Tag Archives | chapters

The Benefits of Writing Crap (A Reminder)

DeskbytheseaLast weekend, I was at my desk.

I had just started a new chapter.  (I'm almost to the halfway point in my WIP, so I'm well into the dreaded muddle of the middle.)  And I was throwing horrible combinations of words at the page.   Really, when I say horrible, I mean horrible.

Feeling a little, um, less than happy with my work, I took a break to check email.  And, wouldn't you know it, there was a message from some publisher or another trumpeting an author's "masterful literary debut."  Which made my shoulders sag and my chin drop to my chest.

Because of course, I immediately started comparing myself.  And what I was writing was not masterful, in any way, shape or form, as we used to say.  I imagined the process of the author of this masterful debut.  No doubt, she wrote beside a window, looking out at the sea, with gentle ocean breezes ruffling her hair.  Which was styled, unlike mine, since I still hadn't showered.  And her desk was clean, unlike mine, the surface of which hasn't seen daylight in months.  And most especially, no doubt every word this author wrote was a gem.

Unlike my horrible combinations of words.

I went to that imaginary scene of this masterful debut author writing despite the fact that I know better.  (Exhibit A: the gazillion articles I've written about this over the years on this blog) I know that this author went through a process, just like me, and that she no doubt despaired over her Shitty First Drafts (not to mention subsequent drafts) as well.  

But my mind went there anyway. (For some reason, I'm particularly prone to thinking this about female English novelists.  Maybe because they always seem so accomplished and efficient? And also, Isabel Allende, whose fingertips seem to produce incredible novels like clockwork.)

And so I was forced to remind myself that writing is a process.  And that process does not start with perfectly formed sentences, despite what my runaway imagination was telling me.  And so, I reminded myself:

–When writing a first draft, you're laying down the spine of the story.   Because you most likely do not yet fully understand the spine of the story, your scenes will not spring, full formed onto the page. Rather, they will of necessity be somewhat sketchy.

–Not only are you figuring out the spine of the story, you're still deciphering the story itself.  Yeah, so you think you know how its going to go–and then that new character walks on.  Or your heroine says something that takes the chapter in a whole new direction.  This is why we write first drafts–to let the story have a life of its own.

You'll figure out things about the story only when you get some distance from it.  For instance, last night I met with my writer's group and reviewed an earlier chapter from my WIP.  And realized that there is a thematic element I need to weave in through subsequent chapters.  This is what God made second drafts for.

–A first draft gives you something to go on in the future.  Because you will rewrite this draft.  And you'll rewrite it again after the first time. 

So, don't rush the process.  (And I'm talking to myself as much as to you.)  At the same time, I think its important to acknowledge that writing "masterful literary debuts" does not have to take years.  (For instance, the above-mentioned Isabel Allende started her latest book, Ripper in January of 2012 and it is available now.  Given the glacial pace that legacy publishing moves at, she wrote that baby–nearly 500 pages of it–fast.)

And remember: writing crap is good.  Writing crap is glorious.  Writing crap will get you where you want to be.

So….what about you?  Do you have to remind yourself to write crap?  To let the words be awful on the page?  Or are you one of those rare breeds who polishes every word of the draft before you move on?

As a reminder, my short story Blue Sky is up on Amazon.  (I'm trying to get to making a new book page, on this blog, stay tuned for that one of these days.) It's a quick read, and just 99 cents!

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An Approach to Writing Scenes

During one of the free sessions I did last month, I talked with a writer about foreshadowing and how sometimes getting it in is really clunky.  Like, you might as well scream it from the rooftops, "I'm foreshadowing something important here," clunky.

And since I went right from that session to working on a chapter for a novel, I thought about how sometimes writing a scene is like that, too.  Sometimes everything is just too obvious: your dialogue is informational, and the point of the scene might as well be written in neon.

But sometimes if not always, you've got to let obvious rule the day, knowing that you can come back later and smooth it out, tamp it down, and make it less obvious.

As I was writing and pondering all this, a sort of seat-of-the-pants framework for writing scenes occurred to me.  Actually that makes it sound like it was a new idea, and it wasn't.  Rather, it was a discovery of my process, which occurred to me might be helpful to you.

So here it is (and this applies to all kinds of scenes, fictional and non-fiction, as in a memoir):

1.  Note the elements of the scene.  You can do this on a notepad or in your head, but I'm so visual I like to write it down.  This is just a list of the things that you know have to happen in the scene, plain and simple.

2.  Trust yourself and begin writing.  Plunge in, the water's fine.  Actually the water is probably a bit cold and scary at first, but shortly you'll get used to it and wonder why it took you so long to jump.  And here is one of the most important things I can impress upon you (and remember myself): more nuances of the scene will come to you as you write.

3. Use the concept of the placeholder.  Sometimes you know you need to get something in but there's no clear way not to make it clunky.  Just put it in, as noted above, knowing that you can come back to it and make it work later. 

4.  Write the scene all the way through.  The writing can be bad, the dialogue stilted, the descriptions laughable, but you'll have a finished scene.  And now you've got, on paper, all the elements of it (and you've probably discovered more as you followed #2).

5.  Rewrite and move on.  I'm a big believer in writing the discovery draft from beginning to end and then starting on a second draft, but I also like to do a rough rewrite of chapters as I'm writing the discovery draft.  This feels like part of the shaping of the story to me–so much comes out in this process that it's good to hone it a bit.

So that is my process for writing scenes, what's yours?  Do you tear your hair out over getting all the elements in or is an easy thing for you?  Please comment!

And don't forget the upcoming Authenticity + Creativity class that is coming up next Tuesday.  Woo-hoo!  Square-Peg Karen and I are going to be rocking and rolling this topic.  Just click the snazzy button to the right for more info.

 

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