Dissociate Me

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547px-Janus-VaticanSometimes I wish I had a modified version of Dissociative Disorder, a kind I could turn on and off at will. Prolific writers seem to have mastered the ability to dissociate, to turn their minds to disparate worlds, characters, stories as easy as changing the settings on the washing machine. There’s a skill there that is proving gawdawful hard for me to learn.

I’m not interested in proliferation. (Not yet anyway, wheee!) I only want to be able to dig into one story while wrapping up another, to work on them both at the same time. The prevailing wisdom is while the betas have a draft, or while waiting on queries, get to work on your next story. Alrighty, then. Only, now my mind is split between two stories set in very different eras, with characters who would not be friends in real life. I need to be concentrating on one, but my mind drifts to the other. This seems a sure recipe for not finishing either project, and it may be that most insidious form of procrastination I’ve talked about before: procrastination that looks suspiciously like progress. But even this terrible possibility hasn’t forced me to develop a more effective strategy yet. A writer friend suggested that this ability is a habit, one that takes time to develop. In the meantime, it feels like driving in circles.

Learning the ins and outs of creating marketable fiction is a struggle. Just when a writer thinks he’s conquered one aspect—say, dialogue, point-of-view or storytelling—he’s faced with a new, higher-level skill. It’s daunting, and frustrating. No wonder so many people stick manuscripts in the trunk and never pull them out again. There are plenty of resources for learning mechanical skills, but for the more esoteric skills, it’s really a matter of slogging through and figuring it out on one’s own. Because each writer’s process is unique.

No one can actually teach me how to split my brain to manage two (or more) books at once. I have to learn it, develop a working solution. I’m not a naturally effective multi-tasker at the best of times, and when I’m immersed in writing, forget it. I live in my story. Even food and sleep get shunted to the farthest back burner. But to be a professional about this, which is my goal, this skill must be learned.

Like Janus, a writer must be able to look in opposite directions and see two, sometimes opposing, views at once.

Jupiter help me.

 

Photo Attribution: By Fubar Obfusco [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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You Can’t Take Away My Roget’s

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Old_KeyWe writers are always looking for the golden key, the one perfect piece of wisdom that will propel us from mundane to renowned. I suppose most pursuits, whether artistic, athletic, career-related, are filled with rules and advice. The shorter and pithier the better. Writing has plenty of them: Show, don’t tell. Never start a story with the main character waking up. Always capitalize the first word of a sentence. Just to name three off the top of my head.

But last weekend I saw a tweet cross my computer that just Pissed Me Off. It said: “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” And was attributed to Stephen King! Now I’m not here to cast aspersions on Mr. King. I credit him with being a formative influence on my writing style and I don’t mean to put words in his mouth, but I  suspect that what he meant by the thesaurus bit is more along the lines of “don’t be pretentious” if you’re writing genre fiction. Which is a suggestion, not a rule.

And yet someone passed along this gem last weekend as if it was gospel. Seriously? Are we telling writers not to expand their vocabularies, to limit their language to the words they read in Harriet The Spy novels? To not make use of reference books or take the time to search for just the perfect word for a particular moment in the story? Am I only allowed to use the words I can pull from my ever-less-efficient brain at the moment my fingers are on the keyboard, better word bedamned? What ROT!

This is the trouble with Rules and their vile offspring Always/Never statements: they can paralyze a person. New writers especially. Someone who does what writers are wont do and simply sits down one day to write a story, only to be told “You mustn’t do this. You have to do that.” That person might not have the experience to know (to quote a famous Hollywood pirate) the rules are more like guidelines. And now we’ve put him in a box.

The best writing wisdom I know? “Just write.”

Get the rules crap out of the way. There are no rules. There might be hard-won wisdom. There might be guidelines that are time-tested and therefore worth paying attention to. (I AM a fan of punctuation at the end of a sentence.) But if you want to tell a story, go for it. Save the guidelines and conventions for later. For now, just write.

 

(Photo By Asghar Mughal (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)