Friday, August 31, 2018

Bright--the story behind the story part 2

So I went home from that camping trip with a half-baked idea, scribbled a few notes, and wrote the first chapter. I knew how it was going to end and I knew who the characters were (what they wanted and what they were willing to do to get it). I even had the final conflict planned. The middle? Not so much. I wrote by the seat of my pants a lot in those days. Much of the time, it worked for me.

I wrote steadily and calmly (more or less) from 2009 until 2010. I was two-thirds of the way done and I froze. Completely. I was practically looking through a telescope at the ending. I knew it was out there. But I couldn't work out how to get there. So I put it aside and waited. Freezing wasn't an unusual state of being for me (It's a little like literary stage-fright, I think. Fear of getting it wrong or something). I knew I'd finish it. But it didn't come and it didn't come. I wrote other stories. I published a short story collection and then another short story collection. And still. Nothing. I'd open Bright up from time to time and re-read it--a little impressed with my own work if you want the truth. But the needle wasn't moving.

I went back to college as an elementary ed major. Changed my major to English with a Creative Writing emphasis (different blog entry entirely). Took a lot of classes and made As in all except one (seriously lousy instructor). One semester, a gifted English instructor talked about outlining--why we should learn to use one, and how we should use them. I'd always considered outlining to be the devil's tool. And something about the way she talked about seeing it as a map to where we wanted to go--not just the skeleton of our paper--clicked. I cannot tell you why--because now it seems perfectly obvious. But at the time, it was exactly what I needed to hear.

That night I went home and wrote out the route I needed to take to the completion of the book. It was right there, where it had been all along--it just needed a better cartographer. Over Christmas break, I finished the book, writing faster than I ever have. And when I reached the end, I knew I'd done something significant. I'd finished books before. But not like this.

Bright was a critical turning point. I think it's the first time I thought of myself as a writer. But more on that later.

No comments: