Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How I Begin

Labour Day weekend is fast approaching, and that means the end of summer holidays and the start of a new school year. Although it's been ages since we had a child leaving our home to go to school, I watch the big, orange buses on the road beyond my window.

September 1st has always seemed to me a more appropriate time for New Year's than January 1st. What better time for making fresh starts and new resolutions than when your pencil case is filled with unbitten pencils, the crayons in the classroom are still whole and your running shoes brand-new?

For me as a writer, September 1st this year will be when I start a new writing project. I wish I was one of those writers whose mind is chock full of stories. Mine never is, and my search for a new idea always follows the same pattern.

I begin by free writing, or doing "morning pages" as Julia Cameron called them in her fabulous book, The Artist's Way, (G.P.Putnam's Sons, 1992). I will write at least three pages of whatever crosses my mind every morning. No stopping to read or edit until the three pages are filled. Then I'll read what I've written and underline any bit that sounds as if it has some potential.

The pages go into a file folder called "Morning Pages". It'll get pretty thick before the end of the exercise.
I may, at some point, peruse my notebooks or check through the file I have of "Stories Begun but not Finished". In the end, though, it will come down to the morning pages.

That is where the magic will happen--the connection between a number of loose ideas, or the appearance of a fresh, new character who wants me to follow him or her. It always starts with the character, for me.
It may take weeks of free writing, months even, but I know it will happen. And when it does, the writing will take off.

Keep that pencil moving.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On Doing Revisions

Whenever I'm working at revisions, which is the stage I'm at with my latest novel, it often happens that I cut the very bits I thought were so brilliant when I first wrote them--the most clever lines of dialogue, the most original piece of narrative.

But when I first wrote them, all those months ago, I had no idea where this story was going, nor how that character would develop. How can that character speak those words, given what I know about him now?

Sometimes it has to do with theme. After the novel is finished, I will make changes to reinforce its theme. And the theme only reveals itself after many drafts.

So, if that brilliant bit of writing no longer fits, out it goes.

Funny how that happens. But it's all right. Those words were all part of the process.

It was my thinking "hey, this is pretty good stuff," that kept me writing. And that's what this is all about, isn't it.

Write on.

We'll talk later.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Baby Steps

I'm ready to take my first baby steps into the world of blogging. This is a whole new experience for me. Exciting, but a little scary.

I tell myself it could be something like keeping a journal, which I've done for over 30 thirty years. Journal writing was one of the habits I developed during a course I was taking in creative writing. I do not write in my journal every day. But it is where I return when I need to make sense of what's happening around me, in my personal life. It's where I record strange weather occurences and family events (these too can be pretty strange).

I see the blog being a place to record what's happening in my writing life.

For the past few weeks I've been polishing the new novel. I had thought it was finished, ready to be sent forth into the world. But each time I pick it up I begin tweaking again.

I have just read a great book, filled with useful tips on editing. It made me take another very critical look at the manuscript. The book is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King (Harper Collins, 1993). I highly recommend it.

I took copious notes while reading the book and have returned to my notes many times.

A few of the suggestions I read there were for converting some of the longer passages of narrative into scenes, eliminating speaker attributions--particularly in interior monologue, breaking up paragraphs, even looking at the white space on each page.

Some of the tips I've been using for years, such as reading the story aloud. I've always found this especially helpful when working with dialogue (my favourite part). Hearing the dialogue helps determine how realistic it is.

Naturally, I hope all this careful self-editing will make the manuscript more attractive to a publisher. Especially now that the time and the money to do extensive editing in-house is disappearing.

So, I keep tightening and polishing. But one of these days I have to step back and say, "Okay. That's all I can do. Now, fly!"

It's always hard to let go. Like driving away from the college residence in September, leaving your firstborn on the curb.

Write on.
Till next time,