Welcome to the first episode of The Work Shop @ LJ Idol!
You are probably wondering, “Gary, what the heck are you talking about?”
But, if you have spent any time at Idol at all over the years, you know that’s a perfectly normal state of affairs, and have figured out the best course of action is to “Just Go With It”.
What is the Work Shop, and more importantly, why is the Work Shop?
I wanted to create a space, in between seasons, for people to come in and not only talk about writing, but also hammer out whatever it is that they are currently working on.
In looking around to see what was out there for writers, I didn’t see anything quite like it. I hope that it continues to evolve into something useful for not only the current Idol community, but for writers from all over the place.
To that end, I grabbed a few people to start things off in the right direction, threw them together and beat them until they had a conversation.
The next couple episodes are in the works, but the success of this idea relies on you. So jump on it, and join the fun! While you are at it, grab some friends who might need that extra pair of eyes, or shot in the arm to get them motivated.
The Work Shop: Getting Started
It’s the off-season—what are you working on? Three veterans from last and past seasons, alephz, mstrobel, and Season 8 winner whipchick, weigh in on beginnings and the tricky balance between inspiration and process.
whipchick: Now that Idol’s over, I’m struggling to maintain that constant writing momentum! How do you "begin" writing? Like, every day you give a brisk shake, trot over to your keyboard and start banging away, or are you more project/assignment oriented?
alephz: I'm kind of in love with distraction. The biggest and most important first step (for me) is to find the right level of of white noise or absurdly-familiar music, to keep that part of my head that craves distraction distracted while I try and sneak around it to do the real work.
whipchick: Totally. I put a song on repeat, or make theme playlists for longer work. It helps me sustain the mood, and I’m conditioned to where feeling my earbuds helps me focus, even without music! And I try to go to a coffee shop, wherever I am, at about the same time every day.
mstrobel: I find that trying to set a time is the greatest way to make me not
write anything! Nor do I force myself to write for X amount of hours each day...I pretty
much just write when inspiration strikes me especially hard—tonight at work, between calls, I was jotting down a story (I may have also "accidentally" hung up on a lot of people because when I'm writing, I don't like to be distracted too much...)
I like it to be quiet: nothing but the birds outside. I guess that's also why I still prefer to hand write everything out first, because then I can just curl up with pen and paper and I
don't have the temptation of the internet just an alt-tab away like I do when typing.
whipchick: I’m playing with hand-writing these days, especially in the car, but it’s so useful to look up a word or check a fact as I go!
alephz: The only thing that works better is actually getting to talk with people about my ideas. Someone to bounce things off of, who can ask you about holes,contradictions and problems, is invaluable.
whipchick: Is writing a joyful pleasure or do you slave away, hoping Fairy Godmother shows up to grant you a finished draft?
alephz: Sometimes it is exactly zero fun to do. Worthwhile, yes. Fulfilling, but no fun. I frequently wish someone would just give me a draft that's already done because part of me wants to get to the Next Thing or the Next Part or what-have-you.
mstrobel: For me, writing is only a joyful pleasure! I think that forcing myself
to write at a certain time, for a certain amount of time, might change that though, which is
why I don't do that. Writing the first draft of my novel, some days I'd be scribbling away
for eight hours straight, then there'd be three or four days where I wouldn't write a word. The same goes with my editing process—I only do it when I’m in the mood for it.
whipchick: Man, I envy that! I have to write regularly for the words to keep
flowing—I really feel a difference in my ability after spending a year of writing weekly.
Even “inspiration” comes more quickly with regular deadlines.
mstrobel: Deadlines do help me get things written properly. I have a LOT of ideas floating around my head and if I don't have a reason to write them down, then I just won't.
alephz: Nothing pushes the brain into gear quite like the spectre of failure in front of an audience (or, more honestly, in front of one's self). Deadlines give a body
a reason to be braver, to put stuff out there that maybe you'd have mulled over and/or discarded if given your druthers. Personal projects are rougher, because if you don't finish, well, who's gonna know but you and the handful of people who care about it?
whipchick: Where do your ideas come from? Do you keep a list?
alephz: Absolutely! Computer files and at least two notebooks that I try to keep
on me at all times so as not to have to rely on my already distraction-prone head.
whipchick: I have folders dating back to middle school, with scraps of napkin,
pieces of notebook paper with a few words scribbled on them. I carry a notebook and I keep an ideas list on my desktop.
alephz: Things come up when talking with friends, or just noticing a story that isn't being told and trying to tell it.
whipchick: I often get a sentence, or an image: the other day, a friend in Cirque
du Soleil told me that when there’s an accident, they have to keep the music going, because then the show is technically still on and they don’t have to give the audience refunds. So there’s a story in there, the performers trying to entertain the audience, with the lights on and someone lying there hurt, but the music is still going.
