1. CGB
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    CGB Active Member

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    Depressed

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by CGB, Feb 8, 2015.

    I've been planning a fictional universe for my novel for many years now. I really feel like I want to write the story, but I have two main problems.

    The first is that I have OCD, so I feel like I have never done enough background planning and never feel like it is the right time to begin writing any scene. I especially feel this way about the characters, because I don't want them to all sound the same and have 0 depth.

    But the problem with planning is that I always get way too bogged down in the details (again, an OCD trait).

    This perfectionism/need to plan everything down to the last detail serves me well in other areas of life (I am currently a 2nd year M.D. student and do very well academically), but with writing I feel like there is simply no way I will ever bring myself to actually start writing. Because of my busy school schedule, I have very little free time, but I've spent a large percentage of it over the past 2 years planning the background (characters, setting, etc.) for my story. I've even consulted astrophysicists on minute details about the various planets in my story (stellar classes that work for habitable planets, weather/climate issues, working out specific mathematical variables to make them seem realistic).

    Also I feel like when I do try to write, I have absolutely no ability to describe settings or characters. I've tried reading books like "Word Painting" by Rebecca Mcclanahan but the instructions therein seem way too esoteric for me.

    I suck at writing, which is a shame because I really want to write this story someday.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2015
  2. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't want to give you any glib advice, as the closest I've come to a compulsion is driving five miles back to the house to make sure I turned the stove off. (Any farther than that, I call the neighbor who has the key.) But is there any way you could see actual writing as working towards perfection for your fictional universe? Can you get to where it bugs you more that you've got all this great research that's just sitting there doing nothing?

    "Working towards perfection" being the key . . . I mean, if you're going to make a cake it's going to be a sloppy mess for awhile, right? It sounds like you've got your ingredients assembled. Have at it, and just accept it's going to take time to mix and bake.

    And if more research is needed as you go along, save yourself some fun for later and do it then.

    You claim a lack of ability re: characters. By "describe" do you mean "tell what they look like" or "show what they do"? If the former, don't worry about it. Check out the threads here on the forum: a lot of readers are fond of visualizing the characters for themselves. If the problem is what they do, well, it sounds like you have a pretty good idea of the kind of world you want to build. Just for fun, think of someone you know and put them into that world. Not a good fit? Try someone else. What would they do? How would they react? What problems would they face? And so on.

    As an MD student, you know that the human body neither grows nor heals overnight. Neither does a piece of fiction. Be easy on your work-- and yourself.

    PS-- You do not "suck at writing." Your post is very readable and literate. Now show us the fruit of some of that research on stellar classes. Okay?
     
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  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you in treatment for your OCD? Are you doing any sort of therapy for it?

    If you are, maybe you could mention this to your health care professionals. They might not know a lot about writing, specifically, but I bet lots of people with OCD struggle with creative pursuits, so maybe they have some suggestions for helping you out.
     
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  4. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Obviously since I know next to nothing about your OCD, I am necessarily guessing. But since you are functional enough to be undergoing advanced studies, you are obviously not crippled by your OCD.

    Since you seem able to express yourself well enough here, I suggest to try not the question your ability to write and think of it as if you were telling someone about an event. Start with the obvious. The setting, the characters involved, the events, and so on. The physical aspects.

    Then think of what your hypothetical listener would ask. "Was he happy/angry/sad about what happened?" and how you would answer. "Why did he/she feel that way?" and so on.

    Keep in mind that you cannot perfect something until it actually exists. You cannot obsess about the arrangement of a row of bottles until you actually have bottles and put them in a row. So focus upon gathering everything in your story, and then worry about how well you've written or how perfectly you have used your words.
     
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  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I have a friend - in fact, she's the co-author of our collaboration you see in my avatar/signature - and she has OCD. She's had 2 solo novels before our collab, and is currently editing another solo project that stands at about 200,000 words, as well as I believe editing 2 more manuscripts of about the same length. Now, OCD is different for everyone, I've heard, but it does seem that OCD doesn't necessarily have to prevent you from writing.

    Do you see a therapist? That might be helpful.

    I don't have OCD myself and I know nothing about it, so I don't want to come off as dismissive. However, my first instinct on reading your post is this: have you thought about exactly what is important to telling your readers? I understand that everything is important, but you will not tell your reader everything. You will only tell them a fraction of what you know. Is it possible to try ad focus on what is actually important to include in the story, and filter your research and planning that way?

