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.

Struggling to revise

Revision is tough. I’ve done very little over the last week, couldn’t write at all for four days. Felt bad. Tried to be positive. Did not work.

I’d decided to aim for a target of 10,500 words to be revised every week and I’m not making that target. My aim was to complete the second draft in eight weeks but it’s not working out and I’m feeling a bit, more than a bit, de-motivated this weekend. I’m supposed to be at 31,000 by now and have only 25,000 worked on.

It’s a catch between – do I need a break or is the section I’m working on boring me senseless?

I decided that the idea was still sound and I needed a break. So I got four days and three walks in. Did loads of reading, a painting and free-writing. And telly and cooking and housework and general sorting out of things that should have been done if I wasn’t writing.

What did I get done since my break? Well, six pages of notes later and I suppose I did get two chapters written more the way I wanted them to be, new scenes added to reinforce one of the sub-plots and loads deleted and re-written. Revision is so gut-wrenchingly ruthless; cutting good writing because it doesn’t do its job. But when a chapter is revised and pulls the plot along properly, it really sings!

I’m not making my target but at least the chapters feel better written. I’ll tackle the next one tomorrow. Make a dent in it. Literally.

Scene intentions: or what I should have written in the first place.

Twenty thousand words into a second draft and I feel myself faltering. I look at the next chapter and think – what is the point of it? Honestly, what is the point, what is the intention of this scene, this chapter, what is supposed to be happening?

Scene and chapter intentions are critical. When I was attempting to do the second draft of my first novel I didn’t use them properly and I’ve had to put that novel aside because it’s not working. For the second novel, I’m using the information given in the book ‘Nail your novel: why writers abandon books and how you can draft, fix and finish with confidence’ by Roz Morris, to produce a sheet with a timeline, scene and chapter intentions.

Note: This book was recommended in another publication called ‘The new author’ by Ruby Barnes who was a writer who’d completed the same course I did in creative writing, a year or more before me.

Every time I get stuck trying to figure out what I need to revise in the next chapter, I write out a mini-plan for it, remembering that the chapter will have a natural beginning (draw the reader in), middle section and end (leave them wanting more) and I think of the flow of the scenes within that chapter. I write down exactly what the scene is for. For example:

Scene intention for Chapter 6 Scene 2: B interrogated by C and David, B finds out about E.

I also jot down reminders of what exactly needs to be covered in that interrogation e.g. C asks B why didn’t he say anything? David takes control, shows video of E.

(I use the first letter of each main character’s name, faster than writing in full)

Revising the second novel is working better than I thought it would. Even though I wrote the scene and chapter intentions for the whole novel after the first draft (remember first drafts can’t be held up, write them without the inner critic), as I approach each chapter I find that I may revise those intentions or the intended purpose of the scenes to make the chapter work better – still keeping in mind the build-up of the overall plot and subplots.

The other book which I use for editing is ‘Self-editing for fiction writers’ by Renni Browne and Dave King. I’ve read it three times over the last year. I need that information firmly embedded in my brain.

So on we go…happy editing.

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.

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!’

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.

 

Music and sleepiness make me write faster

This is the weirdest thing I discovered while trying (I have to use that word) to write a first draft for a second and third novel idea (I started the second novel got bored and started the third idea – me like this one).

I would turn up at the pc in the morning and, flipping heck, would I do everything except write.

Let’s see: Yahoo, Yahoo world news, read a few of those articles to keep up with what happened last night in the world, email, Facebook (could be a while – have 78 postings by friends to read and there might be something important there), check the Irish Writers Centre (no, the weekend course offerings have not changed in the last few days), RTE Breaking news stories, Oooo RTE Player, watch something on that for a while, 4OD, watch something on that, make lunch, back to the PC, check email again, more emails from Writers Digest (I am going to be a real writer someday so I need to keep abreast of important writer issues), breakthrough inspiration, write down a scene that just came to me as quickly as I can on a notepad strategically set next to the laptop for moments such as this, check Yahoo World news again something could have happened during the day in the world, now I’m ready to write, open Word, load up the last document, save it with today’s date, minimise Word document, go to Start, Programs, Games, Majong Titans (really I can’t write, my brain is wired to the hilt thinking about what I could possibly write next, I can’t think, I can’t think…), play Majong Titans until I have calmed down which is not happening because I am not winning any of my games…

So while doing my writing for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), I discovered that when the evening comes and I’m really tired around 7pm (it’s been a long hard day, writing really tires you out, emotionally, physically, mentally) and I play my writing music list (all set up on Media Player), I get into the flow and the words and story pour out of me onto the page. It is truly a thing of beauty when this happens.

In conclusion, I have found that playing music while being reasonably tired (that sort of tired you have when you’ve been busy all day) can make you write fast and the story really flows. It does.

The alternative conclusion, of course, is that I have found that I work better with deadlines. Like the deadline of bedtime.

Hmmm…