Something of a tough week. Mechanically rather than creatively. I spent the majority of it finishing a short story that I started during the MRK Short Story Intensive. This story really did not want to be out in the world — each word was like pulling teeth. Impacted wisdom teeth. Requiring lots of heavy machinery. Or, if you’d rather, I really had to mine for each word.
I’m not sure exactly why this is. I had the same feeling writing the beginning of this piece during the intensive, and I was convinced that it was terrible because it felt so hard to write. But when I went back to read it, it was fine. I received good feedback from my fellow MRKers too.
I’m wondering if it’s because I’m trying to use a specific outlining technique. Normally when I write, I start by discovery writing to find a direction. Well, scratch that. I start by noodling on an idea, holding it in my brain and feeling some of the edges. Usually, I catch on something and I go with that. Then I discovery write to figure out where it wants to go. But what ends up happening is that my arc lacks meaningful conflict and tension (so more of a line than an arc, I guess). Or, for longer form works, I get lost in the middle and I’m not sure where to go.
This is an issue I’ve run up against repeatedly.
And this is where the MRK Short Story Intensive* came in.
A big focal point of the intensive is learning how to outline a plot using the MICE quotient. If you understand what kind of arc you have, you will understand what kind of conflict needs to happen.
When you use MRK’s process**, you end up with a very detailed outline that describes each of the scenes that need to happen. This is a completely different process to what I’m used to, but it’s a technique I want to develop facility with. When I get stuck in the weeds of the story, or when it doesn’t feel like there is enough tension, this type of outlining helps me figure out where to go.
Right now, it’s almost like my brain thinks that, since I’ve already written a detailed outline, I’ve already written the story. And it just does. not. want. It’s painful to transition from an impulsive (shiny! discovery! new!) process to a more deliberate and measured one. Especially when a good part of my brain is novelty-seeking. The plot work is done, and now it’s putting words on the page, which feels more sloggy and mechanical.
Eventually, I imagine I’ll settle somewhere in the middle. Or using a mix. Or changing it up depending on project. But in general, this is something I want to be good at.
In other news, I’ve got some deadlines coming up and I need to come up with a clearer game plan (now that I’ve gotten some clarification on guidelines). I’m excited and nervous. And trying very hard not to self-sabotage because of the jerkbrain and the Fear of Other People’s Expectations. So, you know, the usual.
*An aside about that weekend, since I promised you a recap.
In short, it was amazing and productive. I was already familiar with some of the material covered since I listen to Writing Excuses and I’ve read MRK’s blog. Even still, I took something like six pages of notes.
There’s something about the way MRK presents things that helps the concepts click for me. She’s an excellent instructor. Clear and detailed and measured. Humorous and friendly, but serious about her craft and about the class. It’s obvious that the intensive curriculum has been honed to a fine point, ready to carve plot structures into your brain. (That was morbid, but I mean it in a very positive way! My work recently has been kind of dark, so I’m in a dark, morbid headspace…)
The weekend starts Friday evening and goes until Sunday evening. There are “bio breaks” (a term I love now and will start using) and breaks for eating/writing, but there is little to no real downtime. We would spend an hour or so critiquing, an hour or so in lecture slash doing in-class exercises, and then have one to two hours to do an assignment. Rinse and repeat. The time interval was such that you really had to sit down and get to work — there is no time for overthinking.
The exercises all build on each other and on the material presented in class. They are exercises that I’m going to come back to over and over again. They remind me a little of Le Guin’s exercises in Steering the Craft — they are repeatable, specific, and drive home technique.
If you have the time and the funds to do one of these, I highly, highly recommend it. My class was composed of six other people with varying levels of familiarity with writing fiction. (We are now forming a writing group together!) There’s information for all skill levels, though I imagine some facility with the language of fiction writing will really allow you to get the most out of the class. I believe if you sign up for her newsletter on her website, you’ll get notified when more classes are available.
**Here’s an overview of MRK’s plotting process from her blog, but though I had read this already before the weekend, it’s not the same having MRK herself explain it to you and answer questions about it (obviously). Also, if you haven’t read “The Worshipful Society of Glovers,” you should. It’s amazing (one of my favorite MRK short stories) and free on Uncanny.