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Internal writing conflict... UPDATED!

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Rusty Shackleford, Aug 29, 2007.

  1. Rusty Shackleford

    Rusty Shackleford Active Member

    I've got a story I'm working on right now with the potential to be fantastic. I'll probably post it here and ask for help as I get into it more (I haven't started writing it yet). But right now, it seems like it has all the elements needed to be very good.

    My problem: I'm afraid I'm going to somehow come up short, not give it its due. It's the kind of thing that I think a better writer than myself could do much more with than what I feel I'm capable of producing. Not that it's a particularly complicated story, or even one that's very long -- it's just one that I feel a better writer, a better wordsmith, could really work some magic on that in my hands will come up somewhat flat. I don't necessarily think it'll be bad coming from my fingertips, but I think that a better writer than me could do much more with it.

    I'm sure I'm not the first person to feel this way about a story. How do you folks deal with it when it happens (or has happened) to you?
  2. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Re: Internal writing conflict

    Rise to the level of the material, Rusty, it's one of the ways we all get better.

    Just because James Joyce wrote 'Ulysses' and Fitzgerald wrote 'Gatsby' doesn't mean we stop writing. And just because Gary Smith exists doesn't mean I don't still need to earn a living.

    Write, brother, write. That's all any of us can do.
  3. Jones

    Jones Active Member

    Re: Internal writing conflict

    I flat-out guarantee that every writer -- including the Gary Smiths of the world -- has had moments of self-doubt before writing a story that feels, to them, like it could be a career-maker.

    The danger is trying too hard to make it right... The way a golfer squeezes the club too tight when the pressure's on, that's what happens to writers, too: Golfers and writers both know from shanks.

    I think the key, then, if you can do it, is to try NOT to think about it. First, to cop a phrase, breathe through your eyelids. And then take a real departure from every lesson people have ever taught you: This time, no outline, no roadmaps, no lying in bed piecing it together.

    Just wake up and sit down, and tell the story. Don't even look at your notes. Use your memory as your first editor. Write the story as you know it right now. Don't get goofy with it. Great material doesn't need dressing up. It's good enough all on its own.

    We're sitting in a bar together, you and me. You have this great story. It's so good, you just have to tell it. You have to get it out.

  4. Dave Kindred

    Dave Kindred Member

    Re: Internal writing conflict

    Trust the story. It will get you to the chair at the far end of the wire.
  5. forever_town

    forever_town Active Member

    Re: Internal writing conflict

    I agree with the sentiments above. Write the story. If it's a great story, that will come through in your writing.

    This is when a pitching coach would tell a pitcher to trust his stuff. Trust your ability.
  6. Re: Internal writing conflict

    First, write everything down. Everything you can think of related to the story.
    Second, and before you start crafting the story, read a great, great feature story that might relate. Before I wrote what turned out to be an award-winning college bball feature profile, I read Mark Zeigler's Ken Caminiti story to get some idea of pacing and personal story-telling. It worked.
    Third, relax. With the help you'll receive here, I'm sure it will be great.
    Fourth, and most importantly, good fuckin luck. Make it happen, and I look forward to reading it.
  7. earlyentry

    earlyentry Member

    Re: Internal writing conflict

    Good adivce, Superfly. I think I'll use that myself. :)

    I'm a big college basketball fan, so who was that feature on? What was his back story? I know the Washington Post feature writers did some remarkable work covering AAU basketball and foreigners trying to make the jump to D-1.

    Also, when you're writing down pertinent info for afeature, are you organizing the notes where you would like them in the story, or just trying to get it all on paper? Thanks in advance.
  8. Re: Internal writing conflict


    I don't organize anything immediately, I find it best to put my thoughts on paper and figure out what about the story is pertinent and what isn't.

    If a guy's drinking, oh I don't know, a Patron and Rose's Lime Juice, I'll make sure I have other notes about the scene. If not, I won't include it.

    The best thing it does is get the creative juices flowing early into the process, enabling me to take chances and attempt turns of phrases without any timeline or deadline. Some of my best creative writing has happened when I'm just jotting shit down.

