Saturday, November 15, 2008

About Writing

It’s easier to achieve a dream if you break the journey down into steps. Like the prospect of writing a book. Say, we’re talking about 75,000 words. It’s not a huge tome like, “War and Peace”, but then it’s bigger than, “The Little Engine that Could”.

First step would be to have something to write about. Once you’re set on that the rest of it is actually gravy. You’d need to examine your intentions too. If you are writing with the sole intent of being a famous author remembered through the ages for your writing, for your clarity of thought, for your succinct handling of language; forget it. If you are writing just to make money; that too is a bad idea. I don’t know why, but it is.

Why you write should be more along the lines of you can’t do anything else. It’s a driven sort of thing. If you are not exactly driven right now you could develop the habit by writing in small chunks. You could write 500 words a day. Every day. Actually, 500 words isn’t really that much. It’s not even a full page of typewritten material. Write about anything you want to write about. Cut pictures out of magazines or print them off of the internet and write a page about the picture. Describe what is going on. If there are people in the picture pretend that you can see into their hearts and talk about what they are feeling.

Once you are easy with the 500 words a day extend that by a few hundred and do a page and a half. Then, after a week or two of the increased output aim for 2 pages a day. Now, at 2 pages a day you are writing about 1,200 words a day. That is a pretty descent output. The rule of thumb is to write 1,000 words a day, but I figure filling 2 pages is easier than counting. Or you could use the word count feature in your word processing program for awhile until you get sick of it and just count pages of new material.

Once you have the driven thing down you are invited to begin work on your book. That in itself can seem daunting, but just plunge in. You could develop an outline or have index cards filled out. One of my favorite techniques is to write the story in the form of a short sentence: “A wants to go to B and finds herself distracted at every turn.” Then, you go back and expand that sentence a little bit: “A wants to go to B because her sister is being held captive by an ornery old woman. A sets out on her journey but finds obstacle after obstacle is thrown up in her face.” You get the idea. Just keep expanding on these sentences until you’ve got a paragraph of, maybe, 10 sentences. Then, take each one of those sentences and expand each one of them into a paragraph. Now, you’ve got your book on one page and each one of those paragraphs can eventually be a chapter.

You will probably see that your story goes every which way anyway, but the original plan might just carry you through from beginning to end.

You’ll know you’ve hit the driven quality of writing when you find yourself thinking about what you are writing about while you are filling your car with gas, while you are waiting in line at the grocery story, while you are driving to work. There’s a story I love of James Thurber and his wife. They were at a cocktail party and James was standing by himself in the middle of the room. He had a drink in one hand and some hors d'oeuvres in the other. He was just standing there not talking to anybody although people swirled all around him. His wife was across the room. She spied him where he stood all alone in the middle of a room full of people and stalked across to him. She hissed at him, “Quit writing.” I just love that story.

It is important that you write every day. You might feel now that you don’t have a minute to call your own, but you can carve out an hour or two for yourself if you try. My favorite time to write is in the very early morning before everybody gets up and before I go to work; and I do have a full time job. I tend to go to sleep a little earlier when I’m writing so I can get up a little earlier and have that time to myself. I put some headphones on and will either play music or not. Many times I “come to” to find that I’ve been sitting here writing for 45 minutes with headphones on and nothing coming out of them. But, there was a time when I wrote a book mostly listening to Celtic music. One of my favorite pieces is, “Wind Horse” from Bill Douglas' album Celtic Twilight. Another favorite I listen to is Dr. Jeffrey Thompson’s Brainwave Suite. Background music that helps to get me in the mood that helps to sustain the moment and that will mask background noises if I am writing once everybody is awake.

Stephen King, one of my all time favorite authors, listens to rock music while he writes. He also writes every day. Every day. I believe he takes one day off a year which, if I remember correctly, is his birthday. Otherwise, it is every day.

Something else that is going to happen which might alarm you in the beginning but will quickly feel okay is that all that you write is not going to end up in the book. You will probably write yourself into a corner at some point. Speaking from personal experience I can tell you that if you’ve killed off a key character and need them later on to extricate your other folks you will have written yourself into a corner. This is where you go someplace quiet and try to figure out what to do next. A good technique is to begin a separate piece where you allow your characters to speak to you. Just pretend. Let them talk to you and tell you where they think the story should go. This is where you deviate from your original plan, but hey, it happens. Also, you could just go lie down on your bed with a tape recorder and let the free thoughts come. One time I’d written myself into a corner and did the tape recorder thing to not only get myself out of the jam I was in but also had six month’s worth of writing material to work on and I only talked for 15 minutes.

Anyway, getting yourself out of a jam might entail you deleting a portion of what you’ve already written, or changing it somewhat. There are those writers who save that deleted material in other file to be used later on. I just delete it.

Having written a book I can tell now when I read stuff other people have written when they get bored. It’s this draggy quality to the material. These are folks who got bored with what they were doing and pushed on regardless. Been there…done that. Anyway, consider jumping forward to another part of the book and writing that for awhile. You’ve got a plan and can do that. Then, go back to your original spot where you started getting bored and resume writing. It might help. Or, just delete a bit of it and start over.

Doing this writing every day is a lonely thing. There’s nobody but yourself involved though you’ll need some support from your family members. Like, “Don’t talk to me when you see me with my headphones on.” I’m actually thinking about decorating my headphones with flowers or something just to make them special, but that’s sort of silly. Fun, but silly.

I remember reading somewhere that a book might be compared to an iceberg. What you are reading is the part of the iceberg above water. The part you don’t see, the enormous mass of the iceberg that is underwater is the mass of written material that never saw the light of day. It was a necessary part of the book, but you just don’t get to read it. That material might be saved for future projects or it could just be character sketches that you do to get an idea of what your characters are like before you have them hit the pages of your book.

So, my husband is up. I’ve written 1,439 words (which is almost two and a half pages) and that’s enough for today. I’m also running out of steam. These are my thoughts about writing and I hope they help you to achieve a dream that not that many people dare to do. Write a book. And, when people ask you what you do you can honestly say to them that you are a writer.

2 comments:

Psychic said...

This is an interesting article story to read. though I find it way too long, still I was caught reading it throughout.

Mini said...

Such dedication and discipline you show! Thanks so much for your honesty about the highs and lows of it. Very grounded and helpful reminder for me.