Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

CRAFT: Give Yourself a Break

Two posts in one night? Can anyone say...procrastinating?

Just thought of another thing I wanted to mention, because it's taken me a long time to allow myself to do this, and I still have to remind myself that it's okay. In fact, I'm trying to remind myself right now that this is okay, because I've reached the point in my novel, Grave Mistakes, where I need to take my own advice.

But it's so hard, she whines, because I want to write in an orderly fashion...

You see, I have this idea that you start writing on page one and you continue writing sequentially until you hit page 400 (or page 400 hits you, whichever comes first). The problem is, this doesn't always work. And yet...I keep trying to toe-the-line and be a good girl and write each page one after the other. Because I know all the reasons why you should do this particularly since I write mysteries.

Because you need to know what happened first before you can say what happened next. Because if you write out of order, things may not hang together properly. Because plot shifts happen where what you thought was going to happen doesn't happen because the characters don't cooperate.

Well, shut my mouth. Maybe that works for some people. Maybe it doesn't.
Everyone has to find their own winding little overgrown path through the dark, twisted woods.

I think my problem is that I may have some old-timey director partially reincarnated in about 20 or 30 brain cells in the back of my head. Because I can follow the rules and do about the first 150 pages in a perfectly linear, sequential form and then my brain short-circuits. Because I see my book in scenes and like some directors, I don't necessarily film those scenes in the order in which they will appear in the final movie. Or book. In fact, my brain wants to see those scenes in some weird order that only it can comprehend. Sometimes I wish it would let me in on the secret.

So around page 150, I stall because my brain wants to write some scene that is pages or chapters away from where I am, but I resist. I don't want to do that. I want to write page 151. So I struggle. I write maybe a line or paragraph a day instead of pages. My mind balks. My creativity resists and starts a protest march, complete with banners proclaiming: Resist! Resist the tyranny of a small mind! Ignore the rules! Jump ahead! Jump backwards! Jump diagonally across a river you didn't even know was there!

It takes a while before I finally give up and start writing out of order. Where I can just start to write the scenes that need to be written. Ironically, sometimes I find that when I do shove the scenes where they belong in the book, they need very little connective tissue generated between them. Sometimes, none at all. Sometimes, just a little. Rarely do I have to rewrite what came before, or after.

Here's the real irony. The scenes I write this way are the BEST ones. It's the easy-to-write scenes that just flow from my fingertips in a linear fashion through the first 150 pages that have to be rewritten, gutted, rewritten, overhauled, sent to the moon and back, and then redone. The hard ones later which are written out of sequence and feel like I'm trying to dig my way through the walls of Sing-Sing with a plastic spoon that end up needing very little, if any, revisions. Weird.

Therefore, all you writers who stall out, I propose that you consider this as an opportunity to discover if you are just revolting against some pre-conceived notion of how you are supposed to write your novel. If so, stop. Don't be so revolting. Allow yourself to write out of order if that's what it takes. Or allow yourself to write IN ORDER if that what's what you need to do. Do what you need to do.

The point is, no one can tell you what the RIGHT process is to write a book. That's for you to discover. It's a journey, enjoy it while it lasts.

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