    I really enjoy this dialogue, EE, any more Q's for the board?
  9. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Re: Internal writing conflict

    I believe it was Double Down who absolutely floored me once when a similar thread as this popped up a few months ago. I'll try to find his exact passage, but the gist of it was this:

    Somewhere, a writer at a 10K paper is fretting that he isn't good enough as his colleague at a 50K paper. That writer, meanwhile, is beating himself up because he doesn't think he's good enough to work at a 200K paper. That writer is beating himself up because he knows he's not Gary Smith. But Gary Smith is pounding his head on the keyboard because he's not Tim O'Brien. And across the street from Tim O'Brien lives a kid who was hired at a 10K paper -- it's his first full-time gig, and he beat out 40 other applicants. And he was told he was the best writer who applied for the job.

    The point is:

    Write. Just write.

    It's what you do.
  10. verbalkint

    verbalkint Member

    Re: Internal writing conflict

    Rusty -

    I'm never that worried about not being a good enough writer for a story. Whenever I get something really good, I write it however I want. Then my friend/mentor, who's been editing me since I was trying to write well, helps me go through it. I don't know how good I am, but I know how good HE is, and that gives me comfort. He's not going to let me screw it up.

    I'm sure you know someone like this. Write a first draft, trying to get everything in, but not trying to edit anything, not trying to write a perfect story. Just get it all out, then ask him (or her) to read it.

    Anyway, that's my input.

    Best of luck. Let us know how it goes, and feel free to share.
  11. Rusty Shackleford

    Rusty Shackleford Active Member

    Re: Internal writing conflict... UPDATED

    Here's the story so far. It's very long. As I said, I think it could have been done better by a better writer than myself. There are a few spots where I've left Xs, for information I still need to track down.

    All critiques welcome.

    BRIGHTON – At the bottom of the stairs, down a long, musty hall reeking of evaporated sweat, Caleb Prettyman lays on a black weight-lifting bench. He grips the coarse steel bar inches above his eyes and, pulling himself slightly off the bench, arches his back. He quickly lowers himself back into position and with a brief, guttural grunt, lifts the heavy bar from its stand and into the air.

    Down to his chest and back up he lifts the bar, then quickly, in one fluid motion, returns it to its rack.
    He stands, his face red with a mist of sweat beginning to blanket his brow.

    “I remember when I couldn’t do that,” he says of lifting 275 pounds. He could lift much more – 400 pounds or more – if he so desired.

    Caleb Prettyman, 17, does not look like a champion weight lifter. He has a round, friendly face with eyes so blue his corneas could be made of coral. He has the wide shoulders and broad chest of a weight lifter, but on this day he wears a gray t-shirt and gym shorts – hardly the muscle-flaunting attire of a typical gym rat.

    But Caleb Prettyman is far from typical. A little less than two years ago, Prettyman more resembled the Pillsbury Dough Boy than the finely sculpted block of granite with 13 percent body fat he has become. He weighed 230 pounds and could bench press only 185. He was, like so many American children these days, overweight and out of shape.

    But the story of Caleb Prettyman’s transformation from fat to fit, from pudgy to muscular Son Light Power weight lifting champion, is one of more than diet and exercise.

    It actually begins with the moment of his birth. And then his death. And then his re-birth minutes later.
    It begins with a baby boy that was never supposed to be, born to a mother who was never supposed to walk and to a father who nearly had to bury them both.

    Caleb Prettyman, all 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds of him, can bench press more than twice his weight now. But there was a time 17 years ago when his family would have just been happy to see him move.

    N N N
    Marilyn Prettyman, nee XXXXXX, was 23 when a car accident left her paralyzed from the neck down. Years of physical therapy and deep prayer with her husband of five years, Bob, eventually brought back much of her lost movement. One thing the therapy and, seemingly, the prayer could not do, however, was return Marilyn’s lost ability to bear children.

    Doctors told her it was an impossibility. Years of married life sans children seemed to confirm it. Bob and Marilyn Prettyman thus moved on with life, eventually convincing themselves that all was for the best anyway – that a child would only get in the way.

