Inside a Writer's Mind

Inside a Writer's Mind
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” -- Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Novel and Short Story First Drafts

Hemingway said (and I’m paraphrasing here too), that all first drafts are shit. And I have to say that’s been my experience with all my first drafts. (And with a good number of second and third drafts as well.)

I think one of the keys to successfully completing a first draft is to try to get it down in as short a time as possible.

Stephen King makes an analogy in his book, On Writing, between a writer penning the first draft of story and a paleontologist excavating a dinosaur skeleton.

He says it’s unlikely the entire beast will be exhumed in tact and in one piece, but once the bones begin to emerge from the earth, the more swiftly and carefully you work, the better the chances.

‘Swiftly’ is pretty straightforward, but ‘carefully’ needs further excavating.

I think in this case ‘carefully’ should read ‘carefree’—because the less inhibited you are when you are writing a draft, the easier it will flow. In other words turn off your editor during this part of the process and just let your ideas pour out onto the page.

Some writers plan scene by scene before they commence a draft, in effect mapping out their story with a series of sentences, each briefly describing each scene of each act (of which there are normally three), from the orientation through to the climax and denouement.

Some also write out detailed character descriptions before they start on the first draft.

As with everything else to do with writing, there’s no one way of doing anything. There’s just the way that works best for you.

And for me I find it works best when I just start to write…a few pages of story with some dialogue and other bits and pieces thrown in as they come.

I try to write the story from start to finish as it occurs to me.

And as I’m writing I add in sections to what I’ve already written, like extra pieces of railway track to a miniature train set.

And hopefully at the end it bears some resemblance to the skeleton of a story.

Keep writing!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Stick Wars!

Albert Einstein once said (and I'm paraphrasing here), he didn't know how they would fight world war III, but world war IV would be fought with sticks and stones.

God, spirits, universe… save me from the hateful, the ignorant, the judgemental, the critical, the frightened, the cruel, the unaware, the incompetent, the greedy, the poor (in spirit), the ugly (in nature) and the pathetic (in attitude). 

And help me to remember I am as much a part of them, as they are of me—like water droplets in a pond, we are all connected.

And aid me to see, that ultimately, any attack against another is an attack on myself.

(Help me) Make Love (a priority in my life), Not War (or money or possessions or power).

Hey Man…!!!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Fiction Writers: Grab The Reader and Don't Let Go!

In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass describes an observation study of lunchtime browsers in a New York bookstore. 

He relates the fact that the vast majority of people who were observed picking up a book, spent moments to minutes scanning the first page only.

They then did one of two things: they put the book back on the shelf, or took it to the cashier.

This type of reader/book buyer behaviour might explain why agents and publishers put so much stock in the opening paragraph/s of your manuscript. And also explains why prologues in beginner writers' novels might make it even more challenging to get an agent's attention.

I've spent more time on the opening pages of my last novel than anywhere else in the book, and I'm still not happy with it. It seems that to be effective the opening page has to do many things: entice the reader to want to read on; foreshadow significant events or character traits; clearly sound the narrator's voice and the writer's style, and above all, connect with the reader's emotions.

For tips on strengthening your opening page/s, see Mr. Maass's book and Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying out of the Rejection Pile.

If you have any thoughts on opening paragraphs/pages I'd love to hear them.

Otherwise, keep writing.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Why I Write Fiction: Short Stories and Novels

For years I tried to ignore the need to write, but it kept creeping back into my life like a stray dog that won't take no for an answer. What motivated me?  Really...? It was more than a desire to express myself. (Important as that is.)

I couldn't really understand it.

You see growing up I was never much of a reader. At least not in the traditional sense. Rather than read novels or short stories (I think I was in year six or seven before I read a novel, and then didn't read another one until senior high school--and not one from the prescribed reading list).

