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.
I first came across Mary Robinette Kowal about ten months ago when I started listening to Writing Excuses. I guess technically, I had a couple of her books from before that — I had already bought her book Ghost Talkers a couple months before, and her book Shades of Milk and Honey (the first in the Glamourist Histories, which she describes as Jane Austen with magic) a year before that — but I hadn’t read either of them yet, so it kind of doesn’t count.
On Writing Excuses, MRK quickly became my favorite speaker (sorry, Dan, Howard, and Brandon). She’s so analytical and relateable when she talks about constructing a story. She gives concrete tips and frameworks for developing plot. Her way of thinking about things just really clicked for me.
But still, I dragged my feet on reading her novels. Sometimes I do that when it comes to books or authors that I know will resonate. I don’t know if it’s because I’m savoring the anticipation or if I’m just wary of being sucked in. And I knew I was going to be sucked in – by that point, I had read several of her short stories and taken many of her writing/plotting/characterization insights to heart.
And I wasn’t wrong about that bit. Ghost Talkers was at least a standalone. After I read Shades of Milk and Honey, I immediately went and bought the rest of the series, breaking my 2018 book buying rule. Then I proceeded to forgo reasonable amounts of sleep for the next three days as I finished all the books.
All that to say: Mary Robinette Kowal is now one of my favorite authors. And I’m going to tell you to read her Lady Astronaut series.
It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
I could give you some justifications, but you and I both know that the cobwebs on this place are from neglect. An oxymoronical active neglect. Then again, neglect has to be active, doesn’t it? It’s a verb. It’s a failure to care for something. Failure isn’t passive.