    For example, what I mean is this:
    • Jim wants to make an omlette.
    • Does my reader need to know exactly how he makes this omlette? Does the reader need to know what ingredients he uses, exactly which frying pan he used, the exact type of oil? Were the eggs small or large? Was it olive oil or sunflower oil? Did he add salt, if yes, how much? Does my reader need to know this?
    • The answer is: no.
    • So, is it possible to omit these details? Is it perhaps okay if I do not know 100% exactly how the omlette is made myself? Yeah, I think so. Having a good idea of it is helpful, but I don't know every detail.
    • So I shall settle for writing this:
      • Jim turns on the fire and cracks two eggs into the pan. A sprinkle of salt, pepper, and a dash of cheese and ham later, the egg is starting to set. He inhales the aroma with a smile of satisfaction, tosses the pan a few times, and voila. Omlette is served!
    You see, I did add some details - because some details are good. I give just enough to give the reader a taste of what I mean and to set the scene so readers can visualise not only the process but Jim's emotion at the time. But I do not mention what kind of eggs (chicken, duck, something else? Organic or not?), the size (large, medium, small), the exact size of the pan (how many inches?), how hot the fire (did he turn the dial to gas mark 4 or 6? Or 3? In fact, which hob was he using out of the 4 that people traditionally have?), how many grams of cheese and what type (goat cheese, chedder, eidam, etc?)

    Because none of that matters. Not when it comes to actually writing the story.

    As I said, I don't have OCD so perhaps it's not so simple, but I wonder if keeping this in mind might help? Perhaps you can speak to a therapist and have them help you filter out what's important and what's not?

    Because at the end of the day, you only need as much detail/info as you actually need to tell the story. So with the story that you wanna tell as your "perimeter", so to speak, you can work within that. Just like your academic papers - you answer the thesis question, you research as much as you need within the perimeters of that question. So can you try to research only as much as you need within the perimeters of your story? How are you able to finish your essays and dissertations for your MD? Could you employ the same strategy for your fiction, so you can get started?
     
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  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm not sure about OCD in this situation but as a writer I can tell you planning is not going to guarantee that your characters will have depth or make them unique. I've been looking at my past writing - when I planned ( to the point of over planning ) and used character sheets, and world building and despite all my careful planning everything is dry. Years have shown me that planning is not where I discover who my character is ( it can show me shadows of my character and help form a generalization based on information but it cannot show the reader my character. ) Discovery is in the immediacy of the scene. It's the risk of being in the moment with/as that character and learning how she/he reacts to a scene. Responses, actions, decisions, choices, motivations, turmoil, attention to specific details - all these things are going to shape your character and that can't really be planned out. It needs to happen scene by scene.
    I would suggest maybe allowing yourself a certain deadline to wrap up planning and make a goal to start writing.
    I think why people or rather why I used to love the planning stage is that there is no judgment. You can't get it wrong. Writing is risky.
     
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  7. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    @Mckk mentioned she's doing a co-author story. Have you ever thought about this? You could come with the ideas and allow someone else to help you with the writing.
     
  8. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    If it weren't for the OCD, I would have recommended simply writing, everyday, a few paragraphs, a page, as much as you feel like, and I sort of still do recommend that depending on how bad your OCD is. Most people struggle with starting writing, or being able to complete entire pieces of work without giving up, (myself included) and they come up with a lot of different reasons why but I think it's generally down to either conscious or un-concious fears of failure or embarrassment - and at this point I would say not to be scared, but mental illnesses make it difficult to be rational, so it ain't always as easy as telling yourself "Don't be afraid."

    But maybe you should focus on your mental health, give yourself a bit of time to even things out, and then focus on your writing.

    That's up to you though, good luck, let us know how it goes.

    :D
     
  9. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you can't get more than two words onto the screen before you're back to wiping the dust off your keyboard or fixing the angle of your monitor, or selecting the best song for that scene, I'd say your writing might be affected by OCD.

    What you have described in your first post is something many people here have confessed to doing as well. One need not world build to be a perfectionist. They can obsess over every sentence. Your problem, as worded, is really just a matter of spending too much time working out a fictional world, and not enough time working with actual words. This is why you're worrying about realistic climates on imaginary planets, but feel like you "suck at writing."

