2 min read

The case of the all-consuming holiday

And the story of why I never sent a newsletter until now.

Hi there,

Oof, I’m two weeks into this newsletter, and I’m already missing deadlines? Yikes!

The holidays were busy. On top of the regular festivities, we had extra family in the house and one of them got sick (not COVID-19, but still a trip to get tested, then one to the doctor).

All in all, my schedule was thrown out the window—along with the newsletter and other writing (no baby though, thank goodness).

December may have not been the time to start all of this.


However, there is something else—I’ve been blocked for the past few weeks.

You see, I saw a video a few weeks ago that I absolutely love. It was Mary Robinette Kowal doing a writing exercise on flash fiction.

And—spoiler—it’s fantastic.

My favourite takeaways:

  • She talks about treating stories threads as nested boxes (something I talk about in my teaching).
  • She also shows how each story thread is built around milieu, inquiry, character, or event (the MICE quotient).
  • And my favourite is when she talks about try/fail cycles (yes/but and no/and) and try/success cycles (yes/and and no/but). This will probably be the biggest takeaway I will teach to my students.

But...

...it ended up dooming my writing and blocking me.


I tried to write a story following her workshop.

Multiple stories were started and most of them failed. Only one or two of them ever made it to the end of a first draft.

The trouble was that I struggled with her story form.

I couldn’t seem to make my writing fit into the mould. I’d write sentences and rewrite them. I’d cut, change, paste, flip, twist, and in the end, I’d waste hours and want to delete it all.

By the end, I couldn’t even commit to a story idea. I’d hate all of it.

It was ridiculous. I still believe it’s smart, great advice—much of which that I will continue to teach—but I couldn’t make it work.


In the end, I got over it.

On New Year’s Eve, I went for a walk and knew what I had to do.

I quit following it, cracked open a beverage (more on this another day), and wrote whatever came to my mind. I had the first draft in less than an hour. (I will likely post it this week after some editing).

So, why did this work?


The stupid thing is that I love plans and outlining. My writing partner and I frequently use them when we write our books. If we don’t, there’s no guarantee will end up in the same place.

(It’s like travelling. If we both start in New York but don’t share the itinerary, one of us will end up in Paris and the other one in Melbourne.)

But not here. At least not on these short stories that I want to write on a quick, regular schedule.

Instead, these are places that I need to arrive at and explore. In the end, these stories are all about practice, process, and discovery—with a final goal to entertain.


I am slowly getting back to work, and new stories are coming (nothing this week).

Also, I may switch these emails to more of a bi-monthly thing (or if that fails, a monthly thing).

Twice a week feels untenable, and I’d rather treat these as letters instead of newsletters—a note from me to you about my writing, reading, and process.

So, that’s it for today. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

— David

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