The Bear Emerges

It’s spring here in Australia, and I’m emerging from my writing hybernation.  For the past year, I’ve been concentrating on writing purely for entertainment.  My goal has been to get words out, without caring whether they’re good bad or indifferent.  Story is king, but I’m not allowed to think too much about it.  I can’t worry whether I’m writing something meaningful, or I get caught up with ‘what’s the message here?’.  Conversely, I’m not allowed to think ‘this is rubbish’, or I stop me writing ‘forwards’.  All of these judgements have to be left to the next draft.

It’s been hard work!  It’s amazing how often self-doubt and concern about brilliance (or lack thereof) crowds into my creative space.   But it’s been fun, and while I haven’t written as much as I would have liked, I’ve got a couple of finished shorter pieces and another on the way.

I’m also starting to notice something.  The faster I write, the better it is.  Starting something is usually clunky (although my current project is just singing along), but after I’ve warmed up a bit, the words start to flow.  The characters speak for themselves, the events lead one to the other and I’m driven to finish the event or scene I’m working on until the whole thing is finished.

I don’t know why the writing gets better.  It could be because I stop running interference – I can see an end in sight and start bolting for the finish line instead of holding myself up double guessing what I’m doing.  Or maybe it’s because when I get to a certain point, the weight of the story drives it along despite any interference from me.  Definitely passion has something to do with it – I get caught in the story and all I have to do is sit down and pick up the pen.  Whatever it is, I now know it will happen and feel more grounded having experienced it a number of times.  I’ve hit a bit of a flat patch in my current project, but I know if I keep going, I’ll get to the flow again and can worry about the less than brilliant parts in a redraft.  That might mean EVERYTHING gets worked over, but hey, it’s a lot easier to edit than to produce!

And above all else, while facing the blank page is something I dread, nothing beats writing ‘The End’!

The Challenge of Writing for Entertainment

This writing for entertainment is fun, although challenging.  I’m finding it difficult to disengage my ‘deep and meaningful’ tendencies from getting the words onto the page.  Just as I think I’ve got the hang of it, I find myself slipping into worrying about what ‘higher truth’ my story will hold.  Once that happens, I start to doubt everything, from my craft to whether anyone will truly be interested in this story.  Next thing you know, I’m bogged.

I won’t call this ‘writer’s block’, because I refuse to experience that.  I think writer’s block happens to me when I break my ‘just keep writing’ rule.  It usually happens because I’m not using the magic words ‘work in transition’ or ‘insert a bit in here about…’.  These are my writing fail-safes, and they work every time.

There is a school of thought that if you’re not passionate about your writing, the reader will know.  I used to think this meant you needed to have something important to say, but in this world where we’re challenged so much by things beyond our control, entertainment and escapism have become important survival mechanisms (when used in moderation).  So I’m finding the older I get, the more passionate I’m becoming about fun.  It requires reworking old habits of thought, but it’s also freeing.

So I’m going to keep going with this, even though it’s taking me a long time and my masterpiece is waiting.  I think it will make me a better writer in the long run, and that’s what keeps me going when I have a crisis of faith in what I’m doing.

Just needed to remind myself!

An Inverse Relationship

Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed there seems to be an inverse relationship between my writing and my painting.  When writing is going well, I struggle with painting.  When my painting starts picking up, my writing declines significantly in terms of ease and quality.

This year, my painting has been going really well.  Needless to say, I’ve really had to push the writing barrow, and have lamented on many occasion a certain lack of spark in my prose.  Tonight, I started a new painting (a gift for a friend, no less), and it went really badly.

Hoorah!

Anyhow, I wish you all a safe and happy Christmas if you celebrate it and all the best for the new year.

Moments of Writing Stillness

Despite all the problems I’ve been having with my story, I’ve found myself over the last few weeks preferring to write my tome rather than do the cyber-posting thing.  Normally, any excuse not to write is a good one, so this has surprised me a little.  However, I’ve gone with it, and my gut instinct seems to have been right.

This is because lately I’ve noticed that I seem to be hitting little spots of ‘stillness’ in my writing.  Sounds like writer’s block, doesn’t it?  Just the opposite is true.

Moments of ‘stillness’ are when you’re so absorbed in your writing that time fades and you hit a run of power and you know there’s some essential truth in what you’re saying.  The emotion is raw but real, your character is alive and making their own decisions, and your heart is breaking every bit as much as your reader’s will be. 

The wierd thing is that usually, I have to work hard for those moments.  I have to set things up, laboriously scrawling word after word trying to get into my groove.  Only after a lot of words and hours of tedium did that moment happen,  when I hit that bit of dialogue that gives me goosebumps, and I think maybe I’m OK at this gig after all. 

But lately, I’ve hit it in a bout of fifteen minutes of writing. 

You read that right – fifteen minutes.  Whenever I find myself putting off writing for days on end, I say to myself ‘I’ll only write for fifteen minutes a day’.  It always works – for some reason whenever I try to up the limit I resist and refuse.  I’d like to say the fifteen minutes becomes longer on most days, but it doesn’t.  Often, I’m watching the clock and forcing myself to remain seated with my pen moving for the full fifteen.  How can inspiration possibly come under such circumstances?

But it does.  And in the last couple of weeks, I’ve found that those moments of stillness I used to have to work hard for can hit within seconds of forcing my pen to start writing.  Maginificent!