    My advice. Hold off on your magnum opus. Start writing short stories. Don't worry about the content. Try to make it as interesting as possible without worrying about accuracy of the details or anything like that.
     
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  10. CGB
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    CGB Active Member

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    Ok thank you for the advice everyone. I think I am going to force myself to just try to write, rather than obsess over the literally hundreds of pages of background details. At least then I can go back and edit.

    But to clarify on the whole scene describing thing, what I meant is that I feel my writing has no polish, no suspense, no actual cinema to it. Even if I spent a long time writing a scene that is almost purely dialogue, I am finding it to be boring and unauthentic. But I'll try it anyway and then edit what I do have. I think that could work best for me.
     
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  11. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Don't be afraid to produce "garbage". Everything I write is garbage at first. E. g. I would never let anyone read my current draft because of how horrible it is. But that is the very point of writing drafts: getting the story down in the first place. Making it readable comes later.

    Now, if you don't feel ready to start writing your big adventure just yet start out with writing short stories or even just separate scenes. That will give you some practise and you may end up with something you could post here on the forum if you want.

    Last but not least, a story is never perfect. Even a single page can be edited forever, there will always be something that can be changed, so don't be afraid to move on.

    Good luck and let us know if you manage to overwin you troubles. :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2015
  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Writing a scene that is almost purely dialogue doesn't guarantee that it'll be interesting, or inspiring etc. In fact, long scenes of pure dialogue can get boring, just as long scenes of unbroken narrative and/or description can get boring. The trick is balance, and you'll find your balance the more you write and edit. It'll come. Don't worry about it. As you say, try it anyway. If you never try, you'll never get there :)
     
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  13. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you really think that J.K.Rowling just sits at a computer screen, types in 200,000 words, puts in "The End", and mails it off to a publisher?

    No, she writes. Then she reads it and goes "Oh, dear me that's really not very good, is it?" And then she goes back and does it again. And again.

    Jeffrey Archer was rumoured to write (and he couldn't type, so he hand-wrote) ten drafts before it was good enough to be published.

    What makes you think that your first draft will be of a publishable standard?

    Write something. Complete short story sounds a good start, but first chapter of War and Peace in My Imaginary World would do. Then read it and weep. Beat yourself up over it. Then re-write it better. Or scrap it, and start something else. And this is where OCD can be your friend, because you'll be unprepared to publish something that just plain is rubbish.

    You can always post something on here, and we'll happily tell you where you went wrong, where you went right, things that might make it better. (Go and have a look at the threads on the Workshop to see what I mean)

    My daughter is a nurse, and she's full of tales of how even qualified doctors are scarily unprepared for really saving lives! EVERYBODY needs to practice a skill to become any good at it. As a trainee doctor, you've had a lot of very expensive training. As a writer, you've had nothing more than a standard education.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2015
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  14. pk.
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    pk. Active Member

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    I have severe OCD. Just write draft after draft, FORCE yourself to talk to people. Force yourself to be social. When your subconscious doubts, really evaluate the truth of that statement. Your subconscious will often be overly negative.
     
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  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    This is part of developing as a writer. Something that doesn't get talked about too much and it's kinda dismissed. I think that's because nobody has ever seen a published writer's first draft. Or their first attempts. You have to write a lot of dry stuff to understand what you want to say and discover what you're doing wrong. I've written a lot of junk - empty characters, stiff dialogue, weird plots - five novels ( three of which have no endings ) that are unpublishable. I think I've gone way past the old you have to write a million words of garbage before you can write something good. I still stumble ( but I can see a definite improvement! ) it's part of the process. What helped me the fastest was reading literary studies - discovering how depth can be worked into a story, reading poetry ( that I liked ) - how to make my descriptions more compact, reading genre - for pace, reading literature - for variety, but especially coming to this site and critiquing other peoples work and having my work critiqued.

    It's very hard to find fault with your own story, or if you can find fault with it knowing, then, how to change it. By looking at someone else's flawed work you can see where some of the problems emerge ( word choices, sentence structure ) and as you give them advice you're doing double duty by giving yourself the same advice. Because most of the time I feel like slapping my head and thinking here's where I've been blowing it.

    The best thing to do is keep writing, getting feedback and giving feedback.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2015
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