I can’t remember exactly why I stopped being so secretive about my writing. I recall a point in time where I’d be ridiculously vague (even in comparison to how terribly vague I still am now), and then the now, where I’ll share early snippets of my writing, or allude to characters, and all that goodness that shows I’ve been writing and not just procrastinating.
I know that’s not why, either. I love being able to show that while I’ve been blogging about writing or chatting to others about ideas, that I’ve actually written stuff. I know sometimes it seems like I write more about writing than I actually write, but it’s much less one-sided than it appears.
Skeptical? Me too.
One of the things that helped me open up with my writing was the realisation that I had far too much to write. I don’t think anybody would be put at ease by the idea that there’s no story that hasn’t already been written. Would it make you feel better to learn that the idea you’ve been working on for a while is similar to an existing novel, which is a derivative of other, which was a re-imagining of yet another? Doesn’t really put me at ease – it seems more like a “Don’t waste your time” than a “Nobody’s going to use your idea. It’s not even your idea.”
It may be true that your idea is similar to another. There’s always going to be people that push the idea that there are only really seven possible stories. Or thirteen. Or One. You could reduce any story’s scope to “Protagonist overcomes obstacles to achieve goal.” There’s a few things that change that. Voice is definitely one, and it’s probably the most reliable way to make your writing distinctive. My son had to prepare a speech for school recently, and while I wasn’t sure about why a 5-year-old should be rehearsing structured presentations when I’m sure I didn’t encounter it until I was 12, he had a good question about it. His words were a bit jumbled, so for the sake of clarity, I’ll translate it.
What if somebody uses the same speech as me?
The idea that some other kid might decided to speak about strawberries and bananas seemed slim to me, but I didn’t discount his question. See, he and I often do some basic storytelling, along the lines of Elements Method. A story prompt could be that there’s a dragon, a robot, and a talking tree. I used our regular story thing as an example, and asked him if his story with the same prompts turned out the same as mine. He agreed that they were different, and that was good enough of an analogy for his speech.
It’s the same for everybody. If you’re writing in your natural style, your characters will differ from mine, and your setting will be a world I’d consider strange yet inviting. Even in your own style though, things aren’t so straightforward.
At the moment I’m working on the second draft of Trail, and the preliminary attack is giving me too many options. I have an opening line that feels better than what I had before, but I’m not settled on it. I’ve rewritten it a few times, trying to get the right dose of character and setting, without jamming a ton of information down the reader’s throat. There are so many ways to write it, and I think because it’s a new draft, I’m more stubborn about getting the words right than I’d be on a first draft. I know it won’t be the last time I have to go through it (nor second last, nor third last), but I’m attempting to be more precise with this run through the novel.
It often happens with my rewrites, as well as my initial NaNoWriMo kick-offs: I forget how to write, or at least, become very analytical about what I’m writing. It’s the wrong thing to be doing. I’ll second-guess, wonder “is this how people write? What am I doing? is there too much information? Is there not enough? I’m confusing people!!” and eventually it will gel together despite my best efforts at derailing the process. The current version(s) of the opening paragraph for Trail go between “Alright, now THIS is what it should be” and “Ugh, this feels so preciously written. Stop forcing it!”
In truth, I don’t know where it lies. I’ve given myself sufficient distance from the novel, seeing as it started in 2010 and has barely been touched since early 2011. I may have to write it wrong for now, with the intention to wrestle with the introduction to the odd planet/setting/characters I’ve got at some future date.