Allow me to hold my hand up and say I haven't written any actual fiction over the last week. That total word count has been sitting at just over 80k words for what feels like a long time. We're at a knife-edge moment, and I'm sure Maali and Arandes are pretty annoyed with me for not moving things forward.
Now there are a couple of different reasons why I haven't written much here for a while (burn out, heyo), but I am trying to pull myself out of this mess. The priority, I decided, was to work on what's been missing from the story so far: the emotional third rail, as Lisa Cron puts it.
I mentioned last week that I bought the course based on the books, Wired for Story and Story Genius. I had the dumbest justification for this, given that I have all three of Lisa Cron's books*, which was that I hated the example of Ruby and the dog from Story Genius.
So far, I've gone through the first two to three "lessons" of this course, having bought it for the reduced price of $49. I'm not sure if it's just me, but I get frustrated when there are what I think of as excessive amounts of build-up to the actual material. I'm not that interested in hearing about the publishing industry, partly because I know all this, but I'm also concerned about the level of promise that goes into all these books and courses. Nobody can promise that doing any course will get you a publishing deal.
The course comes with a downloadable pdf, which is, from an autistic perspective, difficult to read easily. It has some of the same exercises from the book Story Genius in it, but if you have the book, it's actually easier to just use that—and I say this as the person who complains about Ruby and the dog all the time.
There isn't anything with any specific exercises in the first two lessons or so. After feeling quite frustrated with the 10-minute lessons not really doing anything beyond talking up the course itself, I ended up going back to the book and making myself go through the exercises in the book. I even read through some of the Ruby examples.
My reason for picking Story Genius over all the books on my shelf is that of all of the courses and books and videos I've seen is tricky to explain. While writing over the last month or so, I've also been reading The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida and Piranesi. These are both intense and beautifully written books. They are the kind of books you want to sit down and read through in one go.
In part that's because the authors have created mysteries, and part of the reason we keep reading books is because we want our questions answered and the mysteries solved. But it's also because there's an emotional pull. Books that stay with me are books that dragged me through emotional dirt with the characters. Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine is a good example of this. I went with Eleanor all the way through that journey.
So the reason I went back to Story Genius is that of all the books I've got, this is the approach that has the most emphasis on the emotional pull, that we tell stories to each other as a way to help us process the things we need to learn to change and grow in life. I went through the exercises one by one to figure out the emotional rail for this book.
Not gonna lie. You need to do a lot of free-writing to get to the answers you want. And once you've got those answers, you do more free-writing and realise all of that was wrong and you need to go back and change things. I will say this for Lisa Cron, she never says this will be easy. She never says you'll get it in one take.
The other thing that's come up this week I want to mention is that this requires digging into your own emotional issues. Or, at least, that's what it seems to be necessary for me. The reason Story Genius is about Ruby and the dog is because the author (Jenny) is exploring why she never wanted to get a dog. The same is true for me. The reason I'm writing this particular story is because I need to work through some issues from my early life.
Not that I leapt out of bed one day and decided I'd process those issues by writing a novel or creating a whole fantasy world. Oh no. That's not how it works. It seems to me that writing fiction from this approach means you end up working through all your issues—especially the ones you don't really want to work through.
I can see it there, because a lot of Maali's life mirrors my own, at least in terms of timeline. It's like a literal version of what I experienced growing up. This has meant that as I do all that free-writing, a lot of it requires digging deep holes into parts of my emotional world I haven't wanted to explore at all. I'd rather leave all of those skeletons nicely buried, thank you very much.
Right now, I've gone back to the book and I've worked through the exercises up to chapter six of Story Genius. I've written and re-written sections of Maali's worldview and backstory. I write up what I think's going on, then I have to go back and start again. Each time, I get clearer on what happened to the characters and the story and how it should evolve.
Again, Cron is clear all the way through the book that this is what to expect. You write and re-write and don't worry about the prose, because the point isn't to write something anybody else needs to see, but to write to figure out what's going on. Why does this matter? What benefit will it bring to the person who reads it? What journey are they going on, as they read?
Now, as I worked through this, I nearly fell for another of those big expensive "Write your novel!" courses. I am such a sucker for these things. I've been doing it for years. It occurred to me that it might be helpful if I wrote up more reviews of all of the many courses I've done in a kind of an "I've tried this so you don't have to!" style. I'm not sure if that would be useful in any way.
Everyone is selling "This is how to become an author!" courses and books these days. One of my favourite YouTubers, Swell Entertainment, does this kind of thing for products and conventions. The market for "Become an author" courses and books must be vast (I will look up the numbers, because that'd be interesting to see), but it's difficult to resist them and it's often hard to find decent information beyond testimonials on the courses and books themselves.
Also because the most annoying thing happened this week. I realised as I was doing the free-writing that this was digging into my own emotional trauma. I thought I recalled a book that's actually about doing that thing. I remembered the title as something like, "The Book You Want To Read Is The Book You Need To Write". What an awesome concept, I thought! As authors, here we are spilling our psychological blood on the page, so of course it'd be great to have a book all about navigating that difficult terrain.
So off I went to try to find the sample I'd downloaded months and months ago. And... it's not that. It's not a guide to bleeding onto the page. The title is actually "The Book You Need To Read To Write The Book You Want". And it's just a generic book about writing. Sure, it has some of the unique tone of the authors involved, but it's got all the regular things about character and dialogue and structure.
As far as I know, there isn't a book out there about bleeding onto the page. It's just a meme. You do the bleeding by yourself and there isn't a guidebook for it.
Anyway, this is it for this week. I'm going to go and do the next chapter of Story Genius and see what I come up with, then think about whether I want to effectively confess to spending thousands of pounds on generic writing courses.
* Lisa Cron has just released another book, Story or Die, which I haven't read yet but seems to be an application of the neurological theory of story to business and other forms of non-fiction writing.