Just about anyone who has undertaken some sort of creative endeavor can tell you about the walls that you discover. If you want to bust through those walls, and be “epic” there are plenty of posts that will encourage and motivate you. That’s not what this is, though. I’ve stumbled across a few walls lately, but instead of busting through them, I’ve been sneaking around them, or struggling to climb over them. I have not had the pleasure yet of busting through anything.
While everyone else has been feverishly writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I have been participating in a different, and much smaller writing group. Several months ago, a friend and I were talking about how we both wanted to try writing fiction. We each write professionally – she as a technical writer, I as a copywriter – but neither of us had ever seriously attempted to write fiction beyond a creative writing class in college. There was an invisible wall stopping us.
We both have notebooks filled with observations and ideas, but nothing solid. We were stuck behind a wall when it came to actually writing a story. Talking usually helps when you are trying to get past a
wall, so we just chatted about it. As we talked about the different elements of story-telling, we decided it would be fun and useful to take an online creative writing class. We started looking at all of the free ones available, but none of them included what I consider an essential element: writing. That first wall to writing a novel loomed as large as ever.
To get past it, we decided to put together our own creative writing class, and started carving a path around the wall.
Writing groups have been around forever. There’s one in my town that meets at a great bar every Tuesday night. It’s probably a good group, but I’ve never gone. Going would mean I had to get dressed and leave my house. Also, going to a bar every Tuesday would be expensive – the cost of fuel and beer…Anyway, for someone who is almost a hermit, going out to a critique group feels onerous, and presents what for me, is an insurmountable wall.
My friend, let’s call her Debbie, and I made a list of the topics we would expect to be covered in our dream creative writing class. We decided it wouldn’t too burdensome to research and present on a couple of the topics each and that a seminar-style class would be interesting. Debbie and I found three other people willing to join in the experiment, and here’s how it works:
- We are making heavy use of Google.
- We have a circle on Google+ where we post random thoughts, comments about topics, or whatever.
- Google Docs allows us to share all sorts of things. For instance, a day or two before presenting his findings, the person who researched Point of View shared a document with a list of links and his thoughts about each one. In turn, other members of the group asked questions and left comments that the presenter responded to during our meeting.
- Google Hangouts (within Google+) is what really makes all of this possible. We “meet” in a Hangout once a week.
- While it’s not a requirement, most of the people in the group are using participation as a catalyst to work on a writing project. The week we talked about plotting, a few of us wrote out a plot for a story.
- The group provides accountability, structure, a place to bounce ideas around, and will hopefully result in some stories being written.
We are only in our third week of meetings, but so far, it seems to be working pretty well. During our first meeting, we hammered out a list of topics, and people chose which ones they wanted to research and talk about, then we decided who would present the next week. The topic for the second meeting was plotting, which I talked about, and the group discussed in a very general way. We were all planning to share a basic plot line during the third meeting, but circumstances dictated otherwise. (People are busy, it’s a weird time of year, and stuff happens. It’s all right.)
Point of view was the topic of the third Hangout. And BOOM! We hit another wall.
When you are telling a story to a group of friends about yourself, you naturally use first person. You’ve probably been around someone who used third person to talk about themselves at some point, and you probably thought they were weird. When you tell a story about someone else, you naturally use third person (limited, to your own view, of course) because to do otherwise would be strange. Most of the books we read for pleasure are written in what is known as third person omniscient. There is also a POV called second person, but it’s weird and difficult to read.
Anyway, if you are a writer, and you start thinking about all of this stuff, it can act as the biggest, scariest, barbed-wire encased wall in the world. It just stops you cold. You get all tangled up in the technical details of writing. This is a wall we are just going to have to climb over. There’s no path around it, because this wall is the actual telling of the story. As a writer, you need to understand point of view, but you still have to tell a story.
One way to get strong enough to climb over the wall is to play with point of view: write the same scene from different characters’ perspectives. Write it in first person, then third person limited, then third person omniscient. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. You are climbing over a big, gnarly wall. That’s never easy.
I’m sure that there will be many more walls between now and when I’m writing a post to tell you that my first work of fiction is available on Amazon. But, I’m equally sure that those walls can be avoided, climbed over, or maybe even busted through.