Learning not to think

My whole journey since high school has been an exercise in thinking less and doing more. And yet somehow that’s never seemed to apply to my art and writing. Not until now.

I never understood how people could start a story with no idea where it was going; write from the beginning, go until the end, just seeing what happens. I’ve heard people describe this process and just been completely unable to imagine what that would be like.

I feel kind of like the Bajoran prophets, when Sisko is having a terrible time explaining to them what living a linear existence is like. I don’t do linear. I like to start with a plot arc in mind, and slowly bring it into focus as I write, in whatever order it becomes clear to me. I don’t know what happens in the beginning until I know what happens later. I love to work backwards in a character’s life.

And yet this process has its failings. Writing in a linear way is a skill I have envied, because of the speed it allows, because of the way it results in a completed first draft before any refining has been done, because so many people seem to make it work and I haven’t published anything really good yet.

With Kiss the Poison Tree I’m giving it a real go. It’s difficult, because I’m still very analytical where writing is concerned. I keep having to stop asking myself where all this is going and just focus on what would be interesting to happen next. Maybe on what feels right.

I’m really trying to control how much background information I have. There are two problems I run into when I have too much background information on a project. Either I get bogged down trying to convey all the information in dialogue, or I wind up with a story that goes all over the place and doesn’t make sense until you’ve seen all the pieces.

Of course I realize there’s a danger in not planning out the background information, too. There’s a danger that the story will not ever make sense, that I will write myself into a dead end I didn’t anticipate. But my brain tells me that this is much less likely than I might fear, and I have to risk it to find out whether it will work. Besides, I don’t think I will manage to stop planning to that extent. My brain just keeps working.

It’s fascinating, working not from an eventual goal, but from a perspective of what works now. I think it will result in a story that is more interesting from the beginning and all the way through, unlike some of my stories which have parts where I just have to put in something boring to get from point A to point B.

I’m working from a simple physical dynamic, which creates a cultural dynamic, which creates a feel. The beginning of Kiss the Poison Tree is one moment in time, and I think it’s a stronger moment for the fact that it really did come before everything else in the story. It is a moment interesting enough on its own merits that I started a story around it with nothing planned into its future to keep me interested.

Well, not nothing. I’ve got a few things planned. Allow me my training wheels; this is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this.

But all this analyzing energy has to go somewhere. Instead of analyzing my story I guess I’ll analyze myself and my writing process. I think I’ll probably continue to write a lot more blog entries.



  1. sylvia01 said

    Careful about having too much weird stuff and not knowing where it’s going. You might end up with 6 seasons of “Lost.”

    • Melanie said

      Well, I think it depends on whether you write plot without knowing where it’s going, or write plot without knowing where it already is. In “Lost,” the writers introduced elements they didn’t understand, and had to figure out in retrospect what had already happened.

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