Writing Is...Well, I Don't Know What 7/30 '19
My local writers' guild has opened this year's Mentorship Program for Emerging Writers, for "members in good standing with a substantial work-in-progress in any genre." The program is free, but limited to a handful of participants. The first round of panel evaluation is ten pages of the manuscript, due mid-August. I've polished the first ten of my Chapter One, and sent it to some folks for feedback. Now I'm anxious. Approaching "clutched." Not many people see my work, fewer still when it's "in progress."
A second evaluation round may call for the remainder of the work. I have about 40k uneven first draft words toward what I expect is a 90k novel, and there's no way I can finish it by the end of August (when selected apprentices will be notified or additional materials requested). Still, I understand a couple folks got in last year with fewer, one with only 12k done. I'll be shoring up those 40k and reworking my outline (it needs help). But I'm already biting my nails, and haven't even officially submitted my application.
It doesn't help that I'm writing genre fiction: a superhero memoir. (Three things in which I have no direct prior experience - writing a novel, writing a memoir, and being a superhero.) I'm hoping the panel can find value in such a superficially silly opus. I'm aiming for seriocomic semi-literary meditative action, whatever the hell that is.
I'm already months past my self-imposed deadline for the first draft. This "block" is complicated, but largely a case of "I need a map." I have a programmer's brain; I code to spec, architect to solve a specific problem or meet a specific need. Give me a problem, I'll work it. Tell me what should appear in a paragraph, a line of dialogue, a scene, I'll write it. But crafting a novel is both the code (the prose) AND the spec (the story, characters, et al). Turns out, I'm not very good at "story." (Or probably quibbling things like characterization, pacing, dialogue, etc.)
I spent a lot of 2017 and 2018 diving into theories of narrative structure, from the good-ol' Hero's Journey (and its derivatives) through Shawn Coyne's Story Grid to John Truby's The Anatomy of Story, and pretty much everything between and adjacent. Thing is, I've been framing this novel as a memoir, where such forms and formulae start to break down. My research into memoir, fictional or otherwise, hasn't been effective or revealing. I don't want to write formulaic hack shit (looking at you, Dan Brown), but dammit, maybe that's what I need to do to get moving? Ugh.
A degree program has crossed my mind. The local university offers an MFA, and on the (comparatively) cheap side for provincial residents. I'd hope such a program would sharpen my critical/analytical skills, help hone prose technique, and give feedback in the form of student and teacher reviews of submitted work. But will it? Can it?
So this mentorship program may be the ticket. It's only five months, it's free, it's personalized. Maybe it'd be enough to finish this thing, maybe enough to learn how to do the next one. If nothing else, maybe it would indicate whether an MFA would be worthwhile.
But if I don't get in or it doesn't really work for me, well... Hell. The whole "writing" thing may be on the table here. Guess I could always get back into coding. Become the stevedore I never always wanted to be. Say "good morning" to shoppers at a Mega-Lo-Mart.
It doesn't help that I'm such a snob about prose, especially mine. This is my other big "block." First drafts suck monster moosecock. Writing one is like practicing the piano, something else I could never stand long enough to benefit from. It's just constant failure until it's not. Practice sucks. Failure sucks. Not being good enough to do something well sucks. I want to write crystalline, erudite, heart-spearing prose to make the angels weep and the scholars delve and the poets green and all humans say, "yes, yes - perfection." You know, like no one ever has, ever.
I turn my nose up at so much stuff out there because it's not "smart" enough, not "literary." Bear in mind I read SF/F almost exclusively, so the stable is already small. Gene Wolfe, Tanith Lee, Angela Carter, Minister Faust, N. K. Jemison, Steven Erickson, even Clive Barker...yes. But I don't even like GRRM's prose enough to read GoT, let alone Anne Rice or S. King or literally most genre authors. I know I'm missing out on some great storytelling. I know I should suck it up and learn from what they obviously do so well, but...grrrrrrrrrr.
This bit crossed my path while writing this very post, from a free ebook offer - here's the description on Amazon:
A black-ops agency discovers hieroglyph-covered pyramids on Jupiter's moon Callisto. The government forcibly taps rebel archeologist Kaden Jaxx with only two instructions: 1) decode the ancient writings and 2) keep his overactive mouth shut...or else. But what if the writing spells out an ancient prophecy for Earth’s doom?
Seriously? "Rebel archaeologist?" "Kaden Jaxx?" Black ops on a moon? It's like Stargate fan-fic for a high school assignment. The name's even better. I mean worse. No, I won't share it here.
But you'll notice: that's on Amazon.
So who's the real tool here?
Maybe the mentorship program can teach me to get off my high horse long enough to write the fucking thing. I can always fix it later, right?