Word Cassaroles

Least you forget, since I seem to talk about everything but writing here lately and I’ve published exactly…um…nothing this year (I don’t think…it’s been a long year), I am actually a writer when not doing web dev or DBA duties. By which I mean to say, I generally write at least a little bit of fiction five days a week or so, prodded along by my writing partner/editor/best buddy via daily emails. Yesterday, for example, I wrote 154 words. A paltry amount, but it all adds up eventually. And I’m close to finishing another couple of drafts this year, though I have my doubts as to whether I’ll publish any of this year’s stories.

Why waste all that time writing books that will never be published? I actually don’t consider it a waste – more like practice. And who knows? I might let them sit for awhile, re-read them in a month or so and decided to stick them up for sale after all. Hard to say at this point when I just want them done so I can move on. Like, yesterday.

The thing is, I’ve been pretty down on my writing for the past year or so, mostly because I know it’s missing…something(s), but I wasn’t quite sure what that “something” is. I mean, there are the obvious things, like more/better description or tighter phrasing, or less comma-splicing, or more semi-colons (kidding! Semi-colons are evil. Like salt. Use only when absolutely necessary!), but if you like to cook like I do, and you don’t often use a recipe (like me), then you know what I’m talking about. You start throwing stuff in the pan because it sounds like a good mix in your head, and as it cooks, you keep adding things and tasting and adjusting and tasting and sometimes when it’s done and you’re sitting down to eat, there’s still something missing. Some flavor profile that needs to be rounded out, or something that’s just a little off for whatever reason, but you can’t quite put your tongue on just exactly what the problem is, so to speak.

Every bite you take sort of teases your palette with that “missing something”. Sometimes you know what it needs by the time the meal’s over, and you can rejoice and “fix” it next time. Sometimes you have to make the dish a few more times, adjusting this or that, and then one day, you’re cooking and tasting and throwing stuff in and it suddenly just hits you – that exact ingredient that was missing all along.

The thing is, the missing ingredient is going to be different for every dish, and depending on what it is, it might change the cooking time, or the temperature, or the method of cooking, or any number of variables, and while you sort of inherently “know” where to start and more or less how to proceed and adjust once you’ve been cooking for awhile, the more different flavors you taste and experiment with, the more complex your dishes become, and the more attuned you are to what might round out the overall palette better.

Basically, the more foods/spices/flavors you taste, the more sophisticated your own palette becomes, and the more you *notice* what might be missing – or maybe not even missing, but just what might make the dish better than its simpler counterpart. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with the simpler version, but the more complex one might appeal to more people. The difference between “good” and “mouthwatering”. When you’re the cook, it sometimes takes awhile to recognize the difference, because “good” is often good enough to satisfy.

So it goes with writing, in my experience. The books I’ve published so far (with a couple exceptions) have been “good enough” to be satisfying to me, and to at least a few other people who have read them. But this past year, I’ve really been thinking “this needs something more” as I write, and wracking my brains trying to figure out what that is, and it’s only really been the past month or so that I feel like I’m finally starting to figure it out – what each story needs to be *better* than the one I originally started telling. More complex and sophisticated than “beginner level” writing. Honestly, it really has been one of those “one day it’s not there, the next day it is” sort of things. Annoying, but whatever works.

It’s a different thing for each one, so I can’t even really quantify it, which is why I can’t really explain it (and why no one could really explain it to me). But this, I think, is what the “experts” mean when they say you have to write a million (or whatever the current metric is) words before you can *really* start writing. And you just…don’t know what’s missing until you see it and you don’t see it until one day you just “do”, which makes no sense and is very frustrating…until you’re there.

I think that growth like this tends to happen in spurts, and when it happens in one section of your life, it’s more likely to happen in others as well (which sucks, to be blunt). Maybe because that’s just the mindset you happen to be in at the time. This year I’ve made a lot of changes in several areas of my life (many because there didn’t seem to be a better choice at the time), so it kind of makes sense that writing would get caught up in that “change cycle” as well. It’s always painful going through it, but it’s necessary for growth.

All that said, I’m kind of excited about my new “discoveries”, and even though it’s going to require yet more change, I’m okay with that, because I see the potential ahead. The worst thing is knowing something needs to change, but not knowing “what”. Finally figuring that last piece of the puzzle is empowering because you (I) can finally make a plan to move forward.

My biggest frustration now is trying to tie up all my “loose ends” so I can start working on that new plan. It’s going to be a couple more months, unfortunately. But the end is in sight, thank goodness.

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