Writer’s Island

I was doing some additional thinking about my post about the unremarkable story, and I thought about how stories move down an assembly line. The birth of a story idea quickly moves down the conveyor belt to the Excitement Phase. Sleep deprivation sets in as the author bangs out their words with glee. After a bit of a honeymoon, the work moves on down the line to Self Doubt. Here is where the writer begins to wonder if anyone will like their story or if it’s better suited for kitty litter. The story can then take another trip down the conveyor belt to This Sucks, Why Did I Think I Could Write? or Hey, This Is Great!

The main problem I see here is that this assembly line is sitting on Writer’s Island. When we write, we’re surrounded by a metaphorical body of water that isolates us from the outside world. If we’re not getting feedback, then it’s easy to see how the assembly line can wreak havoc on our spirits. We either wallow in doubt and failure, or we operate under a false sense of success.

The author I talked about in the previous post hadn’t built a bridge off her particular island in order to talk with trusted friends or other writers in order to see if her story had legs. I was her first encounter, and it was a rude awakening for her – enough that we went back and forth discussing the particulars of why the story was little more than a meandering diary of someone’s quasi-interesting life. She was so enthralled with her story that she never considered whether it would be of interest to anyone else.

Of course, plot, conflict, resolution, and characters comprise the elements of interest, but you have to have a solid foundation in which to build your plot. This is where getting off the island can be of great benefit. This gives you the opportunity to talk to people you trust – be they friends or fellow writers. Ask them whether they think the story is interesting. They can be the catalyst that either spurs you on or confirms your fears. The important thing to know is which station you’re headed for on the assembly line.

10 Responses to Writer’s Island

  1. Jill Wheeler says:

    Whenever I have a story idea, I bounce it off my husband or (this is really dorky) my mother (she’s a librarian with great taste in books), just to make sure it is actually interesting enough to build on.

    When I’m writing the first draft, I actually write with the metaphorical door open, bouncing ideas off of friends and family. Then I incorporate the best ideas into the story.

    I hate being on an island. It’s exactly as you described… a pendulum that swings back and forth between self-doubt and overconfidence. For me, it’s just better to constantly be sharing my work, so I can get feedback and make it better.

    Good post!

  2. Scott says:

    Every island has its dark, little secret, that place, deep in the shadows, where not even the bravest – or most stupid, unless you’re in one of those horror movies where people go to actually investigate the strange sounds – soul dares to go. What lurks in that dark place? All the doubts a writer harbors about their ability. If they enter that dark place, the truth might slap them – quite hard and repeatedly – in the face. So the writer continues their exile and eventually journeys beyond the shores of their tranquil island . . . only to find out that the dark, secret place followed them. The criticism is too much and they flee back to their island, secure in the illusion that they know far more than the knowledgeable people in the publishing industry.

    I wonder if Writer’s Island is the same place the misfit toys end up on?

    Seriously, though, thanks for all the great posts, especially these last two. As I mentioned yesterday, distance and input are necessary functions. In fact, I make sure to get input from people outside the intended audience, just to make sure my work is not pigeonholed. Heck, look at Harry Potter – children and adults alike followed that book.

    Last – warm beer, or beer of any type for that matter, is absolutely gross!

  3. Mike Doran says:

    Scott, I’ve heard warm beer in Germany is not gross. I prefer mine ice cold. I like Guinness the best. Like your island, it is dark and mysterious. For some it is hard to drink but then again that is a personal choice.

    Lynn’s blog truly depicted the way I felt each and every time I began a story. I have a few trusted readers that I bounce ideas off. Since they are trusted readers I feel as though their opinions are tainted and then come the self doubt. I venture out into new groups of readers to get the same types of responses and there goes the self doubt and I am back to writing again.

    Yesterday I described the criticism I get from my graphics; it is immediate and decisive and then I repair it. When it comes to writing it doesn’t come until it is all finished and I have spent countless hours writing, reading and rewriting and then trying to pedal it to agents and publishers all over the world.

    Right now, I feel like an outsider looking into a field of dreams where many more dreams are dashed than ever get a chance to come to the plate. So, to get my chance to swing the bat, I try-out and try-out until the coach (agent or editor) says, “Batter up.” Once that happens I have my moment in the sun. I won’t be swinging for the fence I’ll just try to connect, get another pitch and hit it a little further until my confidence allows me to unleash my full potential.

    It’s that first pitch I am waiting for.

    Another great post Lynn.

  4. Scott says:

    Mike – I think self-doubt is part of any artistic process.

    Normally, when I write, it’s total isolation (the island) without telling anyone – even my partner of 14 years – what I’m working on at the moment. It is only after I get to the point where I think the project is on the verge of perfection (at least in my humble opinion) that I dare to share the project with anyone (even aforementioned partner). It is just how I work: office, music playing, and cats snoozing nearby. Ahh, the joys of a writer’s life. Now, if I could only get published. SIGH! Oh, and if I could get the cats or dogs to bring me a margarita, life would be complete.

