Posted by: mew | May 6, 2010

the plan

Baldrick:  Have you got a plan, my lord?

Black Adder:  Yes I have, and it’s so cunning you can brush your teeth with it.

It’s time to reveal the master plan of my goals for the workshop.  I’ve narrowed down my list of issues and interests to exactly three, one of which will serve as the focus for each month of the course.

No. 1:  Humor

Have you ever felt like the muse got connected to the wrong extension?

Several years ago, I had an idea pop into my head for a series of romantic comedies that involved a strange variant of time travel.  I felt like it wasn’t at all my style and dropped the idea like a hot potato after writing a single exploratory chapter.  But it’s stuck with me, doggedly following me around and popping back up every now and then.  Occasionally, I’ll play with the concept — in daydream form only, and so over the years I’ve accumulated four very distinct plot ideas.  (Actually, I might have about six by now.)

Because I don’t want to talk about the mechanics of the time travel part just yet, I’ll just name these four stories according to the eras where the travelers end up at first.  But they are also linked by the method of getting there, which I consider the motif for this series.

  • Wild West (~1850)
  • Georgian Era
  • Medieval Era
  • Prohibition Era

When I consider writing these stories, I have a mixed reaction.  The Censor, of course, is telling me the whole idea is ridiculous, saying basically that I cannot do it because these stories would “require a light touch” and need to be funny to work at all.  However, I can’t help wondering why I got the ideas, then, or why they keep returning to me like homing pigeons.  Plus, I admit to having flutters of excitement at the thought of finally telling these people’s stories — even if I do wonder why they turned to me to tell them.

At the very least, writing these short stories will get these characters out of my brain and onto the page — a blessed relief!  Best case scenario, they’ll need more than their allotted 6000 words to express themselves and will grow into comedic novellas, which is how I originally envisioned the series.

To achieve my goals for this section of the workshop, I’ll need to:

  1. Pre-write the mechanics of the time dislocation on paper, to guarantee consistency across all four stories.
  2. Get out my reference books on the various eras, and do some preliminary research at the library (or online) for the Jazz age piece.  But beware the danger of over-researching and wasting time!  I can always look up minor details later, and should select this option whenever possible.
  3. Write 1000 words a day on the story of the week.  Best to do it right after the Morning Pages.
  4. End the week with a 6000-word rough draft.
No. 2:  Real Men

My favorite real man in the world.

For this month of the course, I want to work on my flat, one-dimensional, and/or stereotyped representations of men.  The male characters will be central to each of these four stories, and each one will deal with a particular male-character-writing weakness… and hopefully turn it into a strength.  I want to:

  • Unveil a stereotyped man (ideally slowly, striptease-style)
  • Confront and confound one woman’s stereotypical perception of a particular man
  • Watch a man deftly playing a well-established societal role — and get tantalizing hints of what lies beneath the mask
  • Start a story just after the point where a man has had a traumatic, personality-altering experience

Word counts on these may be more flexible, depending on the needs of the story.  I’m still going to aim to write a set amount per day, but when the story is over, the first draft complete, even if that’s only a few thousand words, I will stop and move on to something else.

To achieve my goals for this section of the workshop, I’ll need to:

  1. Write 1000 words per day on the story in progress.
  2. Review/reread pieces of fiction with heroes that were particularly memorable, well-drawn, or beloved, and try to analyze what makes them feel real to me.
  3. End the week with a first draft of a short story of between 3000 and 7000 words.
No. 3:  Southern Living

Talk about nerves!

I’ve saved the highest jump for last.  During the last four-week section of the workshop, I am going to write about life in the South — and specifically deal with areas that make me uncomfortable, i.e. race relations, evangelical religion, and intergenerational issues specific to this region.

If that last part sounds strange to you, just consider, my mother grew up in an era of separate schools and water fountains, and my grandfather, who dropped out of school in third grade to work full-time on the farm, was prevented from getting his voter registration card by the same Jim Crow laws intended to disenfranchise African Americans.  A lot has changed, and I am profoundly grateful that I grew up when I did — but perspectives alter so quickly that there is bound to be some intergenerational friction.