What I loved to read were quotations and axioms. Looking back, I think what I was seeking were other ways of seeing the world: reassurance, insights and understanding that I couldn't find in the people around me. If, as the saying goes, we 'write to be understood', than I guess I read to find the comfort of knowing there were people out there whose experiences, insights and wisdom I understood and could relate to. Or at least wanted to. And it filled a need in me nothing else could (or can, I still collect and carry around quotations).

The other thing I got (and get) from quotations and axioms (and now novels and short stories) is the reassurance that there is more to life than what exists on the physical plane. There is more than earning money, buying things, and living what too often seems a very shallow existence.

I've noticed that many people in their social interactions are primarily concerned with some one's (formal) education, occupation, and earning potential, and collectively this is the agreed social barometer for an individual's worth, well being and happiness. Many assumptions are made based on a person's employment, perceived bank balance, and the quantity and quality of their assets.

Ultimately these things carry all the substance of a fart in the wind.

I read once (I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the original quote--sorry): 'if there is any joy/contentedness to be had in this existence it will come through being and not having.' And, based on my experience, that statement holds true. That's not to say you don't need a certain amount of money and possessions to survive in this world. But not as much or many as society, corporations and the mass media would have us believe. 

There is (or should be) much more to life.

Like: developing and enriching your personal relationships; a sense of spending your days in a way that is meaningful; and sharing your love and positive energy with people and the planet.

Since I stopped teaching full time to concentrate on finishing my novel I’ve been surprised at the negative reactions of many people, based largely on their perceptions of what is a worthwhile and responsible way to spend time.

I've been amazed at the amount of people, some of whom I'd previously thought of as friends, who’ve openly ridiculed my decision to quit full time teaching and pursue writing. Most were only concerned with how I was going to earn the same income tutoring and doing relief as I had full time teaching (I wasn’t). (Teaching in Australia is relatively well paid compared to the USA and UK.)  Few were interested in my reasons for needing to spend time writing, or in the lack of fulfilment and sense of emptiness I'd felt in the last few years I’d spent teaching.

To my way of thinking a friend encourages you to pursue your dreams and follow your heart. They don't stomp on your sand castle before it's even half built.

But the experience has been a valuable one for a number of reasons. It is teaching me several things: most people are scared to give up the illusion of security and pursue their dreams-- to truly live; too many people live desperate lives doing all they can to avoid change and the reality that everything is temporary; and finally, to look for approval is futile--you need to dance to your own drum beat.

Ultimately, I realise, I write to seek understanding, and to try and provide for some one else what I sought and seek in books: the reassurance that I'm not alone, and the knowledge that someone else out there has had a similar experience (or thought or idea or feeling) and that is human.

Keep writing!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

More Quotes I Like and Hope You Will Too

Trust in yourself. Your perceptions are often more accurate than you are willing to believe.
Black, Claudia

Do not fear mistakes- there are none.
Davis, Miles

Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.

One learns by doing a thing; for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.

Do the thing you are afraid to do and the death of fear is certain.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo

The best thing about the future is that it only comes one day at a time.
Lincoln, Abraham

Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you can not bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond that pain.
Kahlil Gibran

Every exit is an entry somewhere else.
Stoppard, Tom

One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.
Chesterton, G. K.

The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.
Jung, Carl

To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.
Stevenson, Robert Louis

Stop thinking and talking about it and there is nothing you will not be able to know.
Zen Paradigm

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.

There is the risk you cannot afford to take, and there is the risk you cannot afford not to take.
Drucker, Peter

With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity.
Nair, Keshavan

Trust that still, small voice that says, "This might work and I'll try it."
Mariechild, Diane

Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one's courage.
Nin, Anais

Saying no can be the ultimate self-care.
Black, Claudia

I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift nor easy.
Curie, Marie

You've got to find the force inside you.
Campbell, Joseph

I need to take an emotional breath, step back and remind myself who's actually in charge of my life.
Knowlton, Judith

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
Roosevelt, Eleanor

Once we make our decision, all things will come to us. Auspicious signs are not a superstition, but a confirmation. They are a response.
Deng Ming-Dao

The only way to pass any test is to take the test.