My Writer’s Journal

I love my writer’s journal.  It’s an essential part of my writing process, and things flow so much better when I use it.

I write in it when I’m about to start a chapter, and I need to jot down some thoughts without the pressure of having to make sense.   I write down what the chapter is about, what I want to achieve and how I feel about it.  Sometimes it becomes a detailed outline with the general gist of how a piece of dialogue is going to go.  Other times it’s just what I think the character is feeling and why.  Sometimes I’ll keep the journal open next to me when I’m writing the chapter for inspiration, other times I’ll close it and not open it again until I’m ready for the next chapter.  It’s all very flexible.

The beauty is that it helps me get rid of the panic of the blank page at the start of a chapter, and revs my writing engines.  Usually, I don’t get any of my manuscript done on the days I write in the journal due to time / energy constraints, but as I use it so infrequently (maybe once a week), it doesn’t really matter.  It gets things going, and that’s the main thing.

To talk, or not to talk

Do you like to talk about your work as you’re writing it, or do you prefer not to?  I’m of the latter persuasion. 

I generally don’t want to discuss my work until it’s finished, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, I firmly believe this takes the edge off the writing.  Part of the excitement is seeing the ‘cooking’ coming together straight from the pen.  If I talk about it, then when I write it I feel like the magic has already happened and the writing is just a pale imitation.  Interesting that this is why some writers don’t plan.  For some reason, I can plan without feeling like I’ve already written it. 

Another reason is that any feedback starts to run interference with my producing skills.  If someone makes suggestions, that’s what I’ll hear when I next sit down to the blank page, along with the usual self criticism and doubts.  It’s so much harder to write with the extra talk going on.  Does this mean I can’t take criticism?  I hope not!  Not if it’s given with tact and compassion, anyway.  I’m all for honesty, but not for ridicule or contempt.  And best leave it for the end, when I’ve already got the story clear in my head.

I’ve known people who love to talk about their work, describing what thrills them about it, where they’re up to and what difficulties they’re having.  It’s wonderful seeing the light in their eyes, and watching them get clarity around where they want to go next!  This causes a bit of a dilemma for me, as it makes me feel ungiving when I decline to talk about my own work.  And there’s only so much one can say without having read the book, so the conversation tends to be a little … well … one-sided.

As always, there’s no right or wrong.  Just some points to consider.

A Good Solution is a Two-Edged Sword

Now this is interesting.

In working on what my main ‘push’ was going to be for the last 20,000 words of my work in progress, I finally came up with a great idea that will tie everything together.  Trouble is, it’s such a strong theme that I could have written the whole book with it.  Now I’m wondering if I should go back and write it in.

Don’t you just hate that?

Getting Started

I had an interesting conversation with another writer the other day.  He said that for him, the language has to come first.  I have read some of his writing, and it doesn’t surprise me because the language is truly beautiful. 

It struck me that voice is one of the last things that comes for me.  In the first draft, the narrative voice floats in and out because it’s not what I’m concentrating on.  I can’t say that I concentrate on anything except getting it down.  Nothing seems to make that any easier except plugging away at it.  Sometimes I might ‘hit my stride’ for a bit, but more often than not I’m just slugging away, bit by bit, til it’s done.

And to be honest, I’m not unhappy about this, as there’s not much that stops my writing (other than sickness, tiredness, business, and any other procrastination excuse I can think of!).  However, it does make me wonder if I found that magical thing that pulled my work together, maybe the first draft would happen more easily and require less revising later on. 

Does anyone else have anything that they have to work on before they can start writing?

2nd Draft Update

I’m finding a lot of things to fix up in this second draft, I must say.  On the one hand, that’s a good thing, because it makes me feel like I know my craft.  On the other hand, it’s daunting, because there’s so much to fix I think I might need an extra draft to make the writing beautiful.  That’s what I’m aiming for – not just good writing, but really gut-wrenching make-you-howl-when-something-bad-happens-to-the-protagonist writing. 

Things that I’ve found to fix up so far include:

  • characters dropping in or out
  • point of view imbalances
  • scenes not going anywhere obviously meaningful for the plot
  • events dropped in without any background or transition
  • reordering of chapters, events or scenes

These are all major re-writing areas, not just a nice bit of copy editing.  It looks like the second draft will be closer to a new novel than a fixed up one.

Taking Action!

Well, 2010 is nearly here, and I have been doing some planning.  I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I do think about what areas of my life I want to focus on during the year ahead.  In the last couple of days, I’ve also written a Writing Action Plan, as suggested in Kelly L Stone‘s book on writing, Time to Write (the link for this doesn’t seem to want to work – check it out at http://www.kellylstone.com). 

This is a plan that articulates my overall writing goal for 2010 (to get my manuscript to a publisher) and identifies the actions and timeframes needed to achieve it.  I’m planning to keep track of my progress (or lack thereof) on a regular basis throughout the year and will adjust timeframes accordingly to ensure things are achievable but not too easy.  I’m not much of a planner in life generally, so if I don’t get something down on paper, I’ll just drift along and things take twice as long as they need to.

My writing self is certainly a planner, and feels most comfortable knowing where I’m going.  It’s funny how my writing self seems to operate in a totally different way from my life self.  I wonder why that is?  Perhaps my life self could do with a little planning too!

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