alephz: I'm often a little skeptical as to whether or not they'll all lead to
anything good (even by my own... let's say "inclusive" standards), but you never know how you'll look at the idea days, months or even years later. What sounds silly today may be the springboard to something truly astounding tomorrow.
mstrobel: THAT! That's why I recycle too, because sometimes I'm still fond of the idea, it's just the execution was really crap...and I want to give the idea a second chance. Or I’ll rework an idea I used in a fan-fiction around some original characters, to make it properly my own. What do you guys think of recycling ideas? Not so much springboarding, but actually re-using the same scenario or similar? Is it laziness/cheating, or fair-play?
alephz: For my money, that's completely on so long as it's a different
work. There's a lot of traction from playing a thing that's already been done from a different perspective. A murder in a locked room and four clever characters who hated the victim is a setup for a classic noir, an anti-authoritarian screed, a dark comedy, a tense
whipchick: —a door-slamming farce—
alephz: Yeah, I think you really shoot yourself in the foot if you don't let yourself revisit somewhere just because you've been there before. When you come back, you're a different person and it's a different work.
mstrobel: Whether or not I can go back to an idea at a later stage all depends on the idea itself! Sometimes I'll just plain get over it, so I won't care to write it any more.
whipchick: When you start writing, how much comes out fully-formed like armor- clad Athena bursting from your skull, and how much is page vomit that you figure you'll clean up in the next draft?
mstrobel: I write everything out by hand first, and I do simply start at the
beginning and then go from there. I like to write from beginning to end in one messy hit and then go back and fix everything up. Often, I don't even know the ending until just
before I get there—I begin, and then the story continues to write itself.
whipchick: I’m pretty linear, too, though I usually know in my head what
ending is coming.
alephz: Matryoshka dolls are my organizing muses. My current Big Dang Project involves a massive outline followed by chapter outlines. Sometimes I mess with the sub-outlines or redo whole stretches, but it's a whole mess easier for me to break down a massive task into a bunch of smaller ones.
On the other hand, one of my back-burner Big Dang Projects, The Liar's Diary developed
in a kind of scattershot order with bits from various parts of the thing bleeding into one
whipchick: I start with the topic or the initial idea, think about it pretty intently for a few hours, sometimes over a few days, and organize it in my head or scribble
sections down. When I sit down to write a short piece or a chapter, it’s often close to
alephz: A lot of the stuff I do for fun, I just sit down and try to let the thing
shape itself. Of course, midway through, I often realize that the idea in question doesn't really have a shape. That's where that "idea" file comes in. A lot of them stay as
shapeless things, but some of them can jump right out later; less Athena and more like
whipchick: Nice analogy! I’ve got a flock of butterflies right now—regular blogging, where I pluck a single idea from the file and create a post, and working on my
Young Adult novel. I can’t remember how I started it, it’s been so long, but it’s taking
a lot of commitment, writing dates with other writers and appointments with myself, to move forward. Maybe I need a new playlist.
mstrobel: I'm slowly editing the fourth or so draft of my novel into the fifth or
so draft, really taking my time with it and enjoying the breaks because then I can return with a new perspective and much less reluctance to chop out huge sections. Honestly, I just picked up a pen and suddenly it was 400 pages later and I had a completed story (and really sore fingers). Beforehand I'd always doubted my ability both to commit to anything longer than a couple of scenes, and to have enough ideas to fill out a whole novel, so it was surprising when I suddenly realized I knew what ending I was heading towards.
alephz: I’m working on comic scripts and prose (remember me mentioning how much I crave distraction?)—my main current project is a superhero epic comic script. Getting started was, basically, just a matter of getting past my knee-jerk fear of proceeding with things (trying invites the possibility of success but also a constant feeling that failure is certain; usually ending with abandoning the thing) and just sitting down with an outline and jamming my fingers on the keyboard until something halfway decent comes out. Now if only video games would stop being so fun...
whipchick: So let’s finish up by asking the writers listening: What are you working on, and how did you get started? Would you do it that way again? How do you keep going when you don’t have an external deadline?
mstrobel is an Aussie girl who is loving being back in Australia after two years abroad. Writing aside, her favourite pastimes include tap dancing, going to the theatre, and convincing publishers to send her advance copies of books to review.
alephz is an American expatriate living in Sweden who makes a valiant effort to keep his feet on the ground while his head is in the clouds; he occasionally has thoughts at the world on his LJ (http://alephz.livejournal.com) and his tumbl(http://kaijuvsgiantrobotsvsme.tumblr.com/).
whipchick is a writer and trapeze artist whose LJ Idol piece, Reality, is featured in the October issue of Magic magazine. She blogs at I Do Words.