Sometimes You Just Know

I've developed this nasty habit of over-thinking things. Now I say that like it's some recent thing, but in truth I've been that way my whole life. I didn't do a lot of the stupid shit most kids my age have because of it (though instead I went through my own brand of stupid shit). It paralyzed me when it came time to choose a college degree, and kept me in it even after I realized I was wasting my time. I missed a couple steps and entirely avoided some leaps I should have taken. Now how the fuck does that relate to writing?

Last week I was in Toronto, and I finally took a crack at a concept I had for a story. Don't worry, I'd gotten a serious amount of editing done just the night before. Honestly, I should have done both that day, but I was away for the weekend so whatever. Now this concept had been bouncing around my skull since I saw a submission call for cosmic horror. I'd never tried my hand at the genre and I'd wanted to do so since I finished reading a small collection of Lovecraft stories I'd bought at Chapters for $5. The basic concept is this; man goes on solo mission to Pluto, promptly goes crazy. Not the most creative premise, but it had its hooks in me. So I ran with it for a couple of hours. I was so excited by all the possibilities, all the science I'd researched, and the character I created. I rode that wave of inspiration for a bit North of 2000 words. "That was a good chunk of writing," I thought to myself, "I'm sure this will lead somewhere great." Only it didn't. I looked over what I'd written and I knew it was no good. I'd written four pages of pure exposition. It was boring as shit and I'd come up with it. I couldn't imagine how dull it'd be for an actual reader. "Oh well, it's a first draft," I continued, "I'll fix it on the second go." I left it at that. I knew it was bad. Not like a "I'm a terrible writer and everything I write is terrible" kind of bad. This was pure, unadulterated, periodic table level crap. Absolute certainty doesn't come often when it comes to me and my writing, but this time it had.

So that sucked. But it wasn't time wasted. Before I go on, I should mention I'm about halfway through Stephen King's On Writing. I absolutely love it. It's a fantastic mix of personal anecdotes and cold, practical advice. I'm learning a ton of stuff (obviously vocabulary isn't one of them). The irony is I've never read a single novel by him, but his thoughts on the craft are absolutely fascinating. That, and I'm doing my best to replicate his work ethic. Anyway, all that to say that I read a good piece of it today. The part that stood out the most was to tell the truth. To paraphrase, you can't write anything but the truth. That simple idea lead to the equivalent of an atom bomb in my brain (this may be hyperbole, for there were several throughout my consumption of this book). After reading that bit, I immediately took another whack at my Pluto story (which so far I've titled "A man at the edge of space"). I named the new file "A man at the edge of space - Take 2". I started from scratch. Scrapped the exposition and focused on the character. What is he doing? What is he feeling? How does this affect his actions, his words? After a 40 minute sprint, I had about 1500 words that I felt immensely proud of, comparatively speaking. I'm still not sure if it's going to be good, but it's impossible to describe just how much better this second attempt ended up being. 

Sometimes you gotta stop overthinking it. I was worried about the exposition. "If I don't word-vomit this at the start, how will anyone know anything about the timeframe, the world?" I'd ask myself. Now, I've realized that the reader is not going to give a fuck exactly how far from the Earth Pluto is. They've got Google to figure it out if they really want to. They want a character who acts, makes decisions, and experiences things. I was stuck thinking about technique and craft, and didn't realize I should be focusing on making the story ring true.

Sometimes you just know when something sucks. Sometimes things just click, but it takes a long way to get there.