Our whole creative lives

We are creators. Everything we do in life is a process of creating something, as writers, artists, dancers but in every other job in life there are always creative elements. Indeed, this extends to our lives as a whole and our very existence as humans. We survive best with our creativity utilised, we need to.

An example of a job with creating in it is engineering. This is creating with skills and information, acquired in college or university or through a trade course. If you want to design a new machine, your basic design or prototype is a way of creatively using your engineering skills, using what you know to make the best possible model of your idea.

Or perhaps you’re re-designing the layout of a manufacturing process, same thing, you have the limits of each stage of the process and the product in mind and then you ‘brainstorm’ or ‘think outside the box’ i.e. use your creative juices to break the mould of what has been done before, to come up with a unique way of getting that product made. For example, combining stages, eliminating a stage, look at the start and end of each stage for small changes that can be made, look at the process as a whole to see if stages can be moved around, cut out waste in the process, etc…

As writers, without a doubt we create, and like an engineer, we learn and practice to hone our skills. Some of us do degrees and masters in the craft and some of us come up through the ranks with practice alone, or perhaps through the reading of books about writing or examples of fine writing in themselves.

And like any creative, there are days when we need to mull just that bit longer to solve a problem, for example in writing, we call it writer’s block. As an engineer, you don’t usually get unlimited time to be blocked, there is a deadline, a plan in place that has milestones to be adhered to, so most engineers brainstorm their way out of the block, come up with ideas to use, work the ideas, if stuck again, they brainstorm again and so on. Perhaps this is something that can help us push forward in writing. Brainstorm our way out of being stuck – what’s wrong, what’s not working and why?

We are creative in everything we tackle in our lives, even in the ways we avoid doing things, but like other aspects of our lives, we can use this knowledge to push through moments of struggle to help us put our writing in perspective as just another aspect of us creating something and use skills we may already have to keep our writing going.

The mind of a writer

Something popped into my mind the other day and I think I need to expand my idea of the mind of a writer because behind the skill of learning to be a writer I think that there are three aspects that get developed: our creative side, our ability to write and to edit the work.

The creative or imaginative side, of us is incredibly powerful but it is only a small part of writing, we have to write those ideas down and then be able to edit them to produce work that will generate something close to what we imagined in the first place for the minds of our readers. We learn the skill of:

1. Creating the story, from our dreams, from our imagination, usually using one of two ways or a combination of both.

We can write with the inner critic switched off and then figure out what the story is about through an analysis of the chapter and scene intentions (see use of a beat sheet described in ‘Nail your novel’ by Roz Morris)

Or decide on the story we want to write first, what will happen and the backgrounds of characters, write a synopsis or plan, and then write it.

2. Learning the craft of writing, the ability to find and place the right words down to produce the illusion for our readers.

3. Editing the story, analysing the plot and subplots by scenes and chapters, and beginning the re-write by moving into the writer/creator head again. Read and analyse the second draft. Re-write again. Analyse. Re-write. Back and forth.

 

I think we move between three minds as a writer and each mind can be learnt and developed:

The creative mind: free spirit, creates ideas, keeps the prose flowing, free-writing.

The writing mind: masters the craft of writing, finding the right words to place on the page.

The editing mind: critical thinker, analyser who can understand the overall imagined structure, the overall plot arc, the chapter arcs, the scene intentions, the layout of a scene, its paragraphs, sentences, specific detail, and the words that make the story come alive.

 

And then when we take our writer’s hat off, we become the person we are to the rest of the world.

Reading while you’re writing

When I first started writing, I noticed that whatever novel I was reading had a heavy influence on my own writing. I seemed to imitate the style of the author in my own prose which was a tad frustrating when I read my work back and noticed it – and then had to correct for it. I particularly remember reading ‘The Forgotten Waltz’ by Anne Enright, the narrator of the story has a really strong voice, and I began to write in a similar writing voice in a couple of chapters of my first novel (the practice novel).

So I came to the conclusion that I had to avoid reading fiction when I was writing my own novels, actually whenever I was writing anything because it seemed to affect even short bits of writing as well, and I decided to only read non-fiction books instead e.g. on aspects of the craft of writing. Bizarrely, when I made that decision, I did most of my fiction reading during periods of writer’s block, like cramming the goodies in when my own writing was driving me demented.

Over the last couple of months, I started reading novels and short story collections again, despite writing on the same days, and, low and behold, I’ve just realised, my writing has not being affected by what I’m reading, which is such a relief after two and bit years of worrying about it. I wonder if the initial problem was because I was only starting out and absorbing different author styles as I learnt, or perhaps it’s because through all the writing I’ve done over the last two years, my own writing style has settled down and I’m naturally moving into it – after writing 4×80,000 drafts, numerous short stories, pads of pads of notes, pads of writing at writing workshops and writing group meetings – it all must have helped cement my own writing voice.

