Just wanted to share something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I wrestle my way through some overarching changes I’m planning for the book I’m working on.
So, as you all know, I’ve been working my way through Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid as part of my quest to learn more about plot structure this year. Someone Shawn works with on a regular basis is Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, a main idea of which is the concept of resistance, or the power/voice/what-have-you that keeps you in doubt, keeps your butt out of your writing chair, and generally keeps you from doing the art you feel called to do. I’ll admit that I haven’t read the book yet, but I find the concept appealing–and painfully familiar.
Resistance (as they’ve said on The Story Grid Podcast, so I promise I’m not completely making all of this up) takes many forms, even just as I’ve listed above. What I didn’t realize until recently, however, is that one of my most prominent forms of resistance comes in the form of a lack of confidence.
Here’s how I figured it out.
So, one of the things I’ve been working on lately has been creating a to-do list of things to change in my book. I got the idea and specific steps from The Story Grid Podcast, mostly between the episodes “First Draft is Done. Now What?” and “Planning the Second Draft.” For context, my final list is close to 400 items long, some of which are super easy to complete, some of which are just questions, and some of which raise deep story issues I’ll need to address.
But as I was wrestling through the last few stages of that process and working my way out to a higher level view again, I started, as many writers do, to have doubt about my story. Serious, despair causing doubt.
The main struts of that concern were, in no particular order, as follows:
- I wasn’t sure what my genres were.
- Kraven didn’t have any motivation.
- I wasn’t sure who my villain is, or, given who I thought he was, what he wanted.
As you can imagine, those weren’t exactly small issues to contend with–still aren’t, and will take some time to resolve. But knowing a few key points from Shawn, first that specificity leads to universality (the more specific we are about our own or our character’s experiences, the more ultimately relatable our stories will be), and second that we should zig when a reader expects a zag, I decided to try a new strategy, starting with Kraven.
Taking a page out of Tim Grahl’s (co-host of the podcast) book, I decided I would write out a big list of all of the different possibilities for Kraven’s character, specifically things that could serve as his “want” or desire in the book (to exact revenge, to heal, to escape, etc.), what could be his ultimate motivator (anger, compassion, grief, regret, etc.), and questions that could potentially change his character (What if he were cocky? What if he were book smart? What if he were the older brother instead of the younger? etc.).
From there, if I found anything that resonated with me or sounded interesting, I could use them to make him more unique, interesting, and most importantly, motivated. It was a fruitful exercise, and I definitely think I’ll be using it again.
However, while interesting, if I were to choose some of those paths for Kraven, it would change my book, not only with potential plot changes and character dynamics, but possibly all the way up to my theme or even genre.
Compound that with the fact that the other genre sounded like it could be more powerful, more profound, and I had a sticky problem on my hands. Change Kraven and potentially everything about the book to get a more dramatic or profound ending (with potentially steeper consequences) or stick with what I already have and be more true to what I originally wanted.
I talked to a writing friend about it, and she suggested that if the only reason I didn’t want to switch was because I was afraid of the work, that wasn’t a good enough reason. Which is true.
But the more I thought about it, the less settled I felt about making the change. Even though I knew the new version could be more ironic, more surprising, darker, and edgier, something still didn’t feel right.
I just couldn’t figure out what it was.
Eventually, I decided to ask God about it (duh, first step next time). I want to tell the stories He wants to tell, so if he told me which one He wanted, I would go with that.
The answer I got back? “You choose. What do you want to write?”
I think this response (or rather the more stringent response I’d been expecting) points to a general and strong misunderstanding I have about how God guides us that could certainly be the topic of another several blog posts, but the thing I want to highlight here is what was at the root of my problem.
Even if the other version could be edgier, could be more ironic or profound, it wasn’t what I wanted to write.
The other version was all about sacrifice, how much it can actually take to walk the narrow road. The original, the one I actually want to write–is about grace, about hope, about forgiveness and community. More saccharine as currently written? Yes. Also more honest, more True, and more to the tune of the world I want to inspire, live in, and create? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
Which brings me back to my original problem, which is confidence. See, I’ve been at this for a long time, and most days (at least on the outside) it seems like I don’t have a lot to show for it. I’m still not a published novelist, I still don’t have a book ready to pitch, and when I start digging down into new things like story structure, story physics, and everything else, I feel like I don’t know anything at all.
When that’s the case, it’s tremendously easy for me to get pushed around, by resistance, by others’ opinions, even by myself. I can already think of one specific time that that’s happened with this book, and the results were near catastrophic.
But the truth is, I do know story, and I will know story, and God is going to and wants to get me there. He loves the stories I tell, and whether or not others or even I can see it, He will get them where they need to go. I mean, I wouldn’t even have them if he hadn’t given them to me, after all.
So, is there room for growth? Absolutely. Are there still major things I’ll have to fix for this book, and are those questions I listed above still for the most part unanswered? Yes.
But I know what kind of story I want to write, I know what I want to say, and I cannot hide and run away and constantly change things just because resistance or another person or even Satan himself says so.
I am not as lost as I think I am. God has given me stories, and He’s working with me to get the skills and instinct I need to write them.
I can do this.
Resistance, step aside. I have stories to write.
So, how about you? Have you ever encountered resistance in your art? What was it like? Have you ever read Steve’s book? Let me know what you think in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, please follow me here or on social media using the links in the sidebar or below. Thank you for reading!