There are days I’d like writing a book to be only writing. Pencil to paper. Fingertips to keyboard. Mind and heart to telling a story. That’s the best part.
I resist the other parts of writing a book, the planning
and organizing parts. I know they are as
essential as the actual writing. I do
them, but I can’t seem to convince myself to approach them with the same joy.
Already I can see this is about heart and head.
Telling the story, for me, is rooted in my heart. I feel it, and words flow from the feelings.
Planning and organizing are rooted in my head. I think, I don’t feel. No wonder the joy is missing. I find satisfaction here, but I’m in the
wrong place to expect joy. Silly me.
I need to find a way to partner my heart with my head when I approach the non-writing parts of book-making. Find a way to leave aside the resistance, and bring a peaceful curiosity to the work instead.
Much of the work I did during the Story Genius process was
planning and organizing, yet I didn’t resist.
I didn’t resist because I was learning something new, and I could see
and feel how this process was enriching and expanding the story I wanted to
My heart was invested in getting this done because it loved
the story I was creating.
Here is the key.
I love this story and I need to invest my heart in all the parts of creating it. I need to feel how all the work around the writing teaches me something new, and gives me the knowledge and experience to make me a better writer. I need to let myself be curious and enjoy exploring the possibilities around putting a story together.
Invest my heart. Feel how everything I do gives my story a base and bones to stand strong. Gives my story detail that offers connection for my readers. Gives my story flow that creates a living place for my readers’ imaginations.
The time I spend on planning and organization is not stolen
from the writing. It adds to it.
I’m not losing. I’m
gaining, and then my readers will gain too.
There’s no other way to say it. Writing a book is complicated. The further into the process I go, the more complex it becomes. My saving grace is I love word puzzles, and this is a word puzzle in the extreme.
I’ve discovered there are parts of the writing which don’t come naturally to me, probably because this is my first book. Until I worked my way through Lisa Cron’s Story Genius process, I didn’t consciously know these bits existed.
Yesterday, I decided I needed a cheat sheet to help me
My book is a memoir of healing, and I am the
protagonist. Under my cheat sheet header,
the first note talks of the two things driving me all through the story—what I most
desire, and the core misbelief that shapes my world view.
I most desire love. Being loved, giving love, having and doing what I love—all the things my illness makes difficult, if not impossible. I have a core misbelief, formed in childhood, which says love can’t keep me safe from the bad things in life. Every day I am ill, and my misbelief is made stronger. My desire and misbelief are in constant opposition. My emotions fly between love and fear, with fear in the ascendant.
The second note is something Lisa repeats throughout Story Genius—the answer to why always lies in the past. I spent much of last year writing backstory. The time spent was worth it. I found the answers to most of my why’s, and the story is so much richer as a result.
Two questions make up my third note. As the protagonist, what am I most worried about? How will it affect my judgment and reaction throughout the story?
The fourth note is another set of questions, under a
heading “as I write ask why of everything”.
For every scene I ask:
Why does the plot need this to happen?
Can it happen?
Is it logistically possible?
Given my inner struggle (desire vs. misbelief),
why would it happen? (Here is the scene’s
Ask “and so . . . .” Why does my reader need to
know this? How does this move the story
forward? What will happen as a result? Aka what is the point of including this in
Asking ‘why’ is so crazily key to everything. I feel like a toddler who has discovered her new favourite word. Sometimes I feel like the mom who is really tired of answering.
Finally, the fifth note is all about building the emotional
connection with my reader. The connection
exists because I make both thought and emotion visible in the writing. I do three things:
The protagonist (me, in the story) draws a conclusion from all she notices. Think ‘survival’.
Emotion shows on every page, and it is complicated, layered, nuanced, and conflicted. For example, grief is a constantly shifting mix of anger, pain, guilt, regret, confusion, numbness, denial, and more.
I stay in the protagonist’s (me, in the story) subjective mind set, and filter everything I write through it. This means I consider how my world view, core desire, and core misbelief are running me, and I need to track how these things shift as my healing experiences change me.
just a little complicated.
very top of my cheat sheet is the header.
From page 267, I copied the third to last sentence of Lisa’s book. “…the only way to change how someone thinks
about something, is to first change how they feel about it.”
captures the essence of the book I am writing, and it shows me, in a few words,
how to tell the story.
it is what I experienced as I healed a chronic illness. My feelings changed, and as they changed, my
thoughts changed. As my feelings and
thoughts changed, my body healed. It was
a long miracle.
my new cheat sheet. It’s helping me
write the best book I can.
said this before. Thank you, Lisa Cron,
for creating Story Genius.
page references are: first note from
chapter 5; second note from page 210; third note from page 265; fourth note
from pages 210 through 215, plus page 266; fifth note from pages 256 through
266; header from page 267.