Whatever the reason, it’s a welcome shift and a relief. I can read without being affected!

So finally, at long last, my reading has the desired effect. It stimulates my learning of the craft of novel writing and helps me generate ideas for short stories and other novels, adding to but without infecting my own style.

At last.

Waiting for inspiration

If you’re waiting for inspiration to happen so that you can start writing, well, you could be waiting for a while.

For instance, I get inspired in situations when I’m relaxed, comfortable, happy, content like when I’ve just laid my head down to sleep and I’m enjoying the fact that my head is on the pillow, I’m all snuggled up with my hot water bottle and my dreams will be coming soon…

Then WHAM, inspiration hits and all these scenes run through my mind and I curse and have to switch on the light and pick up a pen and use the notebook (I always have a notebook next to the bed) and I have to make quick notes, scribble down the dialogue between characters (why do they always know what they want to say when I’m falling asleep?)

Obviously I don’t want to write my novel from my bed. In an ideal world, maybe, but in reality I need to re-create this moment so that I can write at other times of the day.

So how do you get inspired?

You have to create situations that you can be inspired in.

So how do you re-create these moments?

Re-create a moment in which you are relaxed and ready to write.

For me, I know that I write best when I know I have a couple of days ahead of me dedicated to writing, minimum interruptions e.g. I just have to feed and water myself at least (yes, includes taking showers and performing the daily ablutions)

I need:

A comfortable chair

The room is warmish

I feel cosy – sometimes I wrap a fleece around my tummy and legs (womb-like for when the house is cold around 10 to 14degC)

Time to myself with no interruptions i.e. I’m relaxed and not under pressure.

Laptop or notebook all ready to go.

When I have all this, I check my notes. Imagine the scene. See my characters there, doing things and I start to write it down or type away.

Most of the time though, I use the notes I made last night before I fell asleep.

P.S. I also use the ‘it’s just half an hour’ technique to make me sit down and write. But basically it works by putting bum in seat in front of laptop, opening up the novel document, referring to my notes, and writing.

The writing gets done

Despite all the problems associated with getting writers block on a regular basis, I do notice that the work eventually gets done.

Why? Because I’m really starting to believe that I am a writer.

That I can do this.

Now, I know I’m not going to be a literary genius but I’ve got feedback on my writing from creative writing group peers, teachers on two different courses, writing group and editing group comrades and a writing mentor and it’s been good. And when it hasn’t I’ve been able to figure out what was going wrong.

I haven’t shown family or close friends my writing because I want to be at the stage where I hold a published novel before they see it. Not because the writing is about them, indeed it’s science fiction and I wouldn’t base any of my characters on family or friends either. Though I do believe that since we hold within us the light and dark of all our characters, it’s easy to think we’re reading about someone we know on the page.

It’s taken me about seven years to begin to imprint in my mind that I’m a writer (albeit an unpublished one) and I’m determined that one day I will see one of my novels in print.

As I look back at what I have done since I started the first (a labour of love and hate) and second novel (less of a labour of love and hate), I know that everything I learn on this road means I become a better writer and the novels that follow can only benefit from that.

So chipping away at each novel, taking time to learn the writer’s or novelist’s process will win out in the end. I notice that the days I am blocked seem to be linked to major problems in the plot and when I find a resolution to them, the plot flows and the writing gets done.

So…

A luta continua.

(The struggle continues)

P.S. I’m working on the scene intentions of the second novel. Such fun!

A moment of satisfaction

I have printed out a first draft of my second novel which I finished writing last weekend. (My first novel? I completed it to a second draft stage but after working on this novel, I feel a demotion coming on. It’s probably not as bad as I think it is. I wish!)

Anyway, after teasing two hundred and thirty-three pages through a printer that likes jamming every five sheets, I have a stack of paper on my desk that is a first draft of my second novel.

Ah…satisfaction…

Feeling good…

Mmm……

OK, the moment’s over.

Now, to take a look at the bugger and see if it’s structurally sound. On the first novel, I used a check sheet I called my Plot Structure check, which listed out what was supposed to happen in each chapter against the major and minor plots. I also used a Timeline sheet to plan out events to ensure I was consistent with what day I was on per chapter, what time, sunrise, sunset, twilight info and moon phase info in case it was needed in a scene.

For this novel, I’m going to try the idea of a Beat Sheet which I read about in a book called ‘Nail your novel: Why writers abandon books and how you can draft, fix and finish with confidence’ by Roz Morris.

I like the ideas in this book. The Beat Sheet seems to be a combination of my Plot Structure sheet and the Timeline sheet with the aim of keeping the focus on scene intention, plots arcs, scene emotion levels and much more. So I’m going to give it a go and see how it works out.

