Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Action Required!

What kind of action? Writer tricks! NOW.

I'm really happy with what I have so far on the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but as I've said recently, beginnings are critical for me as a foundation for the whole book, so I gave myself permission to be fairly painstaking, to get it right. Not for me, bull-moosing my way through a fast draft, just to get something down. In comments to my last writing post, a few people mentioned Stephen King's thing about how first you tell the story to yourself, in order that you may tell it to other people.

Well, I agree with that. But that doesn't mean I'm going to do my first draft fast and helter-skelter (and I'm not saying that's what he's suggesting). Personally, I need to build a book carefully from the beginning to the end, and it needs to feel right all along the way.

There are the broad story strokes, and there is the emotional texture, and there are a lot of other levels and layers, and I know that for some writers it works to get the "macro" sorted first and then address the micro, but not for me. I have to work the minute emotional level as I go, weaving it into the plot -- and here's the thing: so often the plot comes out of the minute emotional things.

One important scene that I wrote recently, I only got right on the fifth or sixth try -- taking it apart and reconceiving it each time. It ended up vastly different than in my first conception, and will drastically affect the unfolding of the story. So if I'd accepted that first try and gone on to wrest a messy fast draft out of myself come what may, what would it have consisted of? Lots of wrongness that would give me no joy and have to be rewritten anyway!

In a nutshell, I give myself permission to be me, to write how I write, which is: painstakingly.


(You knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you?)

There's painstaking and then there's painstaking! My word count the last few weeks has not, shall we say, been thriving. I've gotten a bit mired, and I've had to face up to the fact that I've been utilizing but a wee tiny portion of my bag o' writerly tricks. I've been too indulgent with myself and my habits. It's time to reach into the bag and get out some of the tools that I shove deep in there and try to forget, the ones that sometimes feel like torture devices!

Like ... freewriting. Sigh. I have visceral memories of forcing myself on freewriting sprees on earlier books. It can be so hard to get started. But it is always rewarding! I know I need to do it! No more Mrs. Nice Guy, self. It's time. Today. Words. Words will fly. They will be hideous words, rough-hewn things, but they will be like the vanguard against the blank page.

When I set out about freewriting, I try to really turn the brain to a completely different channel, and get into a wholly different mindset. Some way I do that:

1.) I will set out a huge word challenge (for me), like 5,000 words, because that is just ridiculous, and that right there frees me entirely of any expectation of good writing. This isn't about good writing. It's about scuffing up that damn blank page, generating ideas, making things happen. Maybe the wrong things. Sometimes a wrong thing or two (or twelve) need to happen in order that their wrongness, by becoming manifest, will begin to whittle down the possibilities toward the right thing.

2.) I usually don't read my freewriting. I know in advance that I will not subject myself to its awfulness, and that frees me to be wild and unpersnickety (At least, that is the hope!) What good is it if you don't read it, you ask? The good that I look to freewriting for is not prose. I just do it for story, and if I get an "Aha!" moment while freewriting, I will remember what it is, and carry it back to the "real" manuscript with me.

The second trick kind of flies in the face of what I was saying above about writing from beginning to end, which is the reason I resist it so much, but sometimes a little shake-up is called for. (Like now.) If you find yourself stuck in a place in your manuscript for too long, you might need to just leapfrog it.

Jump to the next place you're excited about and write that. Usually there's some big scene up ahead you can't wait to write, and it feels like you'll never get there. Well, just go there. Who's going to arrest you? For me, when I've done this in the past, that mire that had me stuck usually starts to look much less worrisome once it's behind me. In fact, most of the time I realize it was an imaginary mire -- that is, that I could skip the whole part anyway!

I need to keep in mind that this is essentially an exercise and that in uniting the two pieces of the book that now exist, rewriting will be needed to smooth things out. But I love rewriting, and do it like a maniac anyway, so no worries there.

Another strategy I have been wanting to implement is not going so well, as evidenced by the fact that right now Clementine is alternately trying to climb onto my keyboard and hit the reboot button. Nice. That strategy was to wake up really early and get in a few dawn hours. Well, it's somewhat less effective when the 20-month old gets up with you. Alas.

