Jan 3, 2014

Stuff I'm Learning About Writing: Start Slowly?

I just finished final draft edits on a manuscript and sent it to my publisher. I think, after finishing a novel, the temptation to "take a break from writing" is very high, simply because you've just exerted a lot of teary, bloody, sweaty writing effort and you feel you need a break. One trick I've learned is, instead of taking a break from writing altogether, which has some risks (writer's block, stagnation, habits dying)I take a "break" by working on something else; something vastly different. Maybe not even a novel--maybe poems. Or maybe (as is the case right now time for me) working over someone else's manuscript.

This manuscript has sat in the dockets for over a year. I owe this guy one because he took one of my manuscripts and meticulously went through and commented on every page, sometimes every paragraph. Now, if you're a new writer, you might not see the gift that this truly is--for someone to go over you manuscript and say every single thing they feel could be improved. It can feel soul-crushing if you're just barely footing it into the whole serious writing thing, because writing at that stage takes so much motivation, and really, you just need lots of encouragement. But after you've written for a while (and particularly, after you've been published and realize how very unsympathetic at times an audience can be) you see the treasure of a close, good critique.

Anyway. I've been returning the favor, taking it two chapters a day with his manuscript. And after that, I have my sister Caitlin's to look at. It's been a refreshing change that surprisingly (or not surprisingly) has motivated me to start unwinding some spring-growth on my next two stories. Outlining one, and slowly coming up with events, characters, and conversations for another. And you know what I've realized?

It's really, really great to go into a new story slowly. Giving myself time to get to know the characters. Allowing myself to stop short after just a paragraph (because I *am* still getting a quota of writing in by reviewing his manuscript, and don't have to feel guilty or worried about stopping and stagnating.) Being able to just stop because I'm not sure I know what comes next, or what "feels right" for a character, and not being threatened at the idea of completely rethinking things and revamping all the pages I've written so far so that a character evolves before the story gets to that 70-page mark where my stories usually gel and then having to go back and re-work 70 pages-- it's been a nice thing.

Some people say that the end of a story is the hardest part to write. I would disagree, possibly violently (if I tended to be the sort of person who disagrees violently.) The beginning of the story is where you get to know your characters, where you start your plot threads. If you start in a wrong place, you can sometimes discover this way further into a story than you'd like. And it takes a while to get a really solidly great thing going. No matter how good a writer you are, I'd argue that actually writing, that process, is what starts the real development of a story. Which means... you're writing it *as* it's solidifying and becoming better. Which means you may need to revamp, revamp and revamp at the beginning of the story. OFten, for me, the beginning has periods of time where I feel like I'm working reaaaally, really hard to get up a hill. Then you get some momentum going, and it clicks, and things start to run smoothly. You've hit the track and things glide, and eventually, seem to go faster than you can even keep up with. But just like breaking a path in snow is far more difficult if you're at the head of the line, breaking that path at the beginning of a story is sometimes discouraging. Dogged determination and 1100 words a day has sometimes been the only thing to get me over the hump.

But right now.... it's actually a very good feeling. Hammering away 1100 words a day can take a toll on writer's morale. I still love that routine, I still feel very accomplished and powerful and happy when doing so, but feeling "fresh" and "new" and all that. It's something I need in my writing career right now. Forget all the worries about copies sold, marketing, what Cedar Fort will think of this next manuscript I've slaved over and... just play. Savor details. Savor creating characters. These things, they are the love in it all, the thing that makes it delicious and something I could never leave behind or cut out of my life.

So that might be my new thing. I'm going to start slowly this time and see just how much better it works. Maybe I won't have to slice apart 70 pages at the beginning of my story this time. That would be VERY refreshing.

1 comment:

Emma Tank said...

I haven't yet finished a story, so I can't quite identify with this yet, but it's good advice when I do get there. Thanks!