It’s strange but last weekend when I wrote the last word in the last chapter and knew I’d finished the draft of my second novel, I felt really worried and had thoughts running through my mind like ‘the whole book is bad’ and ‘I’ve messed it up’. Anyway, I slept on it and didn’t feel so deflated the next day. (How bad can it be?!)

I think that if I could just get a novel, any one of my novels to a good publishable standard then I think I might believe in myself, know that I can do it. Even though I’m disappointed that I haven’t got to that stage yet, I’m happy to know that I can write another novel. In fact, the second novel was easier to write than the first one. Not easy, easy but it flowed better on some days, not all days, ok I’d say a lot of the things I learnt about writing came much easier-ish this time.

Right so, onwards with the novel writers quest…

My practice novel

My first novel is a practice novel. Simple as. It is the first novel I have ever written so surely it is a warm up, an attempt to practice the craft of novel writing. And revising. And editing.

Just as the first child is the practice child. So it is with the first novel. And just when you’ve learnt something and it becomes a habit, something else rears its head for you to learn and you scramble frantically to figure that out. Then that becomes habit.

I think that the stumbling I have done over this first novel made it much easier to produce the first draft of the second novel. Now I’m not saying it’s that easy. I still have to come up with the words to create the images and sensation to help my reader see some of what I see, hear what I hear, feel what I feel or rather what my characters feel. But I do notice that I am more conscious of how to start and end a chapter. How to leave something hanging at the end so that the reader wants to read on.

In short, every time I write my novel I assimilate what I have learnt before from my previous writing, my reading of other fiction and books on how to write novels, books on plot, structure, scenes, characters, points of view, dialogue, viewpoint, descriptions, settings, beginnings, middles, ends, editing and revision, my tutors, my own writing and me.

In the end it’s all practice. I’m still just practicing.

Write your own damn novel!

This is something a tutor used to say to our class when we were learning to give critique to fellow writers.

As a writer, with all our insecurities about our own writing, we get feedback from everywhere. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s basically like a stab to the heart, the pain is excruciating and we run over and over the criticism in our minds, adding to the already self-doubting scripts running full-time in there.

During the course I did last year, whenever everyone was giving feedback to another writer and the discussion would get heated up about what each of us was recommending to that budding writer (based entirely on our own limited experiences), our tutor would call a halt to it and tell that writer (I adlib slightly here):

‘You’ve got all this feedback, written and verbal, but in the end it’s your novel, you’re doing all the writing. So write your own damn novel. You can take the feedback or not, only you know what bits of feedback you need to keep.’

P.S. I note that there is, of course, an alternative situation where that statement is also applicable. When family and friends ask me how my novel is going and then give me a surprised look when I say that I haven’t finished yet. I do try to explain that I’ve finished a first draft, I’ve written a second draft but I may need a third re-write. Anyway, they don’t get it. It’s at moments like this that I also feel like saying ‘Write your own damn novel!’

Stuck again?

So I finished NaNoWriMo on 27th November. Yay! Happy days.

I got an email from the NaNo team about what to do after the 30 days. I’m glad I got it because I was starting to think I would never go back and write again. They seemed to know that I needed a push.

So now to find the motivation to finish this novel.

A friend said ‘Don’t worry. You’re entitled to a break.’

But I know my form. Give me a break and it progresses rapidly from days to weeks and then the doubt sets in that I can start again. What is it? Oh yeah, that doubt that I can write properly or even build a story up.

So I gather myself today, now that I am admitting these things and book time in my diary for the next three days to begin again. Just three days, I say to myself, that’s not much. I can do that. Even, say, an hour a day. I can do that.

Actually, now that I’ve done that, I’m looking forward to it. I really like this story and there’s so much more that’s going to happen to those characters. Mwhaha…

Your writing voice is perfect

I remember when I first started to write fiction, I didn’t know if I was writing properly but as fate/luck/whatever would have it I did a 10 week creative writing course. This was my first introduction to hearing different voices or styles of writing.

Now, I hear you say, duh, didn’t you read any fiction at all? Hello?!

Yes, I did but, call me slow, I didn’t make the connection. (Even though English is my primary language I barely scraped a pass at O Level English Language and failed – head held in shame – my O Level English Literature – I didn’t understand the books we had to read. Anyway, this was sometime last century and at last, anyway, back to what I was saying…)

Then I heard the writing voices of other writers in our creative writing group. Brain still clicking away there.

Bit by bit, I made the connection that each writer has a unique style of writing. And by a process of slow (years…) deduction began to realise that there, possibly, was nothing wrong with my own writing. Well, nothing that a little editing or tidying up (which I learnt on another course) wouldn’t make the writing look more professional.

 

In conclusion, your writing voice is perfect even if you don’t notice it when you start writing. In fact, the more you write, the clearer it becomes. You can see your own style, your unique writing voice, emerge. And when you read work you did sometime ago, you’ll find out that it was always there all along.