But anyway, I have my plans laid out. I am going to do both of the above things! How about you?

If you want more on writing, check out Not For Robots!


Jenn said...

Laini, I completely agree about leapfrogging. I've been doing that for parts in my stories where I just don't want to think about the transition from one scene to another. Yet, there's that ONE scene (or moment) that will keep me up at night and I have to scribe it. Just gotta. So it's helpful to look at the story and just insert bits and then work on connecting the bits later.
Good luck with the early morning hour writing!

Heidi said...

I have just started a new story that I got the idea for while riding in a car a couple weeks ago. Right now, I am freewriting about my characters, finding out who they are, and loving them. I'm also creating a time-line for my summer break story, even though I have yet to discover what will actually happen to the characters in that time. Exciting!

megwrites said...

I have written three books (just the rough drafts, not actual completed books :) where I pumped out a rough draft...and then I didn't know what to do with the jumbled mess! So I am trying your strategy this time of writing a focused, more refined first third of the book on to the rest. I already am feeling better about this approach. Thanks so much for the great writing ideas/advice!

Cynthia Lee said...

Some days, I will go for a looooong walk with my Ipod and try to make my mind blank as hell. Sometimes something will surface that I didn't know was swimming around in my head.

And if I can't do any of those things, I will google-image random stuff that I like. For example, I'll google-image "Medusa" and "blue haired girl" or "field of poppies." Sometimes I'll see something that snags the imagination.

Rachael said...

Sometimes, I feel like all my ideas come to me as freewriting exercises, because I always think up the endings of stories first, and then have to figure out how to get there. In general, I don't leapfrog through the draft, but I use that ending that I know and fell in love with as the ultimate reward. First drafts can be hard, but they can be a lot of fun, too!

Ilana Waters said...

Freewriting as a dreaded thing? Um, are you kidding me? This was my favorite part of every writing class that I ever had. To do it as part of a job would be a dream come true. But that's just me.

Don't be afraid, Laini. You are a brave soul who just needs to bush-thwack her way through that first draft (to paraphrase one of your earlier metaphors). So put on your khakis and helmet, strap that dagger to your thigh (make sure it's sheathed first) and be the intrepid explorer we all know you are!

S R Wood said...

Laini, what you said about scuffing up the blank page rang a bell for me. Aiming for the final, polished, almost glistening prose of a final draft is about as easy as trying to glue together two polished surfaces.

When in fact, if you are -- to take an unrandom example -- trying to attach two pieces of wood that have been cut and planed and prepared so cleanly they're almost waxy-smooth, you have to *scuff them up first.*

That is, you get some sandpaper or a file or anything to bang the crap out of the surfaces. Rough surfaces adhere; rough ideas stick better.

I save the sanding, polishing, varnishing, and finishing for later in the process.

Hooray for the rough, the unfinished, the incomplete, the wandering!


Q said...

If you don't use Write or Die, you should. It's just about the best thing ever. Enter your desired word count or time goal (on the sidebar) and start writing. If Clementine is awake, I would recommend a forgiving grace period and gentle consequences. Never use the kamikaze mode!

Commander Kip said...

I've utilized the leapfrogging tecnique in the past and ended up writing only the scenes that interested me; therefore I have a fistful of random events that happen in no particular order with no overarching flow. Whoops. There's something to be said for leapfrogging in chronological order, I suppose. XD

Melanie said...

Laini, it's still so refreshing to see that you are human like the rest of us! I have definitely employed the leapfrog approach and may have even found the new beginning of my story, which cuts out two chapters of writing! I am also trying to get my first draft down in a not-quite-hell-for-leather style, but definitely trying not to edit too much along the way and see how that works out for me. (I get too bogged down getting my prose just "right" that I never, ever, finish).
Good Luck to us all!

Msb said...

Another post to bookmark. Thank you for thinking of us. You're a good egg.

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