Tag Archives | writing advice

The Virtues of Finishing a Writing Project

stop_symbol_plate_238801_lSo, I’m four scenes away from finishing the most terrible Shitty First Draft ever, in the history of man, written.  I started this novel on a sunny afternoon in Collioure last September when I got a sudden inspiration.  I’ve been working steadily on it since then, taking pretty much the whole months of December and February off to deal with more pressing tasks.

The big news about this draft is that it is so bad I nearly abandoned it. I even wrote a blog post about it.  I felt I’d made so many changes in the book that it wasn’t worth it to continue, that I should just start over.

But then I started thinking. As one does.

And I remembered various bits of advice and quotes I’d read.  Like these:

“Finish your novel, because you learn more that way than any other.” James Scott Bell

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish.  You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” Neil Gaiman

And then there are Robert Heinlein’s Rules for Writing, the first two of which are apropos to our topic here:

  1. You must write
  2. You must finish what you write.

I felt bad about the prospect of abandoning my poor crappy baby. A baby born in France, no less.  So once I finished the rewrite on my macaron novel, I heaved a heavy, tortured sigh and went back to the horrible WIP, telling myself to just hit the high spots and get something, anything, on the page.

And that’s what I’ve been doing every morning.  I got the idea for this post a couple of days ago.  Back when I was actually enjoying working on the novel for a brief, lovely period.  That was short-lived. This morning I gritted my teeth as I typed every word. (The fact that I had to do a blood draw and COULD NOT HAVE COFFEE until after it may have had some influence.)

But, I will say this.  As the above quotes say, I am learning a lot from busting through to the end.  Ruby, my main character, is finally starting to have a bit of a voice, and I understand her a lot better. Other characters are coming into sharper focus as are overall themes.

Despite the awful writing session this morning, I’m feeling pretty cheerful about it all. Because this afternoon, as penance for not writing a full 2K words, or anything even close to it, I sat down with legal pad and pen to see if I could figure out how much farther I had to go.  And that’s when I realized I had only four more scenes.

Four scenes, people.

I can do this.

And I will be a better person for it. More to the point, my writing will be better as well.

There will be wine at the end. Lots of it. Just saying.

 

Okay, so dish: have you ever abandoned a project?

Photo by brokenarts.

8

My Writing Life

So, as we all know, it is Nanowrimo, with many of us smack in the middle of scratching out 50,000 words this month.  (I'm not doing it because I'm rewriting my novel but I'm cheering on everyone else who is writing!)  The lovely people at Webeducator asked me a few questions about writing–in celebration of Nanowrimo, they are posting interviews with various writers on their website.  So here are my answers:

  • What were your goals when you started writing?  Just to find a way to make writing a regular part of my life.  I love writing–have since I was a little girl.  It is something that I absolutely need to do, I get antsy and anxious when I don't write.  So I really wanted to find a way to make writing my vocation and my avocation.
  • What are your goals now? To write my next novel and for it to be as successful as it possibly can be.  I'm also looking to fill my writing workshop/retreat in France in September of 2015.  And to be the best teacher and coach that I possibly can be.
  • What pays the bills now?  My teaching, coaching, and related activities.
  • Assuming writing doesn't pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?  Because I love it so much.  Writing novels and short stories is how I make sense of the world, what gives it meaning to me.  Without it, I'm not sure what I'd do.
  • And optionally, what advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing? Write because you love it first.  Work at your craft and constantly strive to improve.  If you're open to finding creative ways to make a career out of writing, you can do it!

I think my favorite question of all of these is the last–what advice would you give to young writers? So I will turn it around and ask you, my beloved readers, the same thing.  What advice would you give to young writers?  Tell us in the comments, please.

6

Deconstructing Sacred Writing Cows

Property_ranch_estate_243078_lI'm tired of people telling me what to do.

I'm tired of people telling me how to eat.  (Don't eat dairy! No grains! No eggs! And puh-leeze, no sugar!)

I'm tired of people telling me to exercise.  (Walk.  No, walking isn't enough.  Run.  No, running is bad for your knees, interval training.  No, you have to do cross-fit.)

I'm tired of people telling me how to think.  (Case in point: the recent election.  Or every day on the Internet.)

And so the thought occurs that you, my dear readers, may be tired of me telling you what to do, or more precisely, how to write.  And that maybe it might be time to reconsider some of the tenets by which we live.

In my forthcoming novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, our heroine discusses her three sacred cows: her fans (what she calls her readers), her students, and her husband, Peter.  "They were the three things
in life, besides writing, that Emma Jean cared about most—the holy triumvirate,
her sacred cows."

And so, herewith, let's consider some common sacred writing cows and decide if they should be upheld or not.

1.  Meditate.  This might not be one of your sacred writing cows, but it is to me.  However, meditating is like exercise–we hear so often how good it is for us that we might tend to rebel against doing it.  At least, that's how my mind works.  You may be a bit less prone to fight yourself.  I'm certain I'm a lousy meditator–my mind is all over the place–but I'm also sure that this is one time when trying is what counts.  I find that not only is my meditation session my favorite time of day (besides writing), but it also helps me focus on my writing and worry about it a lot less.  So, yeah, I still count meditation as a sacred cow.

