesn’t fit into this paradigm terribly well, which may have something to do with why I haven’t written much of it. Fiction seems like it’s the province of the chaos muppet — create more conflict, more problems! Your protagonist needs those sweet, sweet obstacles to overcome! I have to mess up my little sandbox, which really doesn’t come naturally to me. I know you have to mess things up to make something new, but I don’t wanna. But maybe it will help to at least know why it’s so hard. Maybe I can come up with some way to fool my brain into making a mess so I can clean it up.

That’s weird, isn’t it?

I write because the world is confusing. I want to take the chaos, create some structure and order and meaning in my head, and then put that back out into the world to make it make a little more sense. This whole model may be totally wrong or arrogant, but it’s why I write.

God, I never really asked myself this question before and it makes SO MUCH SENSE. (Which is exactly what the theory would predict, now isn’t it? I’m good.)

Putting my trust in Future Me

Like many, many people, I have an inner editor problem. I never finish 90% of what I start because instead of thinking about what comes next, I just keep thinking about how what I’ve already written can be made better. It’s all well and good to say that you need to free write or do sprints or drink (the linked post jokes about imbibing as a strategy, but it’s one of the few that actually helps, in my experience) or whatever, but 1) it’s a lot harder to actually do it and 2) those are all short term strategies. It’s exhausting to have to overcome the fucker every single time I try to write. What I need is a mindset change.

The other day I was wittering over some paragraph, trying to make it perfect, when I realized that I was acting like if I didn’t get it right now, I never would.

I think this impulse to edit in the moment instead of plowing ahead is, to some degree, motivated by worry that I won’t catch and fix what’s wrong with it when I go through on my next pass. But Future Me is actually a pretty good reader and editor — she’ll figure it out. So when I get stalled on a sentence that doesn’t flow right, or a scene that doesn’t quite tie into the theme of the story, or even a premise that I’m not sure is working anymore, I need to remind myself that fixing that stuff isn’t my job. It’s Future Me’s job, and she can handle it. I need to leave that job to her so that I can get on with doing mine.

Flash fiction challenge: pick an opening sentence and go

I’ve decided to start trying the writing challenges at Chuck Wendig’s blog. This week’s Flash Fiction Challenge was to pick an opening sentence from the ones submitted the prior week and write up to 2000 words. Thanks to the story hive for the inspiration.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0

“I’m on the highway to hell,” I belted out and carried on with the CPR. They said you were supposed to sing “Staying Alive” to set the proper rhythm for chest compressions, but I was a realist. Anyway, it wasn’t like I was going to do any worse than any of the sad bastards scattered around me.

The Revolutionary Brotherhood had been setting off these bombs in the city center for weeks, any place they could sneak one in. I was surprised there was still anyone out and about to get caught by this one. I figured everybody would either be deployed or hiding in their homes. Me, I was neither. I’d never be on active duty again with this leg, and home … well. No reason to hang around there anymore. Maybe it was the same for these folks. Or maybe they just needed to try to pretend everything was normal.

The old guy I was working on didn’t even look like he’d been hurt — probably was walking by and had a heart attack. Most people around here weren’t so lucky. Their deaths were coming the sticky and painful way.

I lifted my head a bit to listen for sirens, and all of the other sounds I’d been blocking out came rushing back in. People yelling and screaming, the creak of metal as blasted supports threatened to buckle, the whoosh of flames. God, it was hot.

No sirens though. Maybe they weren’t coming. Maybe they were busy with another attack. Maybe there was nobody left. I tuned it all out again.

I gave up the chest compressions and tried rescue breathing. The guy had vomited a little bit. I had to tune out taste and smell so I didn’t do the same. One breath. His chest didn’t rise. Another. Nothing.

Back to the chest compressions. I was too tired to sing anymore, so I just chanted in my head. Fuck this, fuck them, fuck you, fuck this, fuck them, fuck you… I ignored the ribs breaking under my hands, tuned out my sore wrists and burning shoulders. I just focused on pushing and chanting until I couldn’t feel any of it anymore.

I didn’t know they were here until an EMT waved her hand in front of my eyes. I looked up. The sky was dark. There were fires in the distance, a lot of them. I wasn’t sure if the sun had set or if they’d just bombed it out of the goddamn sky.

I looked down. The guy was dead. Probably had been for a while.

I lifted my head toward the EMT, but I didn’t really see her. Just the old man, and my parents, and my brother, and those people lying around us in the street. Fire and blood and bone and staring dead eyes.

Then, mercifully, I didn’t see anything anymore.

Well, almost every day

My WordPress dashboard informs me that this is National Blog Posting Month (or, NAMBLA), inspired of course by National Novel Writing Month. I actually won NaNoWriMo once, ten years ago, but now I’m reduced to participating in WriSoMiFu: Write Something, You Miserable Fuck. And there are days I can’t even manage that.

Yes, that’s a LiveJournal link up there. You may have seen one in a museum. Don’t be afraid to touch it; it won’t crumble into dust.

…and, I was going to write more, but got totally derailed playing the #PennyArcadeJobPostings hashtag game. Holy shit, these guys are terrible.

One Hundred Words a Day

Every day, there are things I want to talk about, but I tell myself nobody wants to read my thoughts so it’s not worth taking the time. But if I only have to write 100 words, maybe I’ll bother. Think of it as a nonfiction drabble. And yes, I am one of those purists who will cut you if you use “drabble” to mean “any very short story.” One hundred words, motherfuckers. (What can I say? I’m a descriptivist, except when I’m not.)

In today’s news, in about four hours, our Governor will sign Illinois’ marriage equality bill into law. Progress.