18 September 2011
Years ago, I read Barry Schwartz’s article, “The Tyranny of Choice,” but I’ve had opportunity recently to re-visit it.
I just re-read it before recommending it to someone else, and that’s when it hit me: that’s why I’m dissatisfied with my writing early on in the piece. It’s always the case, I’ve always known it, and I just put on headphones and try to plow through, because I’m a discovery writer. I discover what I’m writing about by the act of writing it. I start with merely the smallest glimpse of an idea.
For “A Sword Called Rhonda,” my idea came after reading an article in Ms. magazine about how advertisers in traditional women’s magazines dictated content: how much, what kinds, and what pages. I believe this was several years after I read Misty Lackey’s books Oathbound and Oathbreakers, which featured a sword called Need that helped women. And then there’s my old economics teacher who always used to ask the question, “Who gets to decide?” In this context: who gets to decide what “need” a woman requires help with?
Years after that, those three ideas combined in my head: what would a sword who helped women be like were it written from the viewpoint of the typical women’s magazine? This is how I got lines like:
“And you so need me, too. You’re a mess! Look at that eyebrow. Don’t you ever pluck?”
I rubbed the bridge of my nose. So it had a little hair. Big deal.
That’s texture, it’s not a story in and of itself, but that’s all I knew when I began writing. I had an idea of who Rhonda was (butch), and who Karma was (girlie sword), and why they were the way they were.
In other words: I still had too many choices.
I begin being happy with a piece when I can see the ending. Not even the whole ending, just an anchor point in space. I usually see this point when I’m somewhere between 20% and 35% through the first draft. For a short, when I finish the scene I’m writing, I’ll either write the end scene or make notes about it, then go back to write the middle. At that point, I now have enough choices narrowed down that I’m comfortable.
I’ve also been known to write a novel out of order for similar reasons, though that usually winds up with a big, fat mess, so I try not to do it unless it seems like the only way to get it out.
I’m experimenting with some ideas for getting to that point without having to flail for so long. I don’t know if they’ll help. I do know that an outline only helps me after the first draft, and same with character studies. For me, they’re for editing, not for writing.
Unfortunately, I lack a good process at present.