I'm writing a novel, the first draft of which can be found elsewhere on the site.
A couple of random thoughts about writing:
Often, my writing problems stem from the fact that I'm not specific enough. Once I start writing in greater detail, taking in input from all the senses, the story is freed and I can see the way ahead.
There are two sides to writing: listening, receiving, uncovering what is there; and ass-to-seat, forcing out the words, creating.
I hate this "ass-to-seat" thing. It sounds so unkind and disrespectful. Would you treat another person that way?
Anyway, on to the topic at hand. Over the past week I've been reading "Writing down the Bones" by Nathalie Goldberg. Goldberg's approach to writing seems quite similar to mine, and it was cool to realise that I'm not the only one out there. (There are differences, of course; the main one being that, unlike Goldberg, I feel there's a place for slow and deliberate writing.) What Goldberg's book offered, and what I had felt the need of but hadn't been able to figure out on my own, were writing exercises. Or, more in particular, things to try when writing wasn't happening or wasn't going well. Any of the suggestions that I'd encountered so far didn't appeal to me or didn't work. Based on the book I now have a whole list of things to try - I haven't put any of these to the test yet, but it's good to have a backup-plan.
And now for Plan B
Ideally, my writing process goes like this:
- I write a five-page-draft in my notebook. The process is smooth and enjoyable, no false starts or dead ends, I just keep writing and don't cross out anything;
- I type the draft into a Word document, doing minor edits and running the spelling checker;
- I put in the HTML tags and add the new episode to the web site.
Problems that I encounter:
I remember how, on the TV-series "The A-team", things never seemed to go as planned and someone always ended up saying, "And now for plan B", to which one of the other characters would reply, "We don't have a plan B". Usually they'd end up shooting and blowing up stuff, an approach that doesn't seem to translate to writing that well. But now I feel I have a plan B.
- the first step produces nothing at all, since I can't seem to get into my "writing space";
- the first step produces lots of bits and pieces, none of which feel right or make sense;
- either of the problems mentioned above occurs. Trying to write the thing in Word doesn't help either;
- I write an episode without encountering any of the problems described above. Particularly when I just got started writing the novel this happened quite often. The drawback was that I came to regard this as the rule rather than the exception, and I didn't learn to deal with things going less smoothly.
Problem: trying to write a draft in my notebook produces nothing at all, since I can't seem to get into my "writing space".
Things to try:
- write anyway;
- write at least a paragraph, don't think, don't edit, just keep writing;
- write something else, like a lesson learned from writing, a journal entry, a weblog entry or something else entirely;
- write somewhere else;
- write with the TV on;
- take a walk or a bath and then resume writing;
- read something inspirational about writing;
- daydream about the story;
- write with music on (the soundtracks of the two Lord of the Rings movies used to work well for me, though I seem to have become overly familiar with them by now);
- write when half-asleep, either in the morning or late at night;
- try writing it in Word instead;
- have some coffee or some alcoholic drink (be careful with the latter; one glass of wine may work fine for me, but anything more than that may dull my brain so badly that I can't write anymore);
- honour my writing. Recognise that writing is writing and therefore valuable, even if it wasn't what I planned to write or feel I should have written;
- just jot down some notes about what I might want to write. I just might end up writing it;
- write when I feel the urge to write, and have a notebook and a pen at hand at all times. The readiness is all.
Problem: I've written lots of bits and pieces, none of which feel right or make sense.
Things to try:
- excellent. Write more bits and pieces;
- keep writing, don't edit, don't think;
- jot down a couple of ideas first;
- have a look at my earlier notes;
- reread a couple of earlier episodes to get back into the flow of the story;
- cherish the bits and pieces that I've written;
- learn to deal with bits and pieces once I'm assembling the finished piece;
- become confident that I'll be able to deal with bits and pieces once assembling the finished piece, so I won't worry about writing them.
Problem: either of the problems mentioned above occurs. Trying to write the thing in Word doesn't help either.
Things to try:
- see above to solve either problem;
- leave what I've written and do something else, sleep over it. I may find that what I've written isn't that unsalvageable after all;
- write with my eyes closed (of course this only works if you can touch-type);
- type to the beat of a piece of music that's playing in the background (touch-typing classes used to do this exercise to teach people to type in an even rhythm in stead of hunting-and-pecking. I'm not sure what the benefit of typing in an even rhythm was supposed to be - maybe it made it easier to learn to type at greater speed, or it was less of a strain on your muscles).
This article was written after writing episode 56 of the first draft of my novel After the War.
After the War (56)
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