Welcome to the second installment of DIY MFA Book Club responses! This round contains Prompts 5-8. There was a Prompt #9 on January 26th, but because it depends on reading Gabriela Pereira‘s book DIY MFA (which I have not read) so I’m skipping that one. While I have posted answers to these prompts in DIY MFA’s Facebook group “Word Nerds Unite,” I’m also posting the second set of prompts and slightly more in-depth answers here on The Cat’s Cradle:
January 17, 2018
DIY MFA Book Club
GP: “The internet is full of people giving advice about writing. A lot of this advice even contradicts itself. Write X number of words per day. Write every day. Don’t reread what you write. Don’t share your work until you’ve perfected it. Get a critique group and ask for feedback every step of the way. It’s enough to make a writer go crazy! Have you ever tried one of these ‘best practices’? How did it go? Did you make adjustments so the advice would suit your style? Most important: What did you learn about yourself as a writer from this process?”
There are two of these “best practices” that come to mind. The first is actually from one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury. He suggests writing a short story every week. I’ve never been able to put this into practice because I tend to require far more pages to craft a world and to spend time with the characters in order to make them real. I know that short stories are a great way to hone one’s craft so you can accomplish more by using the right words rather than a plethora of them. But it is often a struggle to get any writing done at all, so an entire story every week is just too much. (I say this despite planning on participate in the Story-A-Day challenge in May… oi.)
The second actually combines the idea of writing every day, having a specific word count to meet each day, and writing at a specific time each day. While I can do that for short stints in challenges like NaNoWriMo, it places a ridiculous amount of stress on someone who is already stressed. I think it’s important to try to write something more days than not and having some kind of regularity helps. But too often it becomes a vicious circle of guilt when you can’t meet those lofty goals and end up feeling like a failure for not following through. In addition, writing at the same time each day can also create the trap of thinking that if you don’t write at that time for some reason, your window for creativity is shot for the day. I always aim to write for an hour or two in the morning, but if I don’t, then I try to get to it in the evening after work. And if I miss a day or even a few days, I try not to let that make me feel guilty or that I’m not a “real writer.” This style works for some writers, but I’ve learned not to set up goals and plans that will only work if everything falls into place and works perfectly. Life’s too messy for that.
I recommend to read a lot of books by a lot of different writers and other creative people and try out different approaches that appeal to you. See if they mesh with your goals and lifestyle. Tweak as needed. And know that you might not require the same schedule for each book. Every project has its own unique challenges, and it’s best not to lock yourself in too tightly, lest you be unable to eject when the train car decides to go cross-country.
January 19, 2018
DIY MFA Book Club
GP: “Has this ever happened to you? You have a project that you really want to work on, but for some reason every time you sit down to write it you feel… stuck. This is not writer’s block. I believe that creative drive or “the muse” is something we can control, and that we can practice summoning inspiration on demand. [Writer’s block…] is the “I don’t feel like it” attitude that we can overcome through sheer willpower. Resistance is different because it stems from fear. While fear can be a healthy response to anything we perceive as threatening, it often gets misdirected into the wrong things. Have you had a time when resistance served as your creative compass and pointed you toward a particular project? Did you face that fear head-on and overcome your resistance? What was the result of pursuing (or not pursuing) that project?”
I think I’m actually in the middle of resistance right now. For NaNoWriMo I tried to work on another book in my nautical fantasy series The Mariner Sequence, but just… I technically was writing, but it’s just absolutely flat and dead and horrible. There’s no life in it. Which is really frustrating, considering how many books I have rattling around inside my head. I think the thing holding me back is because I’m far more aware of trends and brands and just people in general that I’m freezing up, afraid to write anything because it might be offensive, exclusionary, or “wrong” in some way. I need to let that go and have the narrative chips fall where they may in service to the story rather than the whims of the mob.
But I feel like this has the compass needle swinging back towards a different book in the same series, one that I started quite a while back and made significant progress on, but let sit due to some other, more time-sensitive projects. So I think I’ll be letting that novel sit and percolate for a bit and slip back into Ravens and Roses, a story that I definitely believe in that may give me the confidence to return and finish Seahawks and Storms. (I’ve also got the rough draft of a different story, a YA fantasy, that can use some rewriting and editing during National Novel Editing Month in March!)
January 22, 2018
DIY MFA Book Club
GP: ” In Chapter 8 of DIY MFA, I talk about the five main types of supporting characters—Villain, Love Interest, BFF, Mentor, and Fool—and the functions they serve in the story. Sure, there might be dozens more, but these five… are the primary ones we see come up again and again. Keep in mind that not every story needs to include all of these archetypes. Sometimes you might omit several of these archetypes; other times you can have one character filling multiple archetypal roles. …I have a theory that in any given story you have one (and only one) protagonist, and the supporting characters exist only to support the journey of that main character. What’s your favorite supporting character archetype and why?”
I think that my favorite supporting character archetype, or at least the one I find myself writing the most, is the Contrary Best Friend. Not “contrary” in the sense of being difficult or antagonistic but in the sense of being a strong contrast to the protagonist. If the protagonist is dark, bold, and daring, then their BFF is light, meek, and cautious. (Violet and Rose from one of my earliest, unnamed works. Jewel and Sea Star from Jewel and the Skyrunners. Nathaniel and Alexis from Courting the Moon. And a whole bunch of similar unlikely pairings from Ravens & Roses: Ryn and Erasmus, Sashi and Nira, Keshin and Martha, Nicolas and Vanja…)
From an outside perspective, they may appear to be complete opposites that would make people wonder why they get along at all, but they share certain core goals, values, or perceptions that bind them into a loyal, platonic relationship. It seems that I usually have the bolder of the pair as the protagonist that people follow because they are very active within the plot, but their BFF is the bedrock they can fall back onto. (I also seem to really like the “best friends from childhood” angle because that shared history strengthens their relationship.) This lets me cover a wide range of views, observations, or courses of action with just two characters rather than creating a massive ensemble cast.
(While my Lover supporting characters may also be contrary to the protagonist, it’s always in a different way and they usually have more in common with the protagonist, since I feel that stable relationships are built on similarities rather than complete opposites.)
January 24, 2018
DIY MFA Book Club
GP: “In Chapter 11 of the DIY MFA book, I talk about how conflict usually boils down to some sort of power struggle. In that chapter, I walk through some of the different conflicts that lead to different archetypal narratives. Now I want to know: What kind of conflict or power play is at work in your current work-in-progress? Do you see certain types of narratives come up again and again in your writing? I sure do. Are you like me and a sucker for underdog stories? Do you love that classic boy-meets-girl Rom-Com formula? Are you crazy for epic quests about heroes saving the world? What’s your favorite story type?”
Hmmm… Since I love fantasy and science fiction, those tend to have the Quest or the Journey and Return or sometimes Overcoming the Monster/Adversity. I think the best probably combine elements of all of those and I like to both read and write stories with those types. I’m not really as fond of the “let’s go save the world” quests because they are done so often and many times get too far away from the characters. I like the more personalized stories of characters looking for and finding something or over coming internal as well as external foes. The internal struggles tend to be more compelling than the external ones because we may never face down a horde of orcs, but we all know what fear feels like. I’ll follow a mediocre plot if the conflicts within and between the characters are compelling.
How would you answer these prompts? What best practice didn’t work for you? When has resistance to a project led you down a different, interesting path? What is your favorite supporting character archetype and why? And what type of story are you drawn to? I’d love to see your stories in the comments, or you can join us over at the DIY MFA Book Club where Word Nerds Unite!