Wednesday, 4 February 2009

How to write - Part 2

Writing fiction successfully – What’s it all about?

I define ‘it’ as extracting an idea from one’s head and forcing it into words that must line up in orderly rows on a page in such a manner that other people can understand the information contained therein. And be blown away by the result.


Personal attempts to fulfil the above are difficult to break down, so good luck getting anything useful from the following.

I relate my methods neither as advice nor enlightenment. You’d agree if you had the opportunity to check out the haphazard and unprofessional way I peck at the keyboard, offhandedly playing a game on a social networking site at the same time, or ducking out to dig a hole. Take what you want from my opinions here but if you expected a foolproof formula backed up by rigid discipline as my Grand Plan, forget it.

I take breaks. Removing myself from the story from time to time is an important part of writing. It’s not due to laziness or the result of a short attention span. It’s amazing what the brain comes up with by itself when you stop trying to force it. Theories abound about this phenomenon and I’ve picked a couple that suit me. We’re all different so go ahead, choose different ones.

(Deadlines really balls-up this essential requirement.)

How about 'Inspiration'? Halfway through mowing the lawn can be an awkward time for the Great Idea to happen, but breakthroughs should be written down immediately. You’ll hate yourself later if it evaporates un-noted. So what if you get grass clippings all through the house and the neighbours scratch their heads because your mower sits idling unattended for 20 minutes? What price can you put on Literary Nirvana?

(Until the edit. That’s when you’ll find the paragraphs refuse to mesh, and the tenses are all wrong. By the way, if you’ve ever experienced the loss of an idea because of your own laziness I can commiserate.)

Then there are the exceptional days. Unnoticed, darkness has descended and you’ve edited an inconceivably crappy bunch of words into a remarkably readable paragraph. That’s right; sometimes a day’s work will result in one, single, usable paragraph. Hopefully you’ve also jotted another bunch of junk below it for tomorrow’s repair session.

And you might have a headache.

Beware the generically offered ‘Secrets to Literary Success’. I know the people selling this crap are rich and successful. Look who’s throwing money at them. You, Dummy.

It’s the bunch of worthless, shitty platitudes you purchase that annoys me. I’m convinced that there is no secret. You CAN seek advice from many sources and build a support base of intelligent people, then use your mind to create new worlds by actually typing words on the screen. Or you could try whinging a lot and write nothing at all.

Harsh? Yes. True? Absolutely. Unnecessarily arrogant? Maybe.

Writing is an intensely personal, human-spirited endeavour. There is no 'wrong way' if the end result is pleasing. Find YOUR way.

Like it? See - How to Write - Part 1


SuzyQ said...

The things that really helped me to improve my writing were:
1) learning to show my work to other people (people whose opinion I respected - not just random people)
2) learning to accept their suggestions
3) learning to stand up for my story and reject some suggestions
4) learning to give useful feedback to others
5) working on one new problem at a time - e.g. I had a problem writing and punctuating dialogue so I looked up some books on the subject then wrote a whole story using dialogue.

Coops said...

These are great pointers. Especially learning to accept suggestions and considering other people's viewpoints.

Even more importantly you have to know when to put your foot down and refuse changes.

Sometimes you have to run with your gut rather than accept someone else's take on your work at face value.

I did the same thing with the dialogue problem I had. I wrote my whole Nanowrimo novel in dialogue as practice and now I'm perfect. Well... better.