Posted by: mew | May 16, 2010

almost perfect (or close enough)

The title just about sums it up.  As does this picture of a wild rose on the edge of the woods that surround our home.

There were so many hundreds of wild roses this spring that the plants were bound to miss perfection on a couple of tries.  And actually, that is how I’m trying to think of this week’s progress in the Creativity Workshop.

I got 5,641 words done on the first story.  This falls short of my word-count goal of 6,000, so my perfectionist says “failure” — but I say wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute, missy!

That number is impressive when compared to my typical fiction output, especially lately when my motivation had fizzed.  So instead of saying, oh, I managed only 5,000+ words, I think I should probably be saying this first week resulted in an unbelievable 5,000+ words of fiction written, plus the usual blogging, an article rewrite, about a thousand words of pre-plotting the next three stories, and some memoir freewriting exercises.

Maybe I should even celebrate that somehow.  That’s a lot, for me.

However, on the definite downer side, I hated the way the story developed.

About halfway through I thought, “Oh, no, I don’t really even know my main character.  Do I even like her?”  Uh-oh.  I’d have to write some serious backstory for her before I came back to this story — if I even want to at all.  She seemed totally inconsistent and most unwilling to follow the plot I’d outlined for her.

Tossing and turning the night after my revelation that I’d botched the characters, I had a vision of myself carefully positioning a Barbie doll and talking very loudly to the other girls in the room.  This kind of thing:  “And now she’ll go and meet the hero, but she thinks he’s a big jerk at first.”


(Although I admire my brain for communicating so clearly via imagery, especially since I never owned a Barbie doll as a child, and may only have played with one once.  Still, once was evidently enough to store that experience away and use it to get the important point across.  Much more effective than saying, “Meredith, you’re being dictatorial with this story and the characters are coming out as fake and puppet-like as a Barbie.  Oh, and you’re telling, not showing.”  How cool is it that my brain resorted to showing, rather than telling, to make sure I grasped the idea?)

Also, the first historical setting was difficult for me.  I couldn’t find my lovely Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West, and I decided it was too risky to start doing internet research — because then I’d just sit there looking up period costume and other fascinating details and not get the actual writing done.  The truth is, I don’t really need that much detail, either.  It was, after all, a short story.  But my confidence in the story was not increased every time I typed another [insert appropriate period detail here].

Now, that last part makes me look forward to next week, when we time travel (in a manner of speaking) to the Regency.  The Regency happens to be when my historical romance novel in progress is set, and I also read a heck of a lot of fiction set in that era and/or written in that era.  So I should feel quite at home.

Oddly enough, the future setting (the characters move back into history starting a couple of centuries from now) was my favorite part of the writing, and that’s made me wonder if I ought not to flesh out that world and see where it takes me.  That part of the story was definitely the most humorous, too — which was unexpected.

The whole point of this series of stories is to write humor, for once.  And what did I do?  I managed about 500 words of truly funny stuff, very near the opening, and then dragged us back into melodrama pretty quickly thereafter, with a killing and a vengeance kidnapping.   So next week’s motto is:

Lighten up, dear.

Back to the wild rose motif for a moment, I think my satisfaction with this week comes down to a question of steady productivity.  One wild rose alone, after all, would be so insignificant hardly anyone would notice it — even if it were the most pristine, perfect rose ever to have bloomed on the planet.  A couple dozen wild roses, though, make a powerful and beautiful statement in the landscape.

If this week was one, imperfect rose, the lesson may be that I need to keep on opening flowers, five-petaled or otherwise, and in a couple of years it’ll look as though my writing work bloomed all at once, putting on a magnificent, spontaneous show.

With as many critiques as I can make of my progress this week, the fact is that these are the kinds of writing weeks I’d like to have. Yes, par for the course I had bored, slow hours with lots of resistance.  Yes, I had plenty to do and distractions galore fighting for my attention.  Yes, sometimes the writing was flowing like toxic-waste sludge.

But also, sometimes the writing was a rippling mountain stream, so clear I could see both the texture of the smooth stones on the bottom and the trout’s scales flashing in the sunlight.  And some nights I was so proud I’d shut the office door on those distractions and demanded a thousand words of myself, no matter the quality.  During some of those bored, slow, resistance-filled hours I was even able to laugh at myself a little bit — and get on with it.

So what if I don’t like the first story?




  1. This is such a fantastic review of your week, beautifully expressed. I too am very impressed with your brain’s communication method – very cool indeed! And frankly, 5K on top of everyhting else? Amazing. That’s some serious dedication, especially if you’re not sure you even liked your character. So I say, yes – you should absolutely be celebrating your achievements!

    • Thank you, Davina. I appreciate those kind words. Now if only I can consciously channel my own brain’s skills at creative imagery, I’ll bet set! 🙂

  2. 5K is brilliant!! I think you’ve just summed up what the workshop is about. It’s not about being perfect and it’s not always about the number of words. It’s about learning about yourself and your writing, about exploring new things and improving on them week by week. I think this first week a lot of us are struggling with letting go of the usual expectations we have of ourselves when we write.

    • Thank you, Kerryn. I agree, it’s so not about the number of words. (I have sent my perfectionist off to do some pilates at the gym so I can say stuff like that. ;))

      Struggle is right. I realize that as my novel got stuck in the middle, I’ve gotten very slow and picky about the writing — and it felt great to pick up the pace and leave all that behind. Here’s hoping we’re all feeling like writing champions by week 14!

  3. 5,000 words IS amazing!!! That’s so great. I agree with Kerryn above. It seems to me that you are experiencing the purpose of the workshop which is to just explore this whole process of writing and letting go of expectations. So happy you had a great week 🙂

    • Aw, thanks, Alisha. 🙂 I’m happy it worked out, too — and I was glad to hear it did for you, as well. Yay!

  4. Charging out of the gate, Meredith! Well done, and lovely analogy with the rose.

    • I’m so glad someone liked the analogy. I knew I had to find a use for that photograph; it was just too strange not to.

      Thanks again for hosting this workshop! Obviously, I am so glad I joined in. 😀

  5. I love your vision of flowers blooming to indicate your writing progress. I hope you find a field full of beautiful blooms in your near future!
    Also, great job! It sounds like you’ve been super productive, and learned something very valuable for the future a la dream Barbie.

    • From your mouth (or fingers, I suppose) to God’s ear, Eliza. Thank you for that lovely, poetic wish. 🙂

  6. That’s a great week, Meredith! It’s amazing how much we can really accomplish when we set aside our excuses and distractions (I’m looking at YOU, internet research). You’re an inspiration!

    • Whoa, I’m way behind on answering the comments here!

      Thank you, Kathy, for the encouragement. Internet research can be like a black hole sometimes. 😉 But then, before I get too pissed off at it, I remember what it used to be like to traipse over to the local library and find zilch on my subject, even obliquely.

  7. The process is really something I hadn’t thought of until I began to take writing seriously, but not too seriously. I love how your dreams showed you what you needed to know about your process in that moment.

    Your description of having to limit your research is very familiar to me. I can spend a lot of time looking at “stuff” on the internet in the name of research. Sometimes it overwhelms me and I get no writing done.

    You’ve got the right attitude, you know. Next!

    • Next! Yes, hoping this attitude will carry me forward. And you, too, Lisa. I know you’ve been struggling a bit with the novel, but you need to keep on going. How will I learn how the story ended otherwise? And I’ve only read snippets. 🙂

      That dream was wonderfully precise; wasn’t it? Only a few mornings ago, I woke up from another one, sure it had given me a glorious story idea — but then I fell back to sleep before writing it down, and when the alarm sounded it had vanished. Boo!

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