I remember reading a story once about a teacher who held a ‘Funeral of the I can’ts‘ with her middle school class. The students wrote down their I can’ts on pieces of paper: I can’t get a perfect score on a math test, I can’t climb to the top of the rope in gym, etc. Then they put all the I can’ts into a box and buried them in a ceremonial funeral.
Such a cool idea, although–honestly? If I’d been in the class, I’m sure I would have picked a completely fake ‘I can’t’, quietly accomplished it, and been like, Woo, go me. Because, publicly sharing your deepest darkest insecurities and dreams with your classmates? In middle school? Really?
But here I am now, ready to hold a very public ‘I can’t’ funeral here at WU–and encourage you to do the same!
This all started when I finished the third book in my Twilight of Avalon trilogy. I had turned in the book to my publishers about a year ahead of publishing schedule, so had extra time to play with. And I had a few secondary characters from the books who kept popping up noisily in my head, just refusing to let me go.
I decided to write these characters their own short stories and the give the stories away as freebies around the time of my book releases (more details on that coming soon!). And since I’d just spent 3 years and 3 books in the same world, with the same characters, essentially writing the same voice, the short stories seemed like a great opportunity to tackle some of my personal writing I can’ts, try something new, and push myself out of my writing comfort zone.
So here are a few of the issues I worked on:
#1: I can’t be a ‘pantser’
I’ve said in other posts, I think, that I’m pretty much of the ‘control freak’ school of writing. I love outlines. Love them. I always need a plan, a detailed map of where I’m going in my book before I can begin or I’m paralyzed. But for these short stories I decided that for once I was going to try pantsing it. The obviously briefer length of a short story (mine were like 15-25 thousand words) did make working without an outline seem less scary. And I’m still not sure I could write an entire book that way. But the pantsing method was definitely right for these couple of stories–I wound up discovering surprise plot points along the way that I never would have in an outline. I did also do a lot more revision/deletion than I generally do when I’m working off a detailed outline. But it was also fun.
#2. I can’t write a first person voice.
Pretty much everything I’ve ever written has been in close third person voice. It’s definitely where I’m most comfortable, for both male and female POV characters. But one of my characters (Morgan, if you know Arthurian legend at all) was telling me very, very strongly that she wanted to tell her short story in the first person. And, well, who am I to argue? Writing first person was definitely a hard shift to make. I’d say I spent a solid couple of weeks thrashing around wondering whether I should just forget the whole idea because I couldn’t seem to get her voice onto the page. But then the lines popped into my head:
There are those who claim that I am naught but a king’s by-blow gotten on a whore; many more who say it is from thence my bad blood springs. But I may tell you that my mother was of the blood royal in her own land, and wedded to my father by earth, fire, and air, before he had her killed.
And after that, I got it, got my character and what she sounded like. And I utterly loved spending time with her every day, loved the intimacy of the first person point of view.
#3 I can’t write a sex scene.
There are times when sex is essential to a story. And I don’t think of myself as too much of a puritan in life or in my reading–certainly I’ve read sex scenes in books that are authentic and tender and beautiful and utterly lovely. And yet . . . that cloud of dust you see in the distance? That was the concept of actually writing a sex scene streaking at the speed of light past my comfort zone.
But I could see in one of my stories where some sensuality and physical love was an essential part of the plot dynamic. And that was the whole point of this, right? To tackle writing tasks I didn’t think I ever could. So, I took a deep breath and started typing.
My ‘sex’ scene manages to mention no body parts whatsoever. And honestly for all the specifics I described, my characters could just as easily be kissing or playing a really, really awesome game of pinochle. But hey, it’s a start. And more than that, I’m happy with the scene. It’s an essential part of my characters’ emotional journey, and I can’t imagine the story without it.
Holding my own funeral of the I can’ts was certainly hard at times, frustrating and scary at times. But then no one ever said that taking on tasks you’re convinced you can’t do was going to be easy, did they? And at the end of the day, it was such a fantastic, fun, liberating experience to feel like I truly was limited by only my imagination. I feel now as though I might even be able to add others to the funeral pile, like, I can’t write a book with a modern setting, or, I can’t write straight fantasy. My perspective on my own writing feels far more free, and fearless, and open, and that is such a wonderful feeling to have.
So what about you? What I can’ts do you have that might be holding you back and keeping your writing from soaring free?