I have done a tiny bit of prep for these four stories before deciding to definitively write them, because the issues involved require me to be brave and face my own conditioning and emotional baggage.  I’ve given each of them a tentative title.

  • Something to Repent (intergenerational racial issues/evangelical proselytizing)
  • Darken the Door (religious hypocrisy/power structures in the church)
  • Historic Preservation (haunting legacy of slavery/psychological burden of history)
  • The Last Amen (eschatology/hysteria)

No, not that kind of church. I'll only write about the kind I know from the inside.

To achieve my goals for this section of the workshop, I’ll need to:

  1. Remember to take care of my spirit, and if the writing becomes emotionally intense or painful, take breaks, meditate, stretch, dance, and/or spend time in nature to revive.
  2. Take some time to walk around my small, Southern town for live inspiration.
  3. Write 1000 words a day, in the morning if possible, so that any lingering negativity is dissolved by bedtime.
  4. End the week with a 5000- to 7000-word rough draft of a short story set in the South, dealing with the above-named issues.

Whew!  That sounded like a lot, and the last part was kind of heavy.  But my overwhelming sense is of excitement and determination.  I’m chomping at the bit to take on these new challenges in my writing.

A special thank you to Merrilee for all the guidance on goal-setting.  While I have set and met goals, I have never approached the writing of anything in this precisely structured manner, and my muse seems to be thriving on it already.

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Responses

  1. Well thought out and detailed goals, Meredith, well done! I can’t see any issues with what you have up there.

    You really have chosen to challenge yourself. Good for you! And I’m glad you are finding the goals freeing rather than restrictive. They really can help you find direction in your writing.

    Best of luck; they all sound like fascinating stories 🙂

    • Well, I’m glad it looks good to go — because I already spent an hour plotting two of the first stories this morning, LOL. I’m glad I’m taking the challenging route. Too bad I can’t remember that quote just now, something about aiming for the moon because if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. 🙂

      The goals are so freeing, I’m going to do this all the time from now on. Why did I have the impression that more open-ended, nebulous goals were better for me?

      • I love that quote. I have no idea who said it but I think it goes…

        “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.”

  2. Wow, you have some big stuff to deal with there – good on you for setting up some big challenges, in particular those for the last four weeks of the course. Great idea to think about trying to get the writing done in the morning so that anything brought up from the writing has had time to dissipate before bedtime.
    Fascinating reading through your goals and I can’t wait to hear how you go with them 🙂

    • Thanks, JC. I think the last four are going to be daunting, to say the least. But as long as I’m able to get to sleep at night, it should all work out fine.

      I appreciate the comment and the encouragement!

  3. Oooh good luck! I’ll be keeping an eye on your progress!

    • Thank you, Tama. I’ll be reporting faithfully, no matter what! 🙂

  4. So impressed with the challenges you are taking on. I can’t wait to take a peak at your stories. Goal 3 has me really intrigued as I’m interested in those issues in general. Oh, I’m so excitied for you.

    • You know I’d love to have your feedback, Alisha, once they’re beyond first-draft stage. The issues in Goal 3 have probably formed as much of a backdrop/substrate in your life as they have in mine, from what I know of your experiences.

      Thank you for the excitement and encouragement. 🙂

  5. Impressive goals!

    • Thanks, Robin! I hope I can live up to them. 😉

  6. That’s a lot, but I think it’s very do-able. It seems like a lot of people are using the workshop to flesh out stories in a particular world, which is a fascinating goal to have – I honestly never would have considered that, yet it’s a great idea.

    I hear you on the “having realistic guys” thing – I need to work on that, too. And your last goal sounds really interesting. Incorporating that part of your past into your work will be really exciting and, I’m sure, an eye-opening experience. Good luck. 🙂

    • Thanks so much for that encouraging comment, Chibi. We’ll see how it goes with the guys; I feel completely out of my element on that one. 😉

      I’m finding it fascinating all of the different directions people are taking their goals. We’re such a creative bunch!