I am not very kind to myself. I call myself lazy. I say I am a master procrastinator. The fact that I am in year five of my book draft must make these judgments true. The additional fact that I’ve done several projects during this time, so that I didn’t have to write, also makes this true.
Today I woke and realized these years of off-and-on writing
and the projects-in-between were necessary.
I had to get myself to the point where I could let go of the story.
I had to break my heart open.
In all the time I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve never
talked much of my book draft, other than I was doing it or not doing it. I’ve never talked about the content because
that wasn’t what my blog was for. My blog
has always been for the sake of writing, not for the sake of story.
I am changing that today.
For thirty-four years I had an overtaking illness, fibromyalgia, that shrunk my life and finally, fully cut away my ability to make art.
I was always a good girl. I did everything the doctors told me. I took all the medications. I cared for my body. I adjusted my life, managed, made changes, made excuses.
None of it mattered.
The disease slowly stole away the core of me, my truest self—artist.
The week I understood I had finally completely lost my art
was the breaking point. The book begins
here, and the story traces the healing path I created.
I know this story intimately. I lived it.
I was sure that five years of writing was too long and wrong. I called myself lazy and procrastinator, and
it felt appropriate.
What I had not taken into account, when I began writing the book, was how numb I had been for all the years of illness. I was living through loss repeated over and over. I was living through pain and grief, and I had to numb myself to my emotions. Numb was survival. The only place I allowed my emotions was in my art, where I had control over what I expressed.
Numb is an emotion.
But, telling a story where numb is the primary emotion
doesn’t work. The reader needs something
more to connect into and feel.
My first draft was all numb. The facts were there. It had a story line, but the emotional
connection was ice. I was skating on the
surface of everything I described, and I knew it.
I stopped writing and spent time working on my emotions and
my beliefs about myself.
My second draft was better. I was able to move into fear and love, how they felt, and how love melted away fear.
Better, but still not deep enough.
Then I did two things, perhaps accident, perhaps instinct, and experienced yet another that broke me through the numbness and let the story go.
I wrote a parallel draft during Nanowrimo 2017. I wrote all around the edges of the story,
every other part of my life, and the lives of my family and friends, during the
period the primary story took place.
Because I believed the parallel draft was not the story, I felt
free to write whatever showed up. Because
I’d given myself permission to accept whatever showed up, emotions started
breaking through and I recognized them.
Loss, grief, rage, desperation, depression. Everything I’d buried beneath numb showed up,
demanding to be acknowledged and written.
So I did. I felt the feelings and wrote the words. Painful, tearful, cathartic, necessary. For my eyes and heart only, and those of a few very trusted friends. I made it through the parallel draft.
While I was preparing to begin draft three, I discovered Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius. I put the draft on hold and instead began writing the back story, following Lisa’s process.
While I wrote back story and grieved the losses imposed on me by this now-healed illness, both my Dad and my cousin died, and my Mom fell hard and deep into Alzheimer’s.
So many griefs. They smashed the few defenses I had left.
I was naked and lost.
I kept writing.
There is something to be said for having my heart blasted
I felt everything and I feel everything, pain and joy
both. There is no numbing a blast site
And somehow, for some reason, I no longer wish to.
The emotions running in me have freed my heart and my
story. I can let the story go, and trust
the writing. I can trust the words to
carry what I feel and have felt.
November first. The clouds are dark grey outside my studio window. It’s been raining, snowing, and sleeting since midnight. The temperature sits at zero Celsius. Perfect weather for being inside, papers scattered across my work table, music playing counterpoint to the drip of water off the roof, writing this blog post.
It’s a perfect day for beginning Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), except this year I am not.
This is a deliberate choice.
I love doing Nanowrimo. I love writing furiously, aiming for at least 2,000 words each day. Love the focused creating. Love the feeling of a single driving purpose in a life normally split half a dozen directions. Love the community spirit, the support and mutual cheer leading. Love the feeling of entering the word count that pushes me over the 50,000 word goal. Oh yeah.
There is a good reason why I am not already in the depths of all this writing awesomeness. It’s something else I love–more writing awesomeness. It’s my book draft.
I am working through the final three chapters of Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. I have my momentum and I want to keep it. My book draft needs me.
If I shift to Nanowrimo, my creative focus completely shifts as well. I know the energy required to complete 50,000 plus words in a month, and it would leave none for my book. Nanowrimo is a demanding love.
I did Nanowrimo last year. I wrote a parallel draft for my book. I explored all the directions I didn’t take in the main draft.
It was worth spending a month discovering the words beyond the path already laid. I found writing that belonged in the main draft, filling in gaps I hadn’t noticed. I explored side paths I knew diverted the story so had ignored in the main draft. I reveled in back story that helped me understand motivations and situations.
Pausing my main draft and doing Nanowrimo last year was totally worth it. I gave myself month-long permission to experience places outside of the story. My main draft is richer as a result of the parallel draft.
