I Love A Good Challenge! Musings on whether live-blogging a short story’s a good idea

I’m thinking about live blogging a short story. Do you think that would be interesting? I’m really considering just writing one, basically live, updating every time I save, even keeping any changes visible. Then editing, also keeping changes visible. Hell, if it turns out well, I might even publish it.

Of course, the principal problem would be, “What if the story sucks?” I’m not going to vet it beforehand or take something I’ve already written and act like it’s brand new. I’m leaning toward not even starting with an idea and letting it just grow on the page. A bit risky, possibly, but I’ve always done my best work under pressure. What more pressure can there be than “don’t embarrass yourself by cranking out a piece of shit in public?”

Besides, I’m not talking about a novel, just a few thousand word short story or so. I wrote two blog posts yesterday that were probably 4 or 5,000 words combined, and they were unplanned, off the cuff.

When I was in school, it used to annoy the hell outta me when a writing assignment required an outline. Those damn web diagrams were the worst. I recall asking myself at the time, “Self, how the hell are you supposed to outline something sentence for sentence if you haven’t written it yet?” That process always seemed backwards to me. Nobody else I knew ever saw it that way, and it was years before I finally figured out why.

To me, writing has never been a physical act. Everything I’ve ever put on paper or typed onto a screen was already written in my mind. In fact, the last step in the writing process for me is the actual, physical recording of the writing. The struggle hasn’t been so much to get the story together well on paper but to accurately transcribe the finished tale from my own head.
I’ve always wondered where the small little details come from. I never consciously created them. I happily go along, following the path of the plot, and when I look back, all these descriptive little side notes just appeared in there. Where did they come from? I’m now pretty sure they were already written and I was unconsciously copying them from the finished story in my head. No, for me, writing is an act done best inside the mind. Putting it on paper is simply scribe work and little else.

So, if I write from the position that the story, article, paper, what have you, is already done before the first word is typed, how does it make sense to do a paragraph by paragrah outline beforehand? And why bother? If I’m going through the trouble of breaking down what each sentence is about, why don’t I just write the actual sentence? If I know enough to tell you that information, I know enough to skip that step entirely and just produce it. Needless to say, I almost always lost points on the outline part of the assignment while getting high marks on the actual finished product.

I still don’t understand why my teachers never saw the flaw in their assignments. If I got an A+ on the essay while totally skipping the outline, doesn’t that in some way invalidate the point of teaching the outline in the first place? Why should I lose points because I didn’t see the need in engaging in unnecessary busy work that was actually more of an impediment to me getting the end product finished? The guy I was sitting next to or the girl in the back row might need to use an outline, but I didn’t, as was well-proven by the highest marks on the writings themselves. I even came to resent it. I also didn’t understand until years later that I have a latent problem with authority and being told what to do. Besides, I clearly knew better than my teachers in this regard. One-size-fits-all is true to the extent that the outliers to their rules allow themselves to be squeezed into a smaller box than they otherwise should have.

Even still, I never thought I possessed any kind of special ability. I still don’t. What I have might be different than some people’s gifts, but everybody has them, they just don’t realize in many cases. I’ve always cranked out surprisingly clean first drafts; few typos, consistent details, rarely if ever a flaw in story logic. I just thought that’s the way it was done until I got a look at some other writer’s first drafts. My way isn’t better, per se, though for me it is. It’s just my way, and I developed it intuitively.

Watch an NBA basketball game sometime and take note of how many different variations of a jump shot you see. The common purpose is to put the ball in the basket, and each one of those guys developed their own methods for doing so, on a scale successful enough to earn a spot on the floor with the best basketball players in the world. Some are so-so shooters, some are streaky, some are consistently good and some are great. But each one found what ultimately works for them born of their own innate physical abilities. Writing’s the same way.

I have a mind that runs quick, fills in details on its own to flesh out actions, and is capable of refining and keeping track of complex ideas with little conscious input. My brain just works that way. Always has. So when I first decided I wanted to write a story, I took advantage of the innate tools at my disposal without even knowing I was doing it. All writers do the same. You may not have a mind that works like mine, your skills may reside in other places. Things I struggle with, like convincing dialogue, for instance, may just flow from you naturally. That skill affects how and what you write, and the style you use, whether you realize it or not. There truly is no such thing as one-size-fits-all.

I often wonder, very likely because my issues once a story is drafted tend to be in the “minor details” department rather than grand story elements, if our modern writing culture of beating a dead horse through re-writes, re-drafts and over-editing isn’t stealing a bit of the writer’s soul in a way. It seems a little odd to be saying I think we sometimes over-edit when the principle complaint in publishing these days, particularly indies, is a lack of editing. But that’s how I see it. Whenever I read a writer talking about spending months or years rewriting or editing a specific piece, I find myself wondering one of two things: Are you doing all that extra work because you feel it needs it or because someone told you to, and at what point does the continued necessity of rewrites indicate that the original was just too flawed to begin with?

Music has always been a big influence on me, holding even more inspiration than other writers in some cases. I tend write rhythmically, and use sentence structure to drive pace sometimes in lieu of action or in the service of it. My musical tastes have always run toward the exceptional instrumentalists, particularly those who can jam. There’s nothing like a musician who gets in the moment and just lets it rip. Conversely, the live shows I’ve seen with bands who essentially replicate their studio album note for note bore me to tears. It’s too precise, too processed, lacking in the emotion an artist should display. Are we killing more than simply a few typos by editing everything to within an inch of its life in the search for unattainable perfection? I tend to think we are.

This isn’t to say that a pile of typos and plot flaws big enough to drive a dump truck through is acceptable, just that there’s the law of diminishing returns to consider. At some point, continued edits don’t really improve the story, just shifting the deck chairs, as it were. If you’re re-writing four, five, six times or, god forbid, more, maybe that story just isn’t fixable. Like trying to keep an old car you’re attached to on the road can nickle and dime you to death, a story can do the same. Eventually, you have to break down, write it off and spring for some new wheels; call it as finished as it’s gonna get and move on to the next story.

Writing is such a tenuous, indefinable thing. The best parts aren’t created out of overt structure and control but rather emerge organically. The real issue is the down parts or the transitions between the high points and getting them to mesh properly with the great stuff, or at least not conflict or detract from them. When we over-edit, our tendency can lean toward lessening the good parts rather than raising the quality of what surrounds them. Basically, we can fall into the trap of mediocritizing the whole thing for some unnamed standard of conformity. It’s much like my old writing teachers holding me and others like me back by forcing unneeded outlining assignments on us, teaching for all at the lowest common denominator level. At least, that’s how I see it. But, as I said, my skills are particular to supporting that worldview, your’s may not be.

Anyway, I’m thinking about live blogging a short story. I hope it comes out well or at least publishable. Imagine, I’d have a record of the first draft, the entire editing effort, and the thinking behind every stage. The eventual ebook could be both a piece of entertaining fiction (god willing and the crik don’t rise) and a please-pay-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain look at the writing process itself. I think that sounds at least potentially interesting enough to take a swing at. Don’t you?

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