The Method to My Madness, Part 2: Creative Writing

I’ve spent most of my professional life helping others realize their creative goals. I’ve been a movie producer’s assistant, a script reader, a story editor for a series of webtoons, and a production coordinator in animation and visual effects. I derive deep satisfaction from helping people manage their time and talent. The work suits my personality. At home, I keep instruction manuals and warranties alphabetized in a three-ring binder. Why not get paid for that kind of compulsion?

But I’m also a creative soul. Over the years, I’ve had a handful of poems appear online and in journals. I was once hired to write a zombie screenplay about Civil War soldiers raised from the dead by a spell-casting priest. Last August, I earned ten whole dollars when I had a story published on an erotica website.

Sometimes, I wrote diligently; oftentimes, I did not.

About six months ago, however, I developed a daily writing habit. This coincided with having my ass kicked by the instructor of a novel workshop I’d enrolled in. He told me I was composing beautiful sentences, but my story was getting lost in the language. I decided to confront this criticism by taking a short story class. My hope was that the form would force me into economy. I pared down verbiage and concentrated on story, emerging with a newfound respect for my talent to string words together and an understanding that learning the craft is a lifelong pursuit.

I want to continue to refine my technique. In particular, I need to work on layering in character and setting (I’m accustomed from screenwriting to front-loading both instead of weaving them into the narrative). I also want to cultivate the ability to tell an entertaining story that stays with readers beyond the last page.

To that end, I’ve enrolled in the Stanford Online Certificate Program in Novel Writing. I’m very much looking forward to being part of that creative community. While it’s reassuring when a friend tells me she loves my writing, it’s more productive for a thriller writer with no personal investment to point out where I can up the conflict, or for a science fiction author to show me where he got confused.

The project I’m proposing to undertake over the next two years is the novelization of a screenplay I originally wrote in 2004. Two thirty-something women whose jobs have gone bust start a softcore porn website aimed at a straight female demographic. Nora is a no-nonsense manager who could stand to undo a button or two on her J. Crew blouse. Katie is a free-spirited web designer who needs to develop a measure of maturity. My interest in this scenario is two-fold: each must adopt a little of the other’s strength for this venture to succeed, and both must figure out how to navigate the male-dominated business of adult entertainment in way that satisfies their needs. The working title is Dirty.

It’s my intention to write here periodically about my progress on that novel. I don’t know that I’ll post actual manuscript pages, but I will blog about my learning experiences as I work through the program. In that way, I hope to document my creative process.

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