I ran into a problem in my thirties where as good as the writing group I was in was, I was personally hitting a wall. I was falling into the trap of valuing clean prose that wasn’t called out for basic mistakes over messy prose that might not have been as polished and I was at a point where getting standard advice over general rules no longer applied for my specific attempt at what I was doing it, yet the generic advice was being given over and over again. The critiquers who were exceptions were brilliant at it, but I found my growth as a writer was starting to plateau.
I saw new writers coming into the group full of vim and vigour with their roughly formed but interesting takes on things and saw everything that made their writing style unique getting buffed out as they turned their writing over to a committee. I saw the danger of writers writing for other writers instead of writing for readers who care more about the character and the plot than they do about clean prose. As great as my teachers were, I wanted to reach out into other fields and glean what I could from as many places as I could.
So I went to youtube. The most help I found was a YouTuber named Vihart, who was a math-musician, of all things, but the way she talked about the creative process spoke to me, personally. Any of her videos are worth a watch, but I want to talk about the two videos that sat down and spoke to my soul, and then branch off to other channels that also are excellent and helped me before asking you guys what help have you gotten from the ‘tube.
The first video, like I said, is just great, but I want to concentrate on what is said after the 11-minute mark here. The video is about a style of creating music that deals with combinations and permutations rather than any actual skill involved, but what she says about the creative process is fascinating. Music is just twelve tones put together by people who have experimented enough that they would know how the music sounds without having to go through every permutation to find different notes that no one has come up with before that sound interesting.
Writing, to me, is the same way. As you’re just starting out, you may only grasp the dominant notes a story can have – hero, antagonist, problem, plot and put them through the obvious paces that anyone just starting out would know to do. Every once and a while a new writer can stumble down a path of notes/storylines that takes them into fascinating, new territory, but without the skill to be able to create something like that with any regularity other than luck, it’s tough to count on being able to follow down interesting paths. Being good at writing is just being able to imagine how plot points well away from the simple tunes like Mary has a little lamb but still take a unique path down an interesting line of events to get to an original ending. The more practice you have, the better you are able to set out planning to go off the beaten path but still get somewhere good.
What she says about copyright and the way the author’s intent to cause an emotional reaction, done ham-handedly, can show the viewer their intention to produce that emotion rather than the emotion itself, which almost never works. Viewers know when their being poorly manipulated, and it’s not a good look.
The other video I want to share is mainly the first part of They Become What They Beheld, which isn’t even Vihart’s own word. She’s reading from the foreword of They Became What They Beheld, by Edmund Carpenter, which really punched me in all my feels. I think the initial questions that she asks are equally valid when it comes to writing as well. The dreaded feeling that we’re none of us doing this “right”, but then she pulls out the book and reads from the foreword, the most powerful bit to me is the idea that artists do not create audiences. They are speaking to themselves out loud. If what they have to say is significant, others hear and are affected. There’s no skipping that step. No amount of marketing or sales force behind you can make something that doesn’t speak to your audience speak to your audience. I know in fiction, people like to point at Twilight and say the rules don’t apply any more, but as awful as those books are from a technical and moral standpoint, they spoke deeply to their audience.
She goes on to say the problem with saying things clearly and fully, is that clear statements are generally obsolete thinking. I always saw writing as a bay leading out to the ocean, where the sand and silt on the beach and under the water are what people are trying to mine to find good stories. The closer you are to the safe beach, the more you’re digging into sand that a million other writers have tried gripping before. If you want the good stuff that hasn’t been pawed over for centuries, you have to get in a boat, row out as far as you can, and free dive all the way to the bottom and bring up whatever you can to the surface. That new silt isn’t going to be perfect. It isn’t going to be smeared on the page as it is and make something that is well-formed. It’s going to be crumpled and half there. It’s up to the writer to make something out of that raw material, and their first attempts at doing it aren’t going to match the polish that the beach people who haven’t taken any risks can make their work look like. Writing groups love the beach writing, because it’s easy to digest and quick to critique. The half-formed gunk at the bottom of the ocean may not be accessible. It may not be polished, but it can be made to be with extra work in the way that the writing from the beach can never be made to be made more complicated without even more work done to it.
Well, that rambled on more than I thought it would. I just want to mention a few more author channels without going into detail. John Green’s analogy of what a rough draft is was brilliant. If the final draft of the work is the ashtray that people my age still made in kindergarten for our parents, the rough draft is just getting the clay from the riverside to the table in the art room. I am not going to find the youtube video I saw it in, but here’s the blog post it’s based on.
Continuing on Maureen Johnson on another guest vlogbrother channel talks about daring to suck here:
Their crash course on screenplays was helpful:
I really enjoyed Lindsay Ellis (who is a genius) talk about literature in It’s Lit, a PBS channel.
As was the whole Film Courage channel: