The other night I was thinking about this, wait…that’s not true, I’ve been thinking about this part since I wrote the last part. I thought about how I’m going to write this because I don’t want you out there to think my fiction writing comes from as experienced a place as my poetry writing. Writing poetry and keeping myself at it has been something I’ve been doing for many years now whereas fiction – outside of stories written during all of my grade school years – is a genre I’ve been dabbling in for maybe a couple of years. So as I write here about how I keep myself at this process it is very much coming from a relative newcomer, an amateur, a process that will no doubt continue to grow and develop as I do. And so far I am enjoying the differences in these processes, I look forward to witnessing and experiencing how my methods carry me through to the end of the story, the end of a revision, and maybe someday the end of a novel. So this is what I do.
A while ago I subscribed to Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers magazine, and I don’t regret it, in fact I keep re-subscribing. Each issue contains useful information to the more experienced poet in me as well as the novice fiction writer. Along the road I’ve read more than once advice column or article that recommends writing outlines to your stories before you set out filling in the details, and I’ve considered this, even tried. However, outlines are not for me, at least not with my fiction. I always start out with an idea and a general sense of what I want the story to feel like or what I don’t want it to feel like. From there I have to learn my story as I go.
More than once I’ve come up with a new idea for a story and been very excited about this new development; when that happens I can’t wait to get the opportunity to get to my computer, a piece of paper, or my OneNote application on my phone that syncs to my computer. As long as I’ve got my phone I can write wherever I am and it automatically syncs to my computer, of course then all I need it time. How many times I ask myself have I told my boyfriend, “Oh don’t worry, I can wait, I don’t mind.” Wink, wink! That’s the perfect opportunity to get this new idea on paper where I can begin to work out some of the details with respect to what I’ve already been working on. Or as I stated in a previous post if I have my mini-recorder I grab it immediately to record what just surfaced.
So writing fiction as I’ve said is a very different world from poetry. It takes a lot more patience and creativity. Some people might think that making up a story is a pretty simple, fun, crazy task and sure it can be fun and crazy but it’s everything other than simple. It’s a lot more complex than you might imagine because a story has to be interesting, believable and make sense. As an author you have to be committed, consistent and passionate about your story and I believe this has to show through your story.
On my “currently reading” shelf I have a book (e-book) called “Still Writing: The Pleasure and Perils of a Creative Life” by Dani Shapiro. I’ve never read any of her work before but I’m loving this book. The book is full of good advice for writers on things like how you need to just push through your “ADD” so to speak and keep writing, thus don’t let yourself get distracted away from writing especially when you reach a rough patch. She also talks about how we grow and change as writers, how we often need a special place to write, certain habits to engage in while we write, or even certain feelings. I really liked one of the chapters where she warned against excitement and in so many words said not to let excitement run the show. (If you’re a writer or trying to be I highly recommend this book.) The reason I’ve brought this up here is because I knew exactly what she was saying and it very well relates to how I KEEP writing.
With all the “ah-ha” moments I’ve had coming up with new stories, new ideas that sensation of excitement in no way propels the story forward. Sure it can create a breakthrough of sorts, but it’s not sustainable. Quickly that new idea, like a new puppy, grows up and it needs so much more than just your excitement. It needs you to build its characters, create the setting, throw in some twists, structure the plot, edit, revise, throw some more out, add some more, and so on. Sometimes that “Ah-Ha!” is a burden because you might be inclined to believe your excitement and not necessarily think the new idea through, all the way through. With regard to this, I make sure not to rely on these moments but to make a point to write and write even through the times that I’m very much less than excited.
This is what I was referring to in part when I said outlines don’t really work for me. What works for me is being able to just write whatever comes to my mind. I am a person who needs to have multiple projects available to work on. Sometimes the bigger story/novel I’m piecing together is not “talking to me” and I will go instead to my poetry or to another story/idea that I have in the works. Other times I will read through what I’ve got so far and do my best to take off where I stopped. This isn’t always so easy but it’s the perseverance that wins in the end. Dani Shapiro was right in saying that you need to push through those “ADD” like moments and just keep writing, eventually your story will start to play out for you right in front of you.
Reading back through what you’ve written so far is a really great way to jump-start a new writing session as well. Don’t give up until you’ve found that part of your story that you know you’ve got something to add to right now. And don’t dictate what it is you’re adding; for example, don’t say I have ideas for who my character is but that doesn’t really seem important right now. Every part of your story is important because at the end of the day it should be a cohesive whole. That’s why I like writing my stories in pieces; I’m not tied down to writing the next bulletin point instead if I know how I want the scene to go when the two protagonists meet I can write it when it comes to me and get everything I can down on paper.
Lastly, to close this up – for now – if worst comes to worst and I just cannot get into the swing of things I will read, sometimes this may be research. This helps a lot because you learn what you don’t want to do with your story because you might not like how another author made their battle scene play out. Reading authors outside of yourself is so helpful even from a technical standpoint. I’ve gotten a better grip on dialogue, in a manner of speaking, and recognized what it is I like about a story and what I don’t. If I don’t like my story than why put it out there to victimize other people? You wouldn’t serve food you don’t like right? (Maybe sometimes…Lol…) And I don’t mean read just to find out what’s selling the best, again read what entertains you. Then again, if you do read something that has nothing but bad reviews and your work sounds a lot like this book, is written like it, you might want to read your work with a bit more of a critical eye.
Okay, here’s the last for real ;-). Reading for research is a very important part to my writing. It’s not always the easiest because sometimes I need to read non-fiction and this requires more focus I would say and other times I’ve read books – older books in this particular case – I wouldn’t have ever found or thought to read because I wanted to know who else has written about a story like mine. Research for facts and details is one things – very important – but so is doing your homework in terms of what’s already out there. For one, you won’t get sideswiped when someone accuses you of copying so and so’s idea from their 1978 book; and two, you won’t be in the dark if fans approach you praising/or criticizing your take on a concept. It’s good to be knowledgeable. When I’ve done some research like this I found it to be very helpful to my writing because it gave me more background info to work with and a better understanding of just what I might want from my story.
Thanks for stopping by and please don’t hesitate to comment whether you’re a writer or a reader. Sorry it’s been so long, stay posted for more posts this week! Promise 😉
Take care & Happy Holidays,