From Hook to Book

Archive for the tag “Writing revelations”

The Writer is In!

Late last year I fell off the horse – figuratively speaking! Of course! After months of head down, unrelenting focus on trying to get down the first draft of my WIP, one day in early November, I suffered a complete crisis of confidence over where my story was going. And if I could write at all. Add in two very disappointing rejections that week, a day apart, and I quite literally melted down.

In all the years I’ve been writing, I’ve tried to approach it professionally – as a job. Even through the most gutting knock backs, after manuscripts have gone to acquisitions meetings and not made it through, I’ve given myself the standard 24 hours to mourn and cry, but the next day I’d be back on the proverbial horse and back at my desk.

Being a Friday, I figured, a couple of wines and a good cry and come Monday I’d be back at my desk as always. But even as I walked out my office door, I sensed something was different this time. It was as if a switch had flicked in my brain. I can’t do this. Do I even want to do this anymore? I was sick to my stomach in fear this might not just herald a break.

Over the coming days, I couldn’t even step into my office. I’d lost my nerve, my mojo, and, it seemed, my will to write. What the hell was wrong with me? The question nagged again, did I even want to write? It’s too hard. It hurts. Who and what am I writing for?

It took time before I could face a good hard think about writing and my practice. But when I did, I realised that somewhere, somehow, my determination to get words down had become an obsession. I’d barely noticed in the passing months that I’d stopped exercising and going to the swimming pool (too busy), or working in my garden (too wet/too cold), or even taking time out for friends (I’d catch up as soon as my draft was done). Even playtime and training sessions with our precious puppy had become snatched moments between writing. Poor baby!

I came to the sad realisation too that I had no hobbies, nothing that was not connected to writing. How and when did that happen? I’d been given a beautiful mirrorless camera the preceding Christmas and it had scarcely been out of its bag.

I have a little easel (pictured above) on a shelf in my office bookcase with the sign, “The Writer is In”. As a joke, when I made it, I made one for the reverse side, “The Writer is Out.” (I’d never turned it around.) The week after my meltdown, I spotted it as I left my office, after being unable to open my manuscript for the umpteenth time. I cried as I turned the sign around, wondering if the writer would ever be in again? Again, the question: Did I even want to write anymore?

But when someone near and dear innocently asked, what do you want to do then? ‘WRITE!’ came my savage reply. ‘It’s who I am. What I do. All I want to do!’ (Despite the voice screaming in my head, ‘I just don’t know if I can do it anymore.’)

Turns out, there is more to life than just writing. In these past few weeks, I’ve undertaken a CAE Intensive Photography Course, worked prodigiously in my garden, read some great books – for pure enjoyment, romped, played and generally hung out with a very cute, small, white dog, as well as with some human friends. I’ve given my house a mini-makeover and enjoyed a lovely Christmas and holiday break with my family. Plus I’ve pretty well planned and booked an overseas trip for us later in the year. Plus, as of this week, I’m back in the pool.

I’m also booked to do a 5-day writing masterclass in February and I’m sincerely looking forward to it (more on that another day) and I’ve finally found some words (if only to write this blog post – it’s a start!)

Oh, and I nearly forgot, Santa brought me a most special present. I’ve always, always, wanted to learn to play the piano and shortly before Christmas I took the time to ask the question, was it possible to teach an older dog such a trick. Turns out, Yes! It is. In the weeks since, I’ve been practising with an app, learned to play a couple of songs, and, hooray, hooray, today I had my very first piano lesson!

I also reread my WIP and turns out, there is a story there. One I really want to write. So it seems, albeit it tentatively, the writer/photographer/piano player/gardener/dog buddy is IN.

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Permission to Write Crap and Crap on!

It’s time for me to get back to blogging, but, from now on, without always spending hours researching or pedantically connecting all my posts to serious writing subjects, which takes away from real, actual writing time.

At the beginning of a new novel project real writing is top of my agenda.

At least that was the plan until I sat down to start and out poured a pile of… clunky, flat sentences, sour similes, in scenes seemingly going nowhere.

OMG! What had happened to the joyful act of writing that I remembered, the excitement and thrill of the perfect word or sentence appearing on the page? Dialogue that my characters had no trouble giving voice to?

Oh yeah, that was writing my last novel, of many, many drafts! Long contemplated, researched, workshopped, drafted and redrafted, edited and at last complete, and where for the longest time I’d known where my characters were going and why and what they were doing. In essence, working with a tame, respectable, easily approachable and beloved friend.

Starting a new project is more like opening the door to an unhouse-trained, ill-behaved, messy, unrecognisable, often traitorous beast.

 

“There is no beginning that is a blank page,”  Amitava Kumar

The prospect of that blank page and beautifully set-up EMPTY Scrivener mss file became mind-boggling and scary and confidence crippling. In my panic, and procrastination, I buried myself in research. It took me awhile to work out that really I was just avoiding the blank page. I began to think I couldn’t write. My idea was crap. No-one would want to read it. And what did I know about Paris post-WW1 anyway?

