Friday, August 10, 2018

All or Nothing

I took a class from someone who specializes in teaching writers to play to their strengths. Which meant identifying those strengths. That work was done and those of us in the class listened to lectures, chatted amongst ourselves and with our instructor, mostly trying to grasp how far of course each of us had drifted when it came to core personality traits and/or our wiring.

Think of it like vehicles with internal combustion engines. Some of us are motorcycles - lean, agile, able to zip around obstacles that stymy others, but side swipe us with a truck, and it's game over. Some of us are econoboxes - no frills workhorses who won't set any speed records, but we get where we're headed. Some are sporty models - high output engines, speed, flashy good looks and a tendency to end up sitting in repair shops because, man, those engines are fiddly. Or maybe a rusted, dented pickup truck with a lawnmower hanging out the back and one wheel that wobbles and a top speed on the freeway for 40.

At their core, all of these vehicles are the same, right? Wheels and internal combustion engines. But after that, they are all built entirely differently.

So are writers.

And yet, we tell ourselves that if THAT author is doing were-hamster/were-guinea pig mash up romances at the blistering clip of 16 new novels a year, then by all the gods, WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO THAT TOO. If plotting is THE way to make writing easier and faster, then let's all learn to plot! So what if the only way we discover story is literally in the writing of it? We can learn anything! Well. Yes. As a matter of fact, we can learn anything. Yay, reading, right? But then we start applying everything we've taught ourselves and over time, we bog down. So we learn more things, trying to get unstuck. It rarely works. We've loaded waaay too much stuff into the sports car and completely ignored that vehicle's great strength - drama. I may stretching the analogy far too thin.

Back to the class I took. It was a series of epiphanies centered around figuring out how we as writers (and human beings) are wired to work. No two of us in the class were the same. But our instructor did a fabulous job of explaining what drives each of the different personalities. Interesting stuff trying to peel back layers of expectation to get at the core of your writing drive. Then, in the final class, the instructor began talking about people who are what she called 'the 0-100 percenters'. When these people do a thing, they DO the thing - no one and nothing else exists for them. That's the 100%. The rest of the time, these people are 0%. They might even deny they're writers during a 0% phase. She kept talking, mostly about the challenges versus the advantages of the type and how to structure your life to take advantage of it. I kept listening, my heart sinking.

I am one of those people. How do I know? After that class, I took the weekend off. I read four novels in two days. This had been my childhood. Devouring books. Getting in trouble because I couldn't stop reading long enough to do the chores my parents assigned me.

I'd always been amazed by (and maybe deeply suspicious of) people who could just read a chapter in a book and then put it down. Then I graduated to wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn't do that. It's because I'm just wired to be something different.

So where's the benefit? The day after finishing the fourth book, I wrote an insane number of words after having been stuck in the low triple digits for months. It was easy. It was fun. It's been a long time since I said that. That's the power of stripping way all the 'shoulds' around what we do and playing to your specific strengths. Now to fun something - anything - to completion.

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