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Entries in Tasslehoff Burrfoot (1)


Reflections on Week Seven

[Read the completed story here!]

As I realized when writing the reflections for Week Six, the best way for me to break these challenges into actual stories that I'm not ashamed to write is to dig so deep into one theme or aspect of the prompt that the final result bears little resemblence to the original idea. I am much more creative with constraints, and having to push and pull against something I don't want to write is a great way to figure out what I do want to write.

The process, I'm just now realizing, is very similar to the Lifehacker.com article I posted about here:

The biggest creativity challenge we face is that while we want to innovate and change, our brain actually prefers to stick with what it knows. Whether it's a first draft or a five year old plan—once an idea has taken root it's very difficult to think of another. [...]

A powerful tactic to overcome this is taking a project and breaking it down into smaller pieces. Once you stop looking at your project as a whole, things don't look as obvious as they were before. Write down a list of all the elements in your current project[...]. Then focus on one part at a time and change just that one. The most interesting thing about this tactic is that just dividing a project into a discrete list of elements will help ideas to start flowing.

(Check out the rest of the article here! There are illustrations!)

Which is exactly what happened with Week Seven's challenge: what began as an idea for a "documentary" in which the narrator is actually planning to kill the subject of the documentary ended as a short play in which an interviewer is trying to break down the interviewee (and then the tables turn... and then they turn again). 

I kept thinking during the revision process that this story is not something I could have written when I was in college. I had had a part-time job (sometimes two) since the sixth grade, but I didn't know anything at all about types of resume paper, tax writeoffs, or interview ettiquette/strategy. I didn't have any experience with unemployment. 

Sometime during my Freshman year at Emerson, my buddy Graham and I went to a gaming convention (oh yes we did) at Harvard called Vericon. One of the featured guests that year was Margaret Weis, coauthor of many of the earlier Dragonlance Chronicles books that I adored during middle school.

[Quick geeky sidebar: She actually showed up in the middle of a game of Dragonlance, in character, as Tasslehoff Burrfoot—a diminuative kind-hearted thief—and stole a number of things from our characters before departing. I'm truly sorry if this is the weirdest thing yet you've read on this blog, but it was awesome.]

Anyway, I learned later that she was signing books down the street, so Graham and I wandered over, and I did something I had never dared to do (and have been far too embarassed to try since): I asked her something like what, in her opinion, was the most important thing in becoming a writer. It was a powerfully dumb question, I know, but I just wanted a connection of some kind.

Her answer completely deflated me then but fills me with gratitude now: she told me that the best thing a writer can do is to grow up before becoming an author. That all these important life experiences would happen between now and then that would shape my stories in unimaginable ways. It was not the answer I wanted to hear—I was accruing all of this college debt in order to become a successful novelist now, not decades from now.

But she was right. I've done a lot of growing up between the fall of 2000 and the fall of 2012, and no doubt there's still a lot more growing up to do. But I am a much more confident writer now, with a much greater wealth of experience (some of it awful at the time, but all of it uniquely mine) to draw on. I still don't know if I'm ready to become an actual novelist yet, but I think I am ready to try.

Next up: Week Eight!