If you are not living on the edge, you take up too much room.
Native American saying

When I look at the world I'm pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimistic
Rogers, Carl

Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.
Roosevelt, Eleanor

The giving and receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.
Gibran, Kahlil

If you just set people in motion they'll heal themselves.
Roth Gabrielle

If anything is sacred the human body is sacred.
Whitman, Walt

Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.
T.S. Elliot

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
Gibran, Kahlil

A man's true wealth is the good he does in the world. Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.
Gibran, Kahlil

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.
Wilde, Oscar

Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, "Grow, Grow."
The Talmud

Nobody sees a flower really, it is so small, it takes time; we haven't time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
O'Keefe, Georgia

Fear grows out of the things we think; it lives in our minds. Compassion grows out of the things we are,
and lives in our hearts.
Garrison, Barbara

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.
Melville, Herman

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.
Rubin, Theodore Isaac

If you help others you will be helped, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in one hundred years, but you will be helped. Nature must pay off the debt... It is a mathematical law and all life is mathematics.

To receive everything, one must open one's hands and give.
Deshimaru, Taisen

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution.
Gibran, Kahil

Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless.
Mother Theresa

The Power of Words

I had a conversation with a friend recently about the power of words and what effect the things we say can have. Effects, I think it is fair to say, the speaker may often be unaware of.

Maybe that is part of the reason writing appeals to me, because from a young age I knew how powerful words could be. That’s not to say I’ve never opened my big mouth and not realized ‘til afterwards what I’d said had caused embarrassment, discomfort or hurt.

Or worse, never realized...

Unfortunately I think this has probably happened more than I care to think about, even though I’ve tried hard in recent years to be more aware of the words I speak and the effects they may have.

Maybe it’s easier with writing, because you draft and revise and redraft and revise and therefore what survives to be read at the end of the process should be pretty close to our intended meaning. At least in theory.

But often we speak before we even think about what we’re saying. We speak from some sort of emotional or gut reaction to what we’ve seen, heard and felt. We speak in self defense or all out attack. We speak to say what we think others want to hear. Or we speak to give voice to our ego, our fear or our ignorance. Or, we speak simply to avoid an uncomfortable silence.

Henceforth may we both strive in our speech and our writing to use words to build people (and their hopes, dreams and aspirations) up, rather than tear them down… unwittingly or otherwise.

Keep writing.

Friday, 11 November 2011

My Way of Getting Through The Day

When I was teaching English full time and feeling the load, or just wishing I was somewhere else doing something else, I’d often make time to search the Internet for inspirational quotes, print them off, and carry them around with me for the day.

I found that reading and reflecting on them when I could, was a good way to give myself a spiritual pickup. (A sort of caffeine for the soul I guess.) And it helped to motivate, energise and centre myself.

I read some quotes earlier today by one of my favourite authors (and author of the beautiful book The Prophet) Kahlil Gibran. Here are a few that I connected with:

“Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge.”

“When you long for blessings that you may not name, and when you grieve knowing not the cause, then indeed you are growing with all things that grow, and rising toward your greater self.”

“He who has not looked on sorrow will never see joy.”

“In truth we talk only to ourselves, but sometimes we talk loud enough that others may hear us.”

“He who understands you is greater kin to you than your own brother. For even your own kindred may neither understand you nor know your worth.”

Keep writing!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Un Café S'il Vous Plait

Sitting in an independent café (i.e. one that's not part of a global chain) sipping good coffee (a long black or flat white, made from fair trade coffee, out of a ceramic cup) is one of the greatest pleasures in life.

I like to sit in cafes and write. And I find when I do, I frequently strike a vein of thought, feeling and insight that I don't readily access when I sit down to write elsewhere.

Maybe it's being surrounded by the energy and interactions of other people. Or the stimulation that comes from just watching, observing others go about their day, in all their diverse ways.

Or maybe it's the caffeine.

Keep writing!