On the aftermath of Viable Paradise XV

My brain feels full. Gooey full. Gooey-ooey-chewy full.

People have been asking me how my time went at Viable Paradise last week. I’ve been using various terms. “Intense” “Writer’s Boot Camp” “Heavy” were a few words I’ve thrown out. I’ve also used “Enlightening” “Inspiring” “Exciting”.

But now that I’m sitting down to write this blog, I can’t adequately put into words how it was.

Yes, it was intense. Yes, I learned so much I’m surprised my head hasn’t exploded. But there were also these moments of quiet enlightenment, when I wasn’t thinking much of anything at all. That was the night we all went down to the beach, and the moon was shining on the ocean like milk, and in the water was tiny jellyfish that lit up like fireflies.

And the friendships. Oh…the friendships….

I think the only way I can give you a taste of VP is by reprinting, in its entirety, the rambling post I made on Google Plus on the night of the Dreaded Thursday (and to my surprise, there really is a Dreaded Thursday–it’s not a myth after all). This was a post from an emotional me, a vulnerable me, a me that had just gone through the wringer and had emerged on the other side blinking in broad daylight.

Oh, and I had a drink or two. Just to warn you:

So…it’s the dreaded Thursday at Viable Paradise. I am an emotional wreck, weepy-eyed, sleep deprived, and every word I’m typing here feels like I’m drudging it out of my head using a rusty hook. But I need to get this out, because it’s also the day of epiphany, so here it is:

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know a damn thing about anything. What matters is that you tell a good story.

See, up to now, I’ve had this complex. I read all these awesome stories and I think to myself, man, these writers know so much. They know so much about biology/The Renaissance/World War II/quantum physics, and here am I, who don’t know diddly-squat, who have to go on Wikipedia to throw stuff into my story. I’ve never went backpacking in Europe, I don’t know how to lasso a bull, I can’t for the life of me debug a computer program, and for the love of God, I don’t know the inner workings of the Tea Party and how it differentiates between Republicans and Democrats and Liberterians, because it’s they’re all the same as hell to me. Every fricken one.

So for our VP Writing Assignment, I was to write a hard science fiction story about global warming. It had to be a positive, inspiring story. And it had to include a stomach. A disembodied stomach. Don’t ask. I don’t know how to write a hard science fiction story. Yes, I’ve written scifi before, but hard scifi? I hadn’t the faintest clue how to begin. And all I know about global warming is that polar bears hate us now for shrinking the ice caps. That’s it. That’s all. And how the hell am I supposed to write about a stomach?!

When I wrote it, I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. I couldn’t even edit it–it took me so long, when it came time to turn it in, all I had was a first draft. In my opinion, it sucked. It sucked on cheese, it sucked on toast, it sucked on crackers, it sucked, sucked, sucked. And as we read it, I had to admit, I got emotional, because to me everyone else’s stories was so much better than mine, because I didn’t have a fricken clue what I was doing. And then, worse of all, we posted our stories on the wall. So everyone could read it. Everyone.

And you know what? A lot of people came up to me. And they said, “LaShawn, that’s an awesome story.” “That beginning? How did you do that beginning?” “I love how you ended it. Awesome image.” “Great story.”

All that story knowledge consisted of a weird tidbit my mother in law shared and a couple of facts I read from Wikipedia. Everything else was “What if…what if….”
The reason why I was freaking out was that I felt that everyone else had better experience with things than I had. But we all have experience. Every single one of us. And I don’t see my own experience because…well…I’m experiencing it. You have not been to Africa like I have. You don’t know the difference between Japanese katakana and hiragana like I do. You never been in childbirth, have your inlaws move into your house, grown tomatoes, sat in a rocking chair at 4am with a nursing baby listening to geese honk sleepily in the neighboring pond like I have. And if you have done those things, it still would be different, because it would be through your own filter, not mine.
And as for the rest of the stuff, that can easily be supplied by other sources. Wikipedia. Books. That friend you can take out to lunch and pick his brain for details that will help flesh out your world. That sort of thing.

Our role as writers is not to be the smartest people on the planet. Our role is to use what we know to stretch out the unknown and bend it into the framework of a story.

Let me write that again. In bold. And in capital letters.

OUR ROLE AS WRITERS IS NOT TO BE THE SMARTEST PEOPLE ON THE PLANET. OUR ROLE IS TO USE WHAT WE KNOW TO STRETCH OUT THE UNKNOWN AND BEND IT INTO THE FRAMEWORK OF A STORY.

So I’m not going to be jealous anymore of writers who are better than me. Well, I guess being human, I will, but I’m not going to sweat it anymore. I’m going to enjoy their stories, learn what I can from them, and apply it to my own writing. And I’m going have fun doing it.

Starting tomorrow…

::collapses from exhaustion::

Dang, that’s gold.

You know what else I learned at Viable Paradise? Turns out, I really am one of those writers who do cram a lot into their stories. It’s the reason why I’ve been writing these huge 12,000 novelettes that I have a hard time selling. There’s a good chance that I can cut words out without sacrificing plot at all.

So, as you can see, I have some work to do.

First, I’m going to work on this short story I’ve sent out twice. It’s at 12,700 words. My goal is to cut 3000 words from it. I thought I had done it before, but at VP I pulled it out and saw about 100 words I could cut out from the first page alone. And that was just from glancing at it.

Then I’m going to tackle Willow. I have an after-VP assignment to trim my synopsis down so it fits on three pages. From that, I use that synopsis to put Willow on a diet. I’m going to cut out some characters entirely or hold off on other plotlines until the next book. It’s going to be brutal and a little painful, but I’m eager to dive into it. I finally got a handle on what to do with Willow now.

Heck, I may not have a doorstopper of a book after all…

Edit: When I read the post after posting it, in my recuperating from VP mind, I thought “Gooey-ooey-suey? Oo, I don’t want to imply that I’m sueing VP. DUDE NO! VIABLE PARADISE WAS THE BEST AWESOMEST WORKSHOP IN THE WORLD. So I changed it to chewy.

3 Responses

  1. I thought “chewy” was… kinda odd.

    Great — GREAT — that VP was so helpful. Would you say it met|exceeded your expectations?

  2. Awesome post roomie! Funny, I felt the same about my story – hated it, but I do have something to work with, namely a good beginning and an ending. VP was so much more than I expected, wish I could put it on rewind and do it all over again. Learned so much in that week, my brain is still processing.

    Miss u!

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