Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Finding the vein

I have good veins, or so the drawers of blood assure me. Good meaning easy to find and stick a needle into. Little blue highways running right below the skin in the crooks of my elbows. Might as well have flashing arrows.

Other people are not so lucky. They suffer multiple exploratory punctures when in a situation that calls for blood to be drawn. Bad enough to have a needle in your arm. Worse when they have to go hunting for the vein, jabbing you over and over.

This is not actually a post about the perils of phlebotomy, however. It's about writing. About how I write. Like the phlebotomist, I often have to go hunting for the entry to a story. Sometimes it's as easy - there's the vein, stick it - but much more often I've got to to try my luck, and just start jabbing at the general area until the vial starts to fill.

It's unpleasant. It's stressful. Sometimes, yes, it's painful.

You see, I might have a general idea about the story I want to write. A general theme, a setting, a character, a scene. But I do not outline in any coherent fashion. I write in order to find out what it is I want, or need, to write.

Some people place writers into two groups- 'pantsers' and 'plotters'. The idea being some writers write by the seat of their pants, others plot everything out before they start. I don't know anybody who falls completely into either category. I doubt any writer exists purely within one or the other. But it doesn't really matter. At the end of the day, whatever gets your manuscript finished is good enough.

For me, I'm not a plotter or a pantser. I'm a questioner. When in writing mode, I'm constantly asking myself what and why. What happened? Why? What will this particular character do when she finds out? Most of the time the answer comes. Sometimes the answer is 'I don't know' and I put the story aside. Sometimes the answer is 'I don't care anymore' and the story gets buried for months or years; maybe forever. Or, to return to the metaphor that began this post, I'm a phlebotomist of genre, trying to find the narrative vein. Sometimes they have good veins, like 'Waste Land'. Sometimes it takes an unbelievably long time to get what I'm after, like The Blade That Whispers Hate. And sometimes the patient (or is it specimen?) dies and decomposes.



Whatever works, my friends. Whatever works.

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