A Dramatic Reminder to Write What I Know

January 23, 2012 in General Topics

Recently I was reminded of the old writer’s axiom: “Write what you know”. Perhaps “reminded” is an understatement. Let’s try “kicked with the steel-toed boot of feedback”.

I submitted a tale to a rather wonderful crit group I’m a part of, and the piece promptly got shredded worse than a surfer slamming into coral at low tide. This is a very, very good thing, in reflection, though over the past two weeks I was in something approaching a funk: the feedback on this tale was simply so horrible that I was honestly questioning my own legitimacy as a writer.

I didn’t give up. What I did do was fall briefly into the trap of perfectionism. I wasn’t going to write my next tale, I decided, until I was absolutely sure every bit of it would be perfect: character, plot, dialog, etc.

I had three story ideas floating about, and was sure one of them would congeal into something meaningful, but it just wasn’t happening. I’d been so spooked by this feedback on my story that my tales were like trout in a mountain stream, forever darting under the overhanging branches of my mind whenever a cohesive plot dared venture forward. I found myself shooting down one idea after another solely on the basis of second-guessing myself.

Finally, I came up with a whammy of a plot and commenced the jiggling (link). Lo and behold, I finished up the first draft yesterday. So my mojo is safe and sound.

Looking back, what doomed me with the other story — now a resident of the trunk — was the following:

1) I researched the occupation of the characters in the plot, and since said occupation was very secretive and couldn’t find the exact procedures employed by this occupation, I simply filled in my own details and methods.

2) I went out of my way to include an ancillary character, dragged along only for an “ah-ha” moment at the end of the tale, and kept forcing the story to explain his presence.

3) I didn’t listen to the voice in my head that kept saying “this plot is so implausible that you’re having to spend half your story explaining how it isn’t.”

Lesson learned. Painful, yes, but better a trunked short story now than a junked novel later on.

Stay tuned.