Was on a natural history book jag for a bit, and then slid into a horror jag, (leaving three nature books yet to get through!) and for awhile there I was alternating Stephen King and Garrison Keillor, which might have been dangerous if they weren’t nicely buffered by World of Warcraft in the middle. Also picked up King’s “On Writing.” Have gotten most of the way through it, enjoyed it thoroughly, and greeted one bit with deep relief. As I have said, I cannot plot. I am great for a brief blog entry, I can, with great effort, tell a long, rambling, disjointed story badly requiring an editor, but–this is the key bit–plot and I can’t even be in the same room. I discover key twists in the story about five minutes before everybody else does. I know–or think I know–how Digger ends, and have a sort of vague idea what may happen next, but I could be wrong. This has always led me to believe that while I can be briefly amusing, I have no real business trying to be a writer. (“Owht-lyne? What is like “outline” of which you speak? Madness!”)
The fact that King said he distrusts plots and just kind of sits and tells the story and watches what happens next, and books he tries to plot come out stiff and mediocre, felt like an annuciation, as in angels descended from on high and said “Alleluia! Blessed art thou, etc, now chilleth out, for this is perfectly okay and you shouldn’t worry too much about it!”
Sure, people tell you that there’s no wrong way to write, but people also tell you that there’s no wrong way to paint. And there are lots of wrong ways to paint. They result in crappy, unmanageable paintings that you can’t finish and shove in the corner, sulking. Ideally, you learn from this experience, but sometimes what you learn is that you just blew fifty bucks on a set of supplies you’ll never use again as long as you live.
Maybe plots are like masking fluid. You have a plan at the outset and you think you know where everything important must be, and you lay it all out and carefully mask off the bits that need to be masked. Now, I have used masking fluid exactly once. I mentioned this to my mother in passing. “Tried masking fluid, eh?” she said. “Yup!” I said. “Not worth it, was it?” “Nope!” And these days, I just paint carefully and go back in with the white acrylic, because life is short.
If I do too much more of this, I’m going to start to want to write ANOTHER novel, and I need that like I need a home trepannation kit. It’s the flush of “Black Dogs” getting published, and starting to work on it again, I know. I remember the thrill, and forget the…what, four or five years? of slogging. Fortunately, I don’t have any particular ideas wriggling in my brain. Digger bleeds off the vast majority of my protracted storytelling needs, and the LJ takes the rest off my hands. And the descriptions of paintings, of course. But it’s nice to think that if I ever get that terrible itch again, I could do it again, and that someday those occasional random story fragments that I scrawl out and bury on the hard drive may come to light again. That’d be neat.
And completely unrelated, one of the things I love about birds–the way that one day a pine warbler will be a sleek little olive-gold bird, where the head flows smoothly into the neck and down into the body in a long, elegant curve–and the next day it’ll be thirty degrees out, and the same bird is a perfectly round ball with a beak and legs sticking out of it, like a pointy tribble. That never fails to amuse me.