2.  Writing every day.  Stop groaning.  You know it's good for you to write every day.  And you know you want to.  This is advice that every writer and her uncle, including me, offers up on a regular basis.  And those of you who lead busy lives most likely want to plug your ears and stick out your tongue when you hear it.  I get it, I do.  It can be overwhelmingly difficult to find time to write every day.  But the rewards–oh, the rewards are so many!  Even writing a measly few minutes a day can net you massive benefits, not the least of which are momentum.   And besides, when I miss a day of writing, as I did earlier this week due to getting stalled, my day just doesn't flow as well.  So I'm afraid I'm going to keep beating this drum also.

3.  Use prompts.  Most of the time, I'm a fan of prompts (I better be, I've got tons of them on this site.)  Prompts can get you going when nothing else will, and using them can help you learn to let your writing flow.  When all else fails and you don't know where to go in your writing, grab thyself a prompt and write without stopping for 20 minutes.  And, sometimes prompts can lead you astray.  Or waste valuable writing time while you go on about something that is relatively unimportant.  So I can see both sides of this sacred cow.  I give it half credit.

4. Let it rip.  Or, in other words, write one draft start to finish (what Anne Lamott calls a Shitty First Draft), then go back to the beginning and rewrite, start to finish.  Rinse and repeat for as many drafts as it takes.  This is how I write my novels.  And it's how I tell you to recommend you do it, also.  Because I've seen too many people–myself included–get hung up trying to make the first part of the novel perfect. And then guess what happens?  You don't make any forward progress because it gets frustrating.  And soon that novel is consigned to a drawer and you've set aside your dream of writing.  Thus, letting it rip remains one of my sacred cows.

5.  Don't multitask.  Do I even have to go into this sacred cow?  Multitasking is death to creativity.  How can you get in the writing flow when you're texting and checking emails and reading a story on the latest scandal?  You can't.  Period.  This one stands.

Those are the sacred cows that occur to me.  What are yours?  Do they hold up under your scrutiny?

2

The Black and White of Writing

When I was working on my MFA, I attended a lecture extolling the virtues of not writing.  (I actually think I wrote a post on this topic–ah yes, here it is.) The talk was presented by one of the MFA faculty, a prolific writer herself.  Yet most of the time I exhort people to write every day, or at least as often as possible.
Potato_spud_doll_241934_l

So what gives?

You've also probably heard over and over that you should show, not tell in your work.  Yet pick up any literary novel and you'll read long stretches of narrative, with nary a bit of showing in sight.

What gives?

Some writing experts say that all fiction begins with character, and others will tell you to focus on plot.  Some tell you to read everything you can get your hands on while working on a novel, and others tell you not to because it might influence your own work.  Some tell you to work with a thesaurus and dictionary at hand, and others tell you to think up your own words.

It's exhausting, isn't it? 

You say to-mah-to, I say to-ma-to.  You say po-tah-to, I say po-ta-to (But that's because my ancestors homesteaded in Idaho, and we know the real way to say it).  In nearly every interview with a writer there is always the question,
can you tell us something about your schedule?  Writers get asked this
question wherever they go, number one because non-writers think that
writing magically appears on the page, and number two, because writers want to know their secrets.

But, there are as many ways to write as there are writers.  Those of us who make our living at it have just figured out what works best for us, and enables us to write on a consistent basis.  We've figured out how to make time for it, how to stay motivated, how to connect our work with the public.  For some that might mean staying up late to write and submitting stories to literary magazines.  For others, it is getting up early and confining their publishing to the internet. 

The great, fabulous, wonderful news is that we live in a time when all these options are open to us.  For a hundred years the only way to get a story published was to write it, type it, put it in an envelope with a SASE (I'm willing to bet there are now people reading this who don't know what that stands for) and sit back and wait and wait and wait to hear from the editor.  Some people still do that.  But most of us use email to connect with editors and agents and oh lord is it every easier. 

So here's my best bit of advice on taking advice about writing: experiment with it, and use what works.  Discard the rest.  You'll find many an author who will tell you that writing an outline for a book is death to creativity–but I'm not one of them.  I've learned the hard way that writing without an outline leads me all over the place but never to the end of the book.  The point is, I learned that by trying it out for myself.  And as soon as I figured out it wasn't working, I went looking for advice on how to use an outline when writing a book.  (Loosely, is my answer.)

The thing is, writing is the most nebulous of crafts.  We pull an idea from the air and from it, create a book.  Pretty amazing, and nearly magical.  And because there is that whiff of magic to it, people want to deconstruct it.  They want black and white answers, a definitive guide to writing.

I'm here to tell you there isn't one.  Just a whole lot of good ideas about how you can accomplish it.

Tell me your stories about taking advice on writing.  What are the best pieces of advice you've gotten? The worst?

And thank you to Ledger D'Main for the email query that prompted this post, and to Jessica for discussing it further with me from her new outpost in China.

13