Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Straight A's

Growing up my mother was meticulous about everything. She did laundry daily, cooked traditional Puerto Rican dinners, was constantly cleaning, and made sure my socks and bows matched my outfits until I was old enough to stop wearing bows in my hair. The same was true about my homework. If I erased more than three times, she made me re-do the entire assignment. For the first five years of my education I attended a private Lutheran school that assigned homework in every subject every night. On average, I spent about three hours a night on homework.

My mom would check over every worksheet, making sure my letters faced the right direction, that my sentences had correct punctuation, that my words were all spelled correctly. When I'd complain she'd tell me that I owed it to my teachers to turn in neat assignments because they worked too hard for me not to take their teaching seriously. It is no surprise that I grew up to be an extremely Type A personality.

The benefits of a Type A personality, for me, has been that I have always excelled in all things academic. I kept that same work ethic and nearly all my annual reviews at various jobs have noted that I am dedicated, organized and a problem-solver.

On the flip side, it has its moments that drive me completely insane. Most of the time, it is self-induced insanity because I can't rest unless things are perfectly in order, done to the best of my ability, or exceeding some expectation that I set upon myself. This is probably why I get stressed out so easily and why my family is always telling me to relax (which drives be bonkers). This is also why my love of fiction surprises me.

It's not that I think that fiction is easy, because as I've blogged before, when done well, it is anything but. What I mean is that I often wonder why my passion isn't in technical or non-fiction writing. Granted, I have a degree in marketing, which means I have done a ton of that type of writing and have even won awards and accolades because of it. However, that isn't where my heart is, although it's definitely an area where my Type A personality shines. Sorting out facts; organizing data; persuading audiences- all goes hand-in-hand with technical, fact-based writing. This is the type of writing where attention to detail and careful analysis is key. This is the type of writing I thought I'd always do because I am good at it. It is why I pursued marketing instead of English as an undergraduate.

Fast forward some years and I'm focused on writing fiction, where one would think it takes less meticulousness and attention to detail. That would be an incorrect assumption. I find myself using my Type A tendencies all the time in my writing. When I'm figuring out the order of events, or where a plot turn makes most sense, it is calculated. It may come to me out of order, or as a random idea, but I spend hours making sure it fits, or deciding to cut it altogether. Sometimes it comes in the form of mapping out the days of the week, so that a reference in the story makes sense. Without keeping track of the day and time in which scenes take place, I run the risk of confusing readers, or writing something out of context. When deciding on where to start a chapter I have to know when and where I am with each character. I have to track how many words and pages have been in past chapters to keep it about the same. These elements of writing fiction requires not only attention to detail, but clear mapping of time and setting. 

But there are drawbacks as well. I struggle with deviating from the plot outline in my head. In my fiction, I get to control everything, but that doesn't always mean that I get the story right the first time around. It takes several drafts and the constant addition and deletion of scenes. When I get to a point where I realize something isn't working, it's sometimes hard to go back and make changes. I tend to want to make it work without getting rid of what's already on the page. That isn't the best approach. It limits you and your story. Sometimes I spend a lot of time trying to make a scene or a character work the way I think it should fit, when in reality, what the story needs is an overhaul. I need to increase the stakes, or reaffirm the protagonist's desire line so that the reader can stay vested in the story. This can mean eliminating entire chapters, scenes or characters that I have worked hard to make a part of the story. Letting them go is tough for me because it means that they don't work.

Other times, I am slow to notice my characters' flaws. I tend to want my characters to be likable and relatable and that's not always the best thing for the story, or true to the character. It is best to know your character as best you can without trying to define her so that your readers can do that for themselves. As a writer, I can't control how readers digest my characters so I have to make the character as layered and true as possible, and trust that the reader will understand. As you can probably guess, trusting the reader isn't my strong suit. I always fear that the subtleties that I work hard to infuse might be lost, or that a detail might be skipped and negatively impact the interaction between the reader and the page. Time and time again I have been incorrect in that assumption when readers comment on my work. In most cases, they not only pick up on all that I want them to notice, but they identify other elements in my work, like themes and foreshadowing that I had not even considered.

Sometimes I wish that I were less Type A and more laid-back, able to dive into fantasy and play without worrying about anything else. It's exhausting to think so much about so many things all at once. I process and over-process, plan and stress about things that aren't in my control, or that really aren't all that important. I spend way too much time researching minute details in my stories that aren't make or break points. When I think about things like that, I wish I were different. But then I wonder, if I weren't who I am, would I still be a writer? 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Contact Me


Email *

Message *