Writing

Writing Prompts

I followed a recommendation and purchased Judy Reeves’ “A Writer’s Book of Days”:

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Amidst a lot of other text which I haven’t read yet, there is a simple prompt for every day of the year. So today it was just “write what came first”. These are really working for me. Short and sweet and wide enough that I can launch off for 10 minutes and produce a stream of writing that, so far, has had at least a few sentences of worth in it each day.

It has also got me writing, filling a notebook longhand with actual words and sentences. This has been lacking in my life! I did write online one day and I’m still not quite sure which works best for me. The book recommends writing longhand but I can type quicker than I can write and I find that a little frustrating. Then again, maybe that enforced slower pace is useful?

When I write I usually play around with the prompt a little, try to stretch it in different directions. Sometimes I will write memories, or play word associations. It’s rare that I will find a story from it but that did happen one day and it’s something I’d like to come back to develop.

Fresh Autumn Shoots

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Times have not been easy. For all sorts of reasons I have had to put the writing on hold. I never lost interest, I thought about it a lot, but my head has been full of other things. There were big plans for this autumn but they were plans that in the end did not materialise. The down-side of this is that I missed the chance to join my beloved ModPo (and be a Community TA which would have been a real treat). The up-side is that I have a space for writing again and this makes me happy!

So I have two plans:

  1. To do the new MOOC from the University of Iowa’s IWP How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women. Their MOOCs have been such enjoyable online experiences in the past, I am really excited about this one.
  2. To do NaNoWriMo 2016. The concept has never exactly appealed to me – I enjoy writing, I’m not trying to compete against some target, the speed element is not appropriate. However, this year I’m embracing the challenge to come up with a novel from scratch and spew it out without being too precious. I will blog more on this but I’m already enjoying a month of planning and feel all fired up to write, write, write when the time comes.

The clash of the two is going to be interesting! Watch this space.

The rise and fall of scenes

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I like to take on board writing advice that makes sense to me but sometimes it can take me a while to see how to apply it to my work. Persevering with this has resulted in some real breakthroughs for me so I do believe it’s worth it. One thing I’m struggling with at the moment is the movement and pacing of scenes. I have realized that I tend to write scenes as a section of time, usually in one place. So it’s a bit like a play – one scene happens in one setting and at one point in time. I find however that this doesn’t make it easy to have a good pacing of action. I have been pondering…

  • Jody Hedlund on “Practical ways to keep your readers hanging from a cliff” (which has a great list of possible cliffhangers). This makes me consider my scenes in terms of them having a beginning, middle and end; a pace of action; a mini-story in themselves. On the other hand, that pacing may not fit in one setting at one point of time. Have I boxed myself in too much?
  • Writer Unboxed’s “Love every word” (“Every scene can and should be a favorite scene–a ‘good part.’ “). I do have some scenes that I love – what’s missing from the other ones? Can I change something?

Maybe I should try writing scenes differently, work on the narrative arc as the basis and not confine it by time and place? Maybe I should stick with my current setting and just craft the narrative better so that it gives a “read on” hook at the end but at the moment this feels quite unnatural sometimes. I’m thinking about submitting some scenes for critique which will place a real demand on them as a standalone piece of work. A good challenge!

I write and learn…perhaps not fast enough!

5 ideas for getting a fresh perspective on a first draft

Reflection in a christmas tree baubleI’m still here, still writing, or rather re-writing. It’s going slowly but – this is more important – it’s still going!

I’m going to be away visiting family for most of the Christmas vacation so there will be little more than snatched moments to do any writing. I’ve therefore stockpiled some exercises or challenges that I can try in limited time but which will hopefully help me take a fresh look at my first draft. I thought I’d share a random collection:

  1. This was written as a “New Year Resolution” post on the great “Writer Unboxed” blog last year – it challenges you to explore the bigger picture of your novel: http://writerunboxed.com/2014/01/01/novel-resolutions/ It also gets you to think about similar novels in your genre, which reminded me of this post: http://www.livewritethrive.com/2014/08/25/nailing-your-novels-genre-in-your-opening-scene/ (Another challenge if you’re up for it!)
  2. Problem scenes? Another one from “Writer Unboxed”, this has a great exercise to focus on a scene and give it a boost: http://writerunboxed.com/2014/07/02/infused/
  3. Spend a little time with your secondary characters: not an exercise as such but reading through this gave me the impetus to go back and work them out a little more fully: http://www.livewritethrive.com/2014/08/13/characters-in-novels-that-are-allies-and-reflections/
  4. If you have a plot that feels saggy or challenged, how about trying to fit it into the classic mould: http://storyfix.com/easy-approach-story-building-bedtime-story-model
  5. Three ideas for tackling an edit from the excellent Fiction University blog: http://middlegrademafia.com/2014/12/08/top-three-revision-tips-from-fiction-universitys-janice-hardy/ The transitions between scenes is something I need to focus on.

