Writing break to write about writing

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there! Hope you are all enjoying your day and getting all the pampering you deserve.

Since my mom is over 2k miles away, I’ve been spending the weekend on writing-related activities rather than mom-related activities. Yesterday I participated in the UC Berkeley Student Readings at Books, Inc. on Van Ness in the city. I read the first three pages of the story that I’ve been working on that started off as a writing exercise that I posted here back in March. That was a thrilling experience that I hope I get to repeat!

The story, which I am tentatively calling “Bridge Beat,” isn’t done yet. I am on about my third revision (not counting the exercise). When I submitted one of the first versions to my workshop class, they all seemed to think that it deserved to be even longer… I don’t think there is enough there for a novel, even if I did create a moderately interesting world. So, I am still attempting to fit it into a short story sized box… Novella at most.

But, my current revision clearly ends at what is just the beginning of something that is presumably a much longer story. Either that, or I have completely missed the point and need to circle back and short circuit this before it gets entirely out of hand. The last thing I need is another in-progress novel. I swear this thing could be a short story if I could only see the story with fresh eyes…

But there’s the rub — it’s really hard to see a story objectively when you are writing it. The story is in your head. You know all the bits and pieces (even if there are also bits and pieces you are totally making up as you go along). So it’s hard to know how the story is appearing to the reader. Are you giving away too much too soon? Or are you being so vague that the reader is left guessing at too much?

Still, plot, character, and scene are my favorite bits of storytelling. I really like creating worlds and characters and setting them in motion. For me that’s the most fun part of story writing. The things I end up struggling with are “theme” and “meaning.” As in, “what’s the point?” and “what does it all mean?” Since I hate it when stories have heavy-handed “messages,” I tell myself I’m just writing to entertain, so it doesn’t matter.

As usual, Mark Twain probably said it best:

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

However, if I’m honest with myself, I know that the stories that I love the most make me feel something. That may be because they mean something or have a theme. So, if I want to create stories that people love, I probably need to get real about this “theme” thing. It also might help me figure out how to know when I’m “done.”

This afternoon I’ve been mostly banging my head against the wall and repeating, “what does it mean? what does it mean?” and hoping that will help. Spoiler: it’s not helping.

This is where writing groups and workshops come in handy. Other writers (or avid readers) that know how stories work, can look at what you have, break it down, and help you see what’s needed. This kind of feedback from my writing workshop classmates has been invaluable, and I’m going to miss it when this class ends. (Sounds like it’s time to find myself a more permanent writing group…)

I did send my current revision to a handful of my classmates and to my teacher to get some fresh eyes on it. But, in the meantime, I think I need to take a step back and let it rest for a bit before I have another go at it. I feel like I’m so close… but to what, I’m not exactly sure. A breakthrough, definitely. But possibly one that involves scaling a mountain rather than skipping across a crack in the sidewalk.

(If you are a sympathetic human who knows me IRL and is absolutely dying to provide feedback on an early draft of this story, send me an email. I’ll send you a PDF.)