I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about writing and writing about writing, but not. . . you know. . . writing. I was working on my upcoming SCBWI presentation, wanting it be the sort of workshop that is really useful in concrete ways, and gives you some tools for working on your own books. I've attended a lot of conferences by now, and I can count on, er, I don't even need a whole hand, how many of those workshops were really, truly useful, apart from being interesting and inspiring, which is nice too. There is one workshop in particular that I still refer to my notes from, especially when I'm beginning a new book. It was taught by Dan Greenberg and I remember how after the conference was over I sat out on the terrace of the Century Plaza Hotel with a glass of chardonnay, in the Los Angeles evening sun, my notebook open, thinking hard about my work-in-progress (Blackbringer) in all new ways, my mind opening in unexpected directions, new ideas snapping into place. Those notes guided me toward taking my book to a whole new level, without which, I might never have completed it. Or maybe I would, but it would have been a very different book.
That is the kind of workshop I hope to teach, one where you're not just inspired in a general sense, as if often the case, but that gives you tools for getting to work, for breaking through your barriers and moving past what you've been able to accomplish so far. Here's the topic:
Laini Taylor will discuss generating ideas for a fantasy novel or series, plumbing the depths of nature and world folklore to enrich your ideas, building a world your readers will want to live in, creating characters they will want to be, and weaving it all together into an intricate and satisfying plot. And, she’ll give out buttons. And maybe candy.
(I know, bribery with candy is a cheap trick.) So, I've been mulling and writing and refining my talk, trying to make my thoughts on writing fantasy all concise and brilliant, and in the process, I've been reiterating for myself the things I really need to remember -- especially in between books, especially when the daunting prospect (however thrilling, it is daunting) of rolling forward with the new book looms ahead of me.
One thing I've reminded myself of is that the only way a story can begin to feel real to the writer is. . . to begin to write it. To just. . . begin. So simple, right? At the start of a new story, it of course feels thin and unreal. The characters haven't come alive yet, the world isn't convincing. For me, with a big, complex, thrilling story ahead waiting for me to come on in and do it justice, this is terrifying. There's a lack of confidence, each time, that it can be done. With Silksinger, I clearly recall the early attempts at bringing the culture of the dragonfly caravans to life. It was thin, dull stuff, utterly unconvincing. It was a bit demoralizing. I wondered how I could ever make this feel like a full, convincing, and compelling world, the way I wanted it to be -- I mean, I had such big glimmering ideas. Hobgoblins and dragonfly caravans soaring over the mountains! Ancient stone halls tucked into fissures in the high snowy peaks, bazaars where faeries and hobgoblins trade spice and silk, medicines and daggers, devils. . . how did I begin to make this culture, this world, feel real?
Well, the way is, of course, to write scenes, to write characters interacting, to write forward through the story, making things happen, discovering the story along the way. Discovering it and inventing it at the same time. You can do a lot of brainstorming and note taking and research up front (and I do), and that will give you a lot of details and color to pull out when the time comes, but there is really nothing else to do but to climb right inside your story and start writing it. You have to be in it, as scary as it is to get started. And that's where I am now. Well, to be clear, I am poised at the threshold, the cave mouth of my story; I haven't the time just exactly now to climb inside. But I will. (I swear.)
Now -- after months of writing and thinking and rewriting and thinking and more rewriting -- those Silksinger dragonfly caravans feel fully alive to me. But it took a lot to get there, and it has to start somewhere. Now, having reminded myself of this by writing it out in a presentation for others, I am feeling that nauseous combination of excitement and fear I always feel at the start of a new book. I know what I need to do -- I just had to remind myself a little. Thanks, self!
Writing about writing has come to my rescue often, as I rediscover what I know to be true, and force myself to face it. And, I am happy to say, some of my writing about writing is going to appear in the next edition of The New Writer's Handbook, a collection of essays about craft by working writers. I'm very excited! It'll be an excerpt from Not For Robots, and it will be in good company, along with pieces by Lois Lowry, Scott Westerfeld, and former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser! Cool! (Here's the previous edition of The New Writer's Handbook to check out, too.)
I'm off in a little bit to Barnes & Noble, to talk to the children's book person who has invited me to give a presentation to educators later this spring. Very exciting! I love talking to librarians, and I think teachers must be pretty cool too.