  7. You can do it! You can do it! Lock your Censor up in those Morning Pages and let your muse run free. There is a reason you get those ideas and you’ll never know just how much you can achieve unless you set yourself good, wholesome challenges like these ones. 🙂

    • Aw, Kerryn, thank you for the kind words of encouragement! I’ll be using everything in my bag of tricks to get the Censor to wait her turn (and use those critical skills in the editing phase instead). I’m very excited about the possibilities.

      Isn’t this fun? 😀

      • You’re very welcome! It is fun. My muse is still a little tentative but as I read more about the goals everyone else has she’s starting to get excited. I’m keeping at the morning pages too, now at day 10.

  8. Sounds challenging, Meredith, but you have very specific goals which should help. I look forward to following your progress. Good luck!!!

    • You know me, Kathy, always up for a challenge. 🙂 I’m glad you’re following along here again! (I know you missed the writing blog. I think I’m realizing I did, too.)

  9. […] Meredith has included a lot of research requirements and an exploration of what she wants to achieve from each set of stories. […]

  10. The final set is truly fascinating. It may be heavy, but the intergenerational friction is such an interesting topic. Nothing I’d consider.

    • Melissa, normally I’d say I would consider intergenerational friction — but not about the topic of racism. Hell, no! But it’ll be good practice at stretching into new writing territory. 😉

  11. NO 1 and NO 3 are both challenges way to big for me! Humor – yikes! I’m just not a funny person. As for the other, I live in the south. I was born and raised in a small beachtown in Florida. The changes in the past 20 years have been swift and there are so many struggling to remold their way of thinking. But there is always the fear of losing their heritage. I’d love to see how you work through these issues.

    Good luck!

    • DS, I guess I want to try the humor one because I think I’m a funny person — even if my personal sense of humor isn’t of the everyday variety. 😉

      I’ll be interested to see how I work through these issues, too! I guess I hope to do it as well on paper as I’ve done it in life.

  12. Excellent goals! All of them have me itching to write! The last goal seems like it will be a challenge – in several areas. I’m happy to see that, right in your goals, you’ve allowed yourself time and permission to step away if it got to be ‘too much’. Hopefully you’ll be able to get the stories out just as you envisioned them. Good luck!

    • How flattering, Aurora, that the goals list has you inspired to write! I’ve felt inspired by several of our fellow classmates’ work in this preparatory week. The built-in time for self-care is probably a given for me after certain life events taught me the value and necessity of it. 🙂

  13. All three of these are intriguing, tough challenges.
    #1. Humor and I usually don’t get along. You’re brave to take it on, let alone apply it to four pieces in a row. A lot of the best shorts out there are humor pieces, and I always admire the people who can pull it off.

    #2. I wanted my female characters to be less cliche, so I started experimenting with swapping the genders of my characters after I’ve written a passage. I’m not sure if that will help you, but it helped me a lot. And it’s a lot of fun 🙂

    #3. This one’s particularly intriguing. By unlocking feelings buried deep inside, I bet it will result in some powerful storytelling.

    • Now, see, Nick, I’d have thought that humor would be part of your repertoire. Didn’t your About page have an amusing quality? (Am I confusing writers now? There’s so many of us I may have to nail it down better in the coming weeks.)

      If any of my male characters in month two act uncooperative, I may just give this technique a try. I can see the potential for hilarity during the substitution rewrite!

      • No, that was me all right. I can’t seem to get humor to work when I’m writing a story, though.

  14. Wow, great goals. That last one in particular is really inspirational, and I wish you all the best 🙂

    • Thank you, Xen. I do hope I make it all the way to the end and do the last goal justice! 🙂

  15. This is an impressive list! I’m still working on my goals, and you’ve set the bar pretty high here. I like the way you are framing this around themes, and as a relatively new Southerner, I’m particularly interested in your Southern Living set of themes/goals. Great food for thought here!

    • Ah, Natasha, a belated welcome to the South! I’ll let you know how it goes with those hifalutin’ goals as we go along. I’m hoping I have the wherewithal to meet them — and that I haven’t got eyes bigger than my stomach, and put too much on my plate to begin with. 😉

      • Well, darlin’, bless your heart if you have put a teensy bit too much on your plate — just shovel them extra grits in your bag and bring ’em home for the dogs.


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