    As for beer of any kind – yech!!

  5. Mike Doran says:

    I hope you don’t mind this posted conversation between two outsiders looking in on your world.

    Like I said, it is about taste. You obviously share different types of taste from mine. I don’t mind a Margarita. I prefer water to any other drink. Most alcohol gives me a headache and it only takes one. I continue to search for the alcohol buzz sans the ache.

    The cool thing is there are a lot of people that share both of our appeals. We just need to find the one that likes what we have done enough to say, “I’ll buy that or I can sell that.” Then we get to call ourselves authors. Won’t that be an amazing day.

    Lynn, I have been meaning to ask you. Why do you do this? Who do you do this for?

  6. Lynn Price says:

    Why do you do this? Who do you do this for?

    Long story, Mike. The short version is that I’ve seen the very worst of publishing and seen too many broken authors. I swore that if I was lucky enough, I’d be in a position where I could help make a difference in educating writers. Benevolence, baby, that’s what rocks my boat.

  7. Mike Doran says:

    Lynn, that is amazingly cool.

    Four years ago I began this journey. A short time compared to some of my comrades. After a year, my writing was completed and a new journey started, one of utmost difficulty. One I liken to climbing a palm tree or scaling the side of a rock cliff without a rope. Now granted I’m a 47 year old fat guy who has no business doing either of those activities. But to sit at a computer and drain my brain of the many stories that are in there, I can do that.

    I opened up the door of publishing and there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t even see the tunnel it was so dark. I grabbed a flashlight and it was impervious to the abyss that lied ahead of me. I stepped in and tripped over something. I reached down and felt around. I placed my hand on something rigid. It was sharp. I carefully grabbed it and backed out of the darkness. Once in the light I could see it was rejection. I noticed this rejection to be self induced. I found that my inability to communicate my message was the root of the rejection.

    I rewrote the query and opened the door to the publishing world. I carefully held into the darkness and nothing happened. I let it go and I lost it. It disappeared as if it had never even existed.

    I reprinted the query and took it back to the door. Time and time again, I placed it into the darkness and nothing ever came of it.

    Then an idea struck me. Perhaps if I fold it into a projectile and tossed it into the abyss something different might happen. So I tried it. I made what I considered to be the greatest of all paper airplanes and I reared back and with all my might I released it into the darkness. And to my delight I saw light. It lit up like a roman candle on the fourth of July. I saw a hope and then as the light moved farther away from me I found that it had indeed turned into a roman candle. It had burst into flames and fell far beyond my reach back into the darkness.

    I closed the door and I sat down. I pondered. I pondered some more and then I decided I would stop trying. I would give this publishing dream up. I would leave it to those far more qualified than me; those with stories that deserved to be told. I sat and I sat.
    When the tears dried from my eyes I looked around. I got up and walked away from the door.

    Then one day I heard a voice. The voice was familiar. It was the same voice I had heard before. It was the voice that told me to go to the door. It was telling me to go to the door again. I refused to listen. I couldn’t experience the same feelings I had felt before. But the voice wouldn’t stop. Over and over the voice told me to open the door. So I did.

    When I opened the door I saw two very small lights. Pin sized lights far, far off in the distance. I reached for one and it was warm. I reached for the other and it was cold. How could a light be cold? It intrigued me. I stepped inside the door and walked to that light. It never got bigger it just got colder. I knew I was right there next to the light but it was so small. I touched it and it was very cold so I retreated.

    Once I returned to the doorway I turned around and the cold light was gone. I reached for the warm light and it was still there. I stepped inside the door expecting the warm light to retreat. I moved closer and it got bigger as you might expect a light to become. But then I stopped. Something was holding me back. I reached for the light but it wasn’t for me.

    I backed out of the abyss to the doorway. I closed the door but only for a moment or a week or a month. I opened the door and the light was bright. It was the same light and now the warmth was comforting. It was the feeling you would feel in a pool in the middle of August. It was comfortable and it was sweet smelling. I never thought light could smell sweet but this one did.

    That’s where I am. I am standing face to face with the light and it is sweet. And that light is you.

  8. Lynn Price says:

    And that light is you.

    Holy crap…I’m speechless. I’ve been called a lot of things, many of them involving barnyard animals and body parts, but no one has ever called me a light. Wow. I’ll go get me a Twinkie and margarita. I’ll even give my secretary, the unreliable beagle, the night off. Bless you.

  9. Jared Stein says:

    I like the metaphor. The more pragmatic question is, where can I find a map of the other islands? Who’s sending out beacons? Finding a good online writing community is sometimes discouraging. Any references will be appreciated.

  10. I recommend Litopia because it’s private and the crits are very good. You have to be approved for full admission, but I feel the result is worth the wait.

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