Creativity is always a leap of faith. You’re faced with a blank page, blank easel, or an empty stage.” Julia Cameron

Then I remembered I didn’t know much about pit villages in Scotland, early 20th century immigration, WW1 or shellshock until I began to read and research for my previous novel either.

Most importantly, after initially freaking out, then giving myself a stiff talking to, I recalled some sage advice from the wise pen of Ann Lamott, author of the popular writing book, Bird by Bird. “Writing is not rapturous. The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” Just what I needed to hear. And action.

“I have done, this year, what I said I would: overcome my fear of facing a blank page day after day, acknowledging myself, in my deepest emotions, a writer, come what may.” Sylvie Plath

Three weeks after giving myself permission to write crap, in fact insisting I write crap, if that’s all that hit the page, as long as I bloody-well wrote words, my word-count has grown by more than 12,000-words. After some further prodding and poking (editing), because I had actual words to work with, I can now see where my story is going. The tone and voice are developing and beginning to ring true. Scene by scene I’m getting to know my characters and their world. I’m beginning to really like my MC and love again the act of writing.

Of course, I’m not alone in fear of the blank page. It’s still scary at times, but I wouldn’t ever want to do anything else.

Travelling Back in Story to Move Forward

Back at the end of October, I was like a kid let out of school for summer. But with a firm goal to finish my novel by new semester start. (Next Tuesday.)

Ha, ha, ha!

What naivety! But, oh, how thrilling the challenge! (When I wasn’t gnashing teeth and tearing out my hair.)

An unmet challenge – as it turns out.

But… you know, it doesn’t matter. Not at all, because, though I’ve written and rewritten and deleted heaps of words over the past four months, I’ve learned so much more – about my story, about my characters, and what I’m trying to say. I’ve discovered the real journey my main character is travelling on. And how to articulate it.

Still I struggled with the beginning. I kept coming up against an invisible barrier, blocking me, yet I couldn’t see why I was blocked.

I always knew the beginning needed to be rewritten, because the initial, early draft chapters were really me writing my way into my story and characters. And even though I knew some aspects of these chapters needed to stay as crucial backstory, I struggled with how and where to begin. 

I’ve rewritten the beginning chapter three times now. Each draft not quite working – despite some deceptively good words and ideas. (It’s tricky when words seem good, to discover why they’re not working. Especially if it turns out to be a tiny but destabilising aspect.)

I had the story pinned, but could not pin down my main character. Something wasn’t gelling, and I had no idea why.

This week I set out to write a small snapshot, set a few years before the start of my story.  My intention being to travel back and show one character before he “changed”. Without intending to, within this scene, I captured the essence of my story along with the true relationship of the two main characters. I can see now why things went on to pan out the way they do, yet there is no hint in the actual words on what’s to come.

I also discovered I’d painted a crucial aspect of their older relationship wrong in my first draft beginnings.

The problem lay in my initial setup. I wrote the pair’s relationship, and stuck with it. I forgot to go back and interrogate. Sure, I returned to examine my story starting point and setting, but not my original setup of my characters’ relationship. On the surface, it works. But after writing the scene from their early years, a crucial difference jumped out at me. An expectation seeded in my main character in the original drafts, that is missing in the writing on their early years.

BRAIN FLASH “Ah! That was never supposed to be the way of it.”

This single expectation coloured the way I wrote the next few chapters. In turn, skewing attitudes and responses, and many of the characters’ ongoing outlooks and motivations.

Even before this discovery, I was set to rewrite several early chapters to change the relationship. I was gobsmacked to realise that if I’d written the early year’s piece before I wrote the rest of the novel, I’d have written it differently from the start and saved myself a lot of the work ahead of me.

But that’s what writing a novel organically is all about. Discovery! Growing a story.

I had to write the entire narrative to find out where it was going. Now it’s about going back to the beginning, with the benefit of that knowledge, and knowing truly who my characters are, to test and ensure the narrative line works from beginning to end.

So, if things aren’t working with or between your characters, try taking them back to their earlier years, particularly if they had a connection in their younger years. Let them explore a new situation at that point of their lives – or even, as I did, just their everyday world. If your characters are older, plant them in a different situation than you’re intending for them in your story. Or write them older still and see what’s happened in the intervening years and how they interact now. You might be surprised by the revelations too.

Writing a long-length work of fiction is a thrilling, frustrating, learning journey that takes lots of rewrites and rethinks, but in the end it’s about writing your way into your characters and to where they’re going. Ongoing until the novel is finished. Another lesson learned and a step forward in my writing journey too.

Love to hear if you’ve had an Ah Ha! flash of revelation in your writing. Please share by posting a comment.

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