Saying yes to Nanowrimo this year would take me away from where I am right now, and where I need to go next in my book draft. I need slower, more considered writing at the moment.
A ‘yes’ this year is an excuse to not work out the hard stuff on my book. It’s very appealing, and I know better. I’ve done enough excuses this year.
I do have to say, this ‘no’ feels sad. I feel like I’m missing the party.
At the same time, I feel how right my choice is. I love where I am in my draft process. I love what I have discovered and learned as I’ve worked my way. I am so very curious about what else is going to show up, as though I am reading the already published book and wondering what happens next in the story.
I feel rich in my writing life; I have more than one thing to love.
Bon voyage, all you Nanowrimo crew! May you have fair winds, full sails, and an ocean of ideas and words to play in. May you have life rafts aplenty should you need them, and a welcoming harbour when your writing reaches home at the end of the month. Save me a berth for next year.
In this post:
Nanowrimo aka National Novel Writing Month. https://nanowrimo.org/ I feel like Dr. Seuss and Willy Wonka had a hand or ten in inventing this.
Yesterday afternoon was warm and sunny, and I did not resist. I took myself, my writing, and an iced decaf latte, outside to the porch swing. I spent most of the afternoon writing backstory for my book, working out why my main character wants what she wants, and laying out her defining misbelief that constantly throws her off track.
Halfway through the writing, I sensed something was off track and it wasn’t the character I was writing about. It was me. Somehow I lost the main point and sent myself chasing words down a side track.
I completed the piece anyways, and ended it with “Rats, rats, rats, this is wrong!”
It is not lost on me that I went off track writing about my character’s misbelief that sends her off track.
Today I will go back.
Again, I will write about my character wanting what she wants, and her tricky misbelief. This time I will deliberately aim the writing in a different direction, and see where I end up. But first, I’m going to reread what I wrote yesterday. There may be a gem of an idea I overlooked, one that really does have a place in the story. Even if I see no gem, I will keep the draft of what I think is wrong stuff.
I keep my drafts because of what I learned and use all the time as an artist. Sometimes mistakes point me in a direction I had not considered, and sometimes it takes me a while to see it.
I keep my drafts, even the ones that seem wrong, because they tell me where I have been in the story, and they remind me of what wasn’t working and what I didn’t want. Been there, don’t have to go there again.
I keep my drafts because of my Dad. He told me once, when I was fourteen and suffering through a high school course I felt was useless, that everything I learn I will use at some point in my life. I listened, and the words stuck.
So here I am, choosing to find a use for my wrong-stuff-writing, instead of judging it a wasted writing session and tossing the pages. Even if I discover no gem in the words, it prompted my blog post for today, and that is gem enough.
In this post:
I am using the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press, 2016, to guide me through my main character’s backstory. This book is definitely a gem. http://wiredforstory.com
I discovered, at six years old, that words and books were magic. I read a story and became a different person in a world and experience new to me. I saw and felt the story like a movie in my body. I became the characters. Total magic.
That first magic of reading stayed with me, and out of it grew a second magic, writing. I love the magic of writing, how it leads me to discovery and understanding. The magic was busy this week as I worked on the backstory of my book, and something new came home to me about creating the truest story I can.
Here is what I realized.
As I write, I ask myself questions about the story being created. I do this each time I write, but what I came to this week is beyond asking questions. It is about asking the right question.
I write intuitively, so while I always ask who, where, what, how, and when, I don’t need to ask why. In writing intuitively, the why is already present for me. It drives the initial idea, the writing, and the story, even though I do not consciously articulate it to myself.
The problem with not consciously asking why is that the answer remains silent. The information stays in my unconscious. I might get close to expressing it, but much of the information is running underneath the surface of the words.
I know, as a reader, I don’t need why spelled out for me all the time. I see it in the experiences, beliefs, needs, and wants of the characters. The choices they make come out of that, and the story shows this to me.
As a writer, I’ve discovered I can’t leave the why sitting in my intuition. I need to consciously lay it out for myself as part of the backstory. My readers may not need it spelled out, but I do. Specifically answering why gives me knowledge that informs my writing, and provides me clues as to what needs to be written into the story. Once I’ve done the writing, this knowledge forms a base to measure against as I review what I have written.
Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius has walked me into this deeper understanding of my story-creating process. I am working my way through the questions she asks, forming the backstory so I have a clear picture of my protagonist when the story opens. All of who this character is, is her why. All of who she is informs and drives the choices she makes as the story progresses. I know what is pushing her, even when she doesn’t, and the knowledge helps me shape how I show and tell, shapes the words I choose, shapes what I choose to both offer and hold back from the reader.
I will continue to write intuitively but now, after the first draft is on the page, I will go back and consciously, deliberately ask myself the question that needs asking—why.
Thank you, Lisa, for showing me how to ask the right question.