Help! I can’t work out my point of view on point of view

I’m feeling the wind in my sails at the moment as I review the first draft of my novel and consider the changes needed. It all felt murky for a while but I’m suddenly seeing with clarity which bits need chopping and changing.

The mist came down however once I hit the issue of points of view! With the hope that by writing it out some clarity will come, here it goes:

I’m using third person narrative (subjective) but I feel pretty certain that I don’t want it all from my main character’s POV…so this means changing POV.

As soon as I wrote that, I started challenging myself why I felt so certain?

  • My main reason is fun – my WIP is light-hearted and changing point of view lets me have a playfulness and irony at the expense of the protagonist.
  • I also use it for suspense – so the reader knows things she doesn’t know.
  • I also enjoy a change of personality and tone and way of thinking / speaking. I think it gives a breath of fresh air to the reader, a spring in the step of my prose.

So that’s the case for the defence! These problems then follow on…

  • It works out that the first different point of view (i.e. not the protagonist) doesn’t appear until the end of Chapter Three (I have quite long chapters – currently ten in total – made up of several scenes). I’m worrying that this will be a bit weird as the reader may not be anticipating a change after that long. The only way round this would be to have the POV of an incidental character earlier, which I don’t really want to do because…
  • I’m worried I have too many points of view. I obey the “rules” and don’t jump around within scenes but I have a total of (pauses to count) seven in total and some of those only have the POV baton quite fleetingly. At this point I am reflecting that none of my reasons above are to reveal depth of character but this is probably also true for three of the seven who are used more in depth.
  • I am also pretty sure that I don’t particularly want an even distribution of points of view – it’s going to be mainly my protagonist. I don’t think this should matter? Note the question mark of doubt!

At this point I think I will park all those thoughts and go off and read around the problem. Plenty to read on the most excellent Itch of Writing (actually, MASSES to read now I look…) and I like nothing better than an excuse to flick through my books on writing. I may also pick up some favourite novels in the same ballpark and see how they handle it.

Comments, thoughts and suggestions very welcome!

Creation and Creativity

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There is a great post on Brain Pickings about “The Six Motives of Creativity” by Mary Gaitskill. (Perhaps because I’m a Brit, or more likely because I don’t read enough, I didn’t know who she was but now I do.) I always find it worth reading on the reasons writers write and this is a very eloquent set of reasons. My favourite quote is this:

“Stories mimic life like certain insects mimic leaves and twigs. Stories are about all the things that might’ve, could’ve, or would’ve happened, encrowded around and giving density and shape to undeniable physical events and phenomena. They are the rich, unseen underlayer of the most ordinary moments.”

It’s hinting at a magical element – a conjuring of an alternate reality, the creation of characters and scenes that seem so real it’s hard to believe they have never existed.

Whilst I don’t feel an affinity with some of Mary Gaitskill’s motives, this gets to the heart of one of my joys in writing. I have lived with my characters for so long, they are old friends. When I went to visit some of the settings in my novel, I somehow expected them to show up and felt a small, irrational sadness when they didn’t. Some of my characters are spun out from a memory of people I once briefly knew – people perhaps I wish I still knew because I liked them. I never really got to know them – have I created them to bring them back into my life? Perhaps. I certainly based my novel in places I wanted to revisit (and by doing so, ensured that I did!)

This also links with a sense of responsibility that I feel in writing. I am in no way suggesting anyone else should feel this – what a boring world it would be if they did – but I don’t want to conjure up negative situations or energy in my writing. I think there is plenty of this being done elsewhere, and done so well it transmutes into a positive force. I just don’t want to spend my writing time in a headspace of bad things and bad people. There is a huge amount of escapism in my writing.

Whatever stage of writing you find yourself, I do believe it is worthwhile step aside and reconsider your reasons for doing it. I struggle a bit with feeling intimidated by some of Mary Gaitskill’s but luckily the world is full of a wide spectrum of readers and writers!

 

Let Thoreau Give You Some Encouragement

I came across this on Pinterest, a quote from Henry David Thoreau:

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

The more I read it, the more I love it – it starts in such a modest way with the assurance this has been proved “by experiment”. Then the sky opens up, you’re shown the stars and told they can all be yours. Just keep following your dream and try to do whatever you aspire to do. The key for me is the phrase “advance confidently” – you can’t just potter along, you have to make progress and you have to have confidence. As I try to untangle plot problems, juggle the many layers of a novel and macro-edit a troublesome first draft, this is a wise friend keeping me on track.

Find this and more Thoreau quotes on Good Reads, my favourite reading forum. In fact, there’s another one right here:

Thoreau Quote

Quote from Henry David Thoreau on Library Way in New York City. Taken on February 28, 2007. Re-posted under CC licence from Wikipedia, Kathleen Conkin