    But late in the spring of 1989, a trip to the doctor’s office confirmed what doctors had said would never, could never happen – Marilyn was three months pregnant.

    It came as a shock. All those years without having children, the fact that the couple had given up on ever conceiving – and now it was all happening.

    The next six months went as smoothly as any pregnancy could. Marilyn never experienced any morning sickness, the checkups all confirmed a healthy child and Marilyn, who following her accident was prone to suddenly falling down, went the entire pregnancy without so much as a slip. Life for the Prettymans had become a dream-come-true.

    “It was an absolutely perfect pregnancy and we were having the time of our lives with it,” Bob Prettyman said.

    On Nov. 16, Bob took Marilyn to the hospital to deliver the impossible child, the one they had prayed for but given up on ever having. It was going to be the most joyous day in their lives.

    N N N
    Bob Prettyman looks like a typical suburban dad. He’s short and stocky, with receding black hair and the same friendly face, albeit worn by the years, shared by his son.

    He is a traveling minister, having given sermons the world over. In private conversation, his voice is calm and caring. When he’s in front of a mass, preaching the virtues of Jesus Christ and his religion, he develops a certain gusto, his voice rising and falling rapidly with a pitch that seems a few octaves higher than normal.

    His favorite sermon, one he proudly affirms that he’s given on three continents, is about Caleb. He calls it “Thank You Is More Than A Word.” It is a sermon about giving thanks for what you have on Earth, for what God has done and will do for you.

    Few people are more qualified to give such a sermon than Bob Prettyman. Seventeen years ago, his only son was born dead. Now he’s alive and well, physically strong and intellectually gifted, with no lasting effects of a birth, and death, that almost killed him.

    Bob Prettyman is eternally thankful.

    N N N
    For all the ease of the pregnancy up to the point of birth, the number of events that swerved against the Prettymans during the birthing process was staggering.

    For starters, in the days leading up to giving birth, Marilyn Prettyman’s kidney stopped working, and she began having convulsions. A doctor referred the Prettymans to the hospital, where Marilyn was to give birth via emergency Caesarian Section.

    While in the hospital, though, she developed toxemia and pre-eclampsia, or elevated blood pressure during delivery, which is potentially fatal for both mother and baby. Also, her legs had swelled to the point that the skin was breaking open and bleeding.

    The situation was growing critical as the doctors at Jersey Community Hospital worked to bring the Prettymans’ child into the world.

    Caleb Joshua Prettyman was born on Nov. 17, 1989 at X:XX a.m. For all intents and purposes, he died on Nov. 17 1989 at X:XX a.m.

    He was born with a zero on the Apgar score, a method used to assess a newborn’s health that ranks a baby from zero, or life threatening, to 10, healthy. Babies who score below three are considered critical cases.

    “If your definition of death is pulseless and not breathing, then that would be an appropriate definition (for Caleb) at that time,” said Dr. David Harmon, a family physician who was on-call at Jersey Community Hospital that night and assisted in Caleb’s birth.

    The critical newborn, who was limp with dark blue-tinted skin, was whisked away to another room immediately after birth, where he was intubated and doctors went to work bringing him to life.

    In the meantime, Bob and Marilyn were unsure of exactly what was going on. Marilyn, in her surgical haze, was not sure if, or when, the baby had been extracted from her or why she heard no crying. Bob, in the waiting room, was told the Caesarian Section surgery would take an hour. After three hours, he still had no idea what was going on.

    “All the sudden, the nurses come busting out of the delivery room and go running down the hall and they’re getting these big machines and they’re running back up the hall again,” Bob Prettyman says during his sermon about Caleb’s birth.

    “I’m running beside the nurses saying ‘What’s the matter?’ And they’re just saying you’ll have to wait for the doctor.’”

    Eventually, Caleb began breathing and a heartbeat was detected. A helicopter was called, and Caleb was airlifted to St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

    Bob, who feared both for the life of his wife and newborn son, who was still far from out of the woods, was told he should get to Children’s Hospital to care for the baby.

