Archive for April, 2011

Developing a Writer’s Life (NWPR #3)

Posted in on writing, Personal Notes with tags , , , , on April 23, 2011 by Sarah aka Sarjé

Today, I want to talk about writers’ habits.  I’ve read a lot of advice that suggests that you need to schedule regular time, every day, to write.  This is aided if you have a specific location that is just for writing.

For me, this is not bad advice, but it is nigh impossible to follow, or at least, it has been.  I am not a person who lives by schedules.  Ask anyone I was in college with, and they’ll tell you I was often late, or missing altogether, from studies.  I stayed up entirely too late at night.  I was your quintessentially poor student.  How did this happen?  Probably a lot of it stems from some insecurities about success.  My college days were a “one-eighty” from primary and secondary school (ah yes, we’re going back a ways now).  In high school, I was top of my class and involved in tons of activities.  I wasn’t always completely on-top of my homework, but I generally got the job done, and graduated with honors.

So what happened?  Yes, I have asked myself this question quite often.  Maybe I burned out early.  I certainly rested on my laurels.  I didn’t graduate from university, and I don’t see a way back, now (although, I haven’t given up the goal of completing my degree).  Needless to say, employment opportunities are a bit sparse for a person in my position.

In more recent years, I’ve worked to develop a “more” scheduled lifestyle, at least endeavoring to sleep at appropriate times.  I try to notice when things need doing, and do them.  But my overarching problem exists.  And I’ve repeatedly come to the conclusion that this problem is — drum-roll please — I don’t finish what I start.  This quality is so ingrained, that I haven’t “finished” solving the problem (actually, I suppose this is more of what Al Watt would call “dilemma.”).  I doubt there is any cut-and-dried answer, but the writer’s advice is a solid start.

Create a schedule, and define a location to work in.  And stick to it, and do it.  I’ve been under the impression that it takes at least three weeks of concerted effort to build a new habit.  I haven’t made it this far yet.  “Real life” interrupts, and I’m not quite strong enough to fight back for my writer’s life.  But I’m working on it.

Maybe I won’t manage to write the way so many advise.  Maybe I’ll have to make up my own rules as I go along (as, I suspect, most of us have to do).  Developing a writer’s life runs parallel to developing a novel’s story.  I’m revising my own personal narration, in order to become the author I want to be.  I can no longer rest on my laurels, nor can I wallow in my defeats.  I can only move forward with this day, and strive to live a writer’s life long enough that it becomes the habit and the way.

We all need to grow (NWPR #2)

Posted in on writing, Personal Notes with tags , , , , on April 15, 2011 by Sarah aka Sarjé

I’ve been doing a lot of reading.  Nearly finished The Breakout Novelist (though, not on the exercises, there are still a lot of those to work through), and now have started to make inroads on Alan Watt’s The 90-Day Novel, which takes a decidedly different approach.

Watt focuses on the intuitive process of writing, and advises to begin as though you haven’t before.  This is good advice, except that I do have a semblance of an outline.  But that’s okay.  I can ignore it for now, while I’m working through Watt’s book.  I do, of course, want to have a draft done in 90 days, which is why I got it.  His exercises (so far) seem to all instruct that you “write for five minutes.”  Does anyone time themselves?  This seems counter-intuitive.  So, I’ve tried to allow myself to just work for as long as I feel I need to on each exercise.

Where Donald Maass focuses on creating micro-tension, and causing as much trouble as possible for your protagonists (yes, drama is important, but not every book needs to have a character die, does it?), Alan Watt focuses instead on dilemma.  Obviously, conflict is at the root of all stories, and necessarily needs to be throughout novels, often in many forms.  Both of these gentlemen are focused on the same issue, cast in slightly different lights.  I don’t take issue with either approach, but they are certainly described and geared for different types of writers.  I’m not certain where I fall within these “types,” and plan to just keep taking as much advice as I can get, to pick and choose what works to get my pen to the paper.

The element I have focused on is growth, as a (pardon the pun) root of much of the story’s conflict and tension.  Namely, my protagonist’s growth, and the elements that hinder or help it.  Fairly straightforward.  Perhaps the reason is the season, as the world around me reawakens from its winter slumber and begins to green up again.

We stopped at the garden center today and stocked up on seeds for this year’s harvest.  It’s all very exciting — and quickly becomes overwhelming.  Myriad potential varieties of every crop you want to grow are available.  It becomes hard to choose what to commit to.  This is a pretty natural dilemma, eh?  Maybe the most natural of all.  I’m not sure where all of it is headed, but I’m figuring out the source from which my novel’s conflict stems (sorry again).

Writing is a growth-promoting process.  I’m still just sowing the seeds, and trying to propagate everything my imagination can come up with.  Sure, there’ll be dandelions and crab-grasses and probably a handful of other pests in the garden of this novel.  But let them flourish, too, for now.  The time for weeding is after you already have a bumper crop.  One piece of advice everyone seems to agree on is — don’t wear your writer’s hat and your editor’s hat at the same time…your head will overheat.

So, let the creativity bloom!

Clean(er) room, tidier thoughts — novel-writing progress report

Posted in on writing, Personal Notes with tags , , , , on April 10, 2011 by Sarah aka Sarjé

I tidied up my room last night, and now have space to walk, pace even, if I find the need to. I still have a long way to go, but I’ve at least reached a level of somewhat ordered chaos. And go figure, tidying up has seemed to help with writing.

Today, after reading (and taking notes on) several more chapters of The Breakout Novelist (my newest acquisition to my ever-expanding library of books about writing and publishing), I set about writing. I had intended to do some character and setting outlines, but instead I got a line. When the stagnation and isolation of rural Kansas finally became unbearable, Alexandra Connolly vowed to leave. And then I got another line after that. And a whole bunch more followed.

What I ended up with was a scene that I hadn’t expected to show up, but I like it. I don’t love it, and I don’t even know if it’s going to resemble anything like the final product, but it’s a start. I’m so thankful to have finally gotten an actual scene, with settings and details and dialogue, onto the page.

When I started this novel, five years ago, it was a completely different story (go figure, people change, and so do their characters). When I wrote approximately 20,000 words, last November, I was largely journalling about the process, because I couldn’t seem to find the words for the action in my mind. I truly felt like the whole process was going to be “pulling teeth,” but I realize that once again, it just wasn’t quite the right time. Now it is.

I intend to write these “progress reports” as a way to avoid running across that problem again. These posts serve as a delineation between the novel and the process of writing the novel. By separating the two, hopefully I’ll keep hacking out the story, instead of getting trapped in the internal dialogue of what it is to be a writer.

Also, I’m on the lookout for a critique group.  Suggestions are very, very welcome.

So, onward!