Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are You Afraid of Process?

I used to consult with people who were terrified of process. So terrified in fact, that they had no defined processes at all.  I don't blame them.  Nothing stifles creativity and inventiveness like bureaucracy.  But process isn't all bad.  Imagine attempting to solve a Rubik's Cube by making random twists and turns.  It's nearly impossible.  With this approach the Universe may cease to exist long before the solution is encountered.

So I was determined to convince them that an effective process can produce astounding, even seemingly impossible results.  And what better way than to solve the Rubik's Cube blindfolded?

Now it's easy to think that the craft of writing fiction cannot be confined to a process.  Okay.  "Process" may be the wrong word.  How about guidelines?  Whether they know it or not, great writers work within guidelines to create their masterful work.  They don't leave it to blind chance.  If they did then a few of those million monkeys pecking at their keyboards would have won a Pulitzer by now.

How do you make sure your fiction ends up as a story?

There should be a beginning, a middle, and an end.  A story needs to have a plot, right?  At least one character.  Hopefully some dialogue.  A dash of narrative summary with unique and inventive prose.  And the theme of a story reveals itself in each of these elements.  Sure, the balance of each ingredient in a story may vary greatly between writers but guidelines are what makes a story a story.

How do you make sure your fiction ends up being a good story?

You can't forget about grammar, structure, and point of view.  And of course...editing.  Revisions are done in a repeatable way.  Do you edit as you go?  Or do you silence your inner critic and get the first draft down on paper no matter what?

Writers talk about the craft of writing, but creating art does have structure.  A process.  What is your routine?  Do you write at night?  Do you write everyday?  Do you write in marathons on the weekends?

Don't be afraid of process.  Like it or not, good writers surround themselves with process.  Embrace it and you may be surprised what you discover.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

And Then You Think, "I'm a Genius"

I felt elated when I finally figured out how to solve the Rubik's Cube for the first time.  There are 43 quintillion (or 43 million, million, million) possible scrambled combinations.  In other words, each variation lined up end to end would be 261 light years long and I could solve any one of them you picked...assuming we didn't die of old age waiting for your selection.

Impressed with myself, I had delusions of grandeur.  Never mind that it initially took me countless hours to finally solve it.  "I'm going to break the world record."  At the time, I wasn't aware that it someone had solved it years earlier in less than 10 seconds.

We're competitive, aren't we?  Give us a challenge and suddenly we believe our personal journey will be revered by humankind.  Like me, you have probably thought, if you wanted to, that you could write the next New York Times Best Seller, win the Pulitzer Prize, and be as famous and successful as Mark Twain, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Kurt Vonnegut your first time out.

But, let's be realistic.  To be great, or even good at anything takes time and effort.  I never really set out to solve the Rubik's Cube faster than Man can run the 100 meter dash.  However, as I became more and more comfortable with my cube, the competitive streak kicked in:  2 minutes, 90 seconds, under a minute, less than 40 seconds, and so on, but not necessarily ever on to a World Record.

When I started writing fiction seriously, my first story was not good, and it certainly wasn't publishable.  But it was a story.  And it was a masterpiece to me.  It didn't matter what anyone else thought because I knew it was great.  Mozart didn't revise, why should I have to?  I was going to quit my job because my greatness as an author would be discovered and the world would soon bow down.  Yeah right!

Only a small fraction on the steep bell curve of life perform at the elite level.  Stories can be strong.  Stories can be published, but World Record material is rare.  Sure, I hope to be the next one to be squeezed into that elite company.  I hope you can be there too.  But in the meantime, I will keep solving the cube in the double digits and practicing my writing craft.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Welcome To My Blog

Hi, welcome to the Puzzling Mind of Jason Runnels.

I am a writer of fiction and a solver of puzzles.  (No, not jigsaw puzzles.)  I prefer to solve the twisty puzzles, like the Rubik's Cube.  I have always enjoyed being challenged.  Early in elementary school, I became interested in brain teasers; and, about the same time I wrote my first series of stories.

Recently, I re energized my interest in both writing and puzzling.  I quickly observed that the craft of writing can be as daunting as a scrambled Rubik's Cube.  But, once you write a good story, it can be just as rewarding as figuring out how to solve a difficult puzzle.  And if you're like me, you get hooked.

I'm here to share ideas as they relate to all things writing and all things puzzles.