    It is an hour-and-a-half drive down US Route 67 from Jerseyville into St. Louis and to Children’s Hospital, just to the west of downtown and just to the east of the city’s famed Forest Park.

    Bob Prettyman, driving his red Plymouth Reliant Wagon, didn’t know what to do, what to expect as he made the drive. His mind wandered to his family. His wife might not survive childbirth. The newborn baby boy they had always wanted but had been told they could never have had finally arrived, and he might not survive either.

    “Have you ever been to the place where it hits you so fast and so hard, it’s like all of the sudden you can’t even remember how to pray?” Bob Prettyman says in his sermon. “I found that the devil was in my car, and he was beating my brains in. … He kept coming at me and saying, ‘What are you going to do now? Where’s all your fancy preaching now?’ And I started to agree with him. Yeah, where is it now? What am I going to do now? He was destroying me.”

    It was then, Bob says, that the miracle of miracles occurred.

    “It was then that the presence of God just filled the car,” he says in his sermon. “And he told me, ‘Begin to thank me now, because I’ve already done what needs to be done. It is finished.’”

    By the time he arrived at Children’s Hospital, Caleb was surrounded by machines with monitors and needles in his head, and there were still questions about how well he would recover – he had, after all, gone some time without oxygen right after birth.

    Back in Jerseyville, Marilyn continued her recovery. She says that during the birthing process, she had a sense of calm about her that was unexpected given the circumstances.

    “I had prayed for Caleb, well, for the baby, in the months leading up to the birth,” she said. “Then when I went in for (the C-Section), I was just at total peace. … And the scriptures that I had prayed over Caleb would go across in my mind like a ticker tape, just like at a bank. I could feel my body doing something, but then those scriptures would go across my mind and I could feel a total relaxation.”

    Six days after arriving at Children’s Hospital, Bob picked up Marilyn in Jerseyville and the two of them drove to St. Louis and took Caleb home. Even then, though, Caleb still wasn’t out of the woods entirely. Bob forgot to strap the newborn’s baby seat into the seat belt buckle in the car, and at the first stop, the baby and his seat tumbled over into the floor.

    Seventeen years later, Caleb is fine, and the Prettymans give all the credit to God for keeping their son alive. So does his doctor.

    “I believe calling it a miracle is appropriate,” said Dr. David Harmon. “Certainly (Caleb’s) success, and his performance since his birth, is miraculous. Some of these kids have lifelong learning disabilities, but Caleb has been a star student and a star citizen for quite some time.”

    Dr. Harmon would certainly know that about Caleb, a home-schooled A-student whose dream is to become a cardiologist and who has shadowed Dr. Harmon twice to see the doctor work.

    And then there’s Caleb’s weight lifting. The formerly overweight boy who now sports 16-inch biceps and a 40.5-inch chest after two years of strenuous training has entered two weightlifting competitions, the first in April and another in Aug. He placed first in his class in both. He is now training at Nautilus Fitness and Racquet Center in Alton, where he also works as a trainer and maintenance man, for his next competition in Oct., where he plans to bench press more than 400 pounds.

    The next competition will mark another step in Caleb Prettyman’s continuing transformation – from born dead to alive, from overweight to athlete, from student to, he hopes, doctor.
  12. maxonoodle

    maxonoodle Guest

    Just a newbie posting, but if nothing else this should get you bumped so the big guns (jcmacg, f of the f, jones) might catch it.

    First off, I want to say that I really enjoyed your lede. It drew me in, had great details, built suspense and got me to the next graf. I would gladly take your self-doubt if I came up with ledes like that afterwards.

    My only suggestion would be to add some more detail at the end about his weightlifting. After telling his story, I was wanting to know more about his lifting. When did he start? Were there medical concerns with doing that? Does he like it? How good is he (how many kids did he beat in those competitions)? Is there a future for him in lifting?

    You started with the lifting, and to me it seems only natural that you should end with a little more of it as well.

    Hopefully more people will get to this to help you out. Good luck.
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