This is a fun interview I did with Laura Taylor for rkvry quarterly. My essay, A Fine Line, is in its current publication.
Sometimes I can’t write in a linear fashion. Right now, I’m having scattered theme syndrome—I can’t settle to one topic or even one genre. I have a short story I’d love to write, two different blog ideas begging for expression, and I’m determined to finish the second chapter of my book. It’s been very uncomfortable. Now, I’m just giving up to it and writing a little here and there. I figure I can edit it all later.
Also, I’ve become used to writing directly on the computer, but I haven’t been able to do that either. Yesterday I took a tablet and a pencil to the beach and wrote long hand. Thank God, the words started flowing. I have no idea if what I wrote was worth keeping, but at least I got some words down on paper. It makes me wonder if a part of me is in resistance to the process…in resistance to actually writing the book. Is fear of failure promoting procrastination?
Do: Keep on keeping on. Keep on writing.
Don’t: Beat yourself up and/or allow writer’s block to settle in. Fight that devil.
I’ve been in Life Lock lately. Life is so intense and busy (not in a bad way except for the sciatica) that I have no time to write. (Also, I cut my hair short and it now takes 45 minutes to blow dry into some semblance of hair style. I’m so worn out after fighting with the hairdryer I can’t write.) I tell myself that this is what life is about: living, (not how bad your hair is.) Writing is in your mind—it’s not real. There’s some truth to that, but after awhile, I get off kilter when I don’t write. I get so far away from my Self, so into an outer orbit away from my center, that I lose myself.
Life is quieting down for me a bit (There’s been no life changing moves, trips of a life time, no bouts of the flu) and I’m only going to the chiropractor twice a week now so the Writing Muse felt it was safe to pay me a visit. I started working on the second chapter of a book I started 15 years ago.
Here’s my process:
First came the thinking. I’ve been thinking that I’m really a short story writer, not a novelist. (But it may be that I am a bit ADD or just lazy) But I have noticed that many novels I’ve read recently are just short stories (with the same characters) grouped together. I decided I could do that. So I went through the short stories I’ve written, starting with the ones published. I needed a main character that I could relate to and cared enough about to spend sustained time together. There were two who stood out and I decided to combine them. One of my favorites was a hair stylist—I don’t know enough about hair to keep that up, but another favorite was a school psychologist. I know enough about that to keep it real. It’s true about writing what you know.
If I were a linear person, I probably would have done a character chart on her. But, I’m more random abstract so I’m letting her evolve. I don’t even know her name yet. I know she’s 50ish and has two children, and a baby granddaughter. Her ex-husband has a two-year-old with his present wife, the former office manager of his dental practice. (After writing this, I think I will do some mini character charts.)
I have a basic idea of what I want to have happen but I know me—I need to create a plot outline pretty soon. Plotting is a weakness of mine. Give me a story and I’m good to go. Without a plot line I can start to ramble.
I’m also seeing that I can’t do all of this right on the computer. I’m getting my notebook out so I can do some sketching in it. Probably will do the character charts and plot outline there, as well as write down anything random that comes to me. Once it’s written, I can work with it.
You’ll think this is crazy, but when I was stretching my back this morning, I started talking out part of the story aloud. This gave me the idea to use Pages with the recorder—verbalize it into the App, which will put it in written form. Being flexible in my writing is as important as it is in my back.
So this is where I am. I wanted to share my progress with you.
Also, I want to thank Carol Mann for reminding me to write. Thanks for the pat on the back.
Now, here’s my pat on your back if you’ve gotten overwhelmed or stalled or have difficulty eking out time for yourself. One step at a time. You can do it!
Endings Can be Tricky
Everyone always emphasizes how important the beginning of a story is—you need to catch the editor’s eye and the reader’s interest. This is true, but endings are vital to the integrity of a story.
This becomes apparent when the ending just doesn’t satisfy. Some endings seem rushed as if the writer had a deadline and just threw together something that would be okay. Other endings may feel too wide open—that the author copped out of creating a conclusion. Or others just don’t seem to fit—you feel the author should have left well enough alone and ended it before.
This last is true of the novel, The Light Between Oceans. The book, excellent by the way, has a lyrical, other-world feel. I felt it should have ended at chapter 36, but author M.L. Stedman writes a wrap-up chapter that is unnecessary. Worse, it takes away from the whole narrative.
Which way to go?
DO know that endings are super important. When I wrote for newspapers and magazines, I knew my last paragraphs could be cut if there wasn’t enough space. Accordingly, my last paragraphs were written to be expendable. Fiction or Essay are a different story. There is a significant build up from Beginning and Middle to End. While I was never upset when the editor cut an article, I would have been if she took the end off of one of my humor pieces. Often, the end was the whole point. The only time I have had the last paragraph deleted from a short story was when my “Her Father’s Daughter” was published. That time I was upset because the story turned on the last line.
DON’T listen to advice about the end of your work unless it makes sense to you. When I finished The Light Between Oceans, I had this feeling that Stedman’s critique group told her she should explain more of what happened. So she wrote a final chapter, but it didn’t grow out of the narrative thread. Sometimes when I finish a story and my husband reads it, he’ll say, “But this isn’t done. What happens?” I do favor open endings, but sometimes I’ll add more for him. This worked well in the “Anniversary Waltz” short story, perhaps because the main character is a lot like my husband.
Don’t get sidetracked.
Writing Aerobic: At the end of …
This is a landmark day for me. One year ago I decided to start this writing blog, Writing Do’s and Don’ts. I wanted to give people useful hints to improve their writing experience. I wanted the advice to be brief and to the point. I wanted to inspire people to write—give writing prompts and assignments that might light a fire in the writer’s belly. I was inspired to do this by my writing students. “You should be sharing what you do for us,” one said. “Are you writing a how-to book?” asked another. “Everyone should get the chance to do your writing aerobics,” someone else said.
So, I began. I made a vow to myself that I would write one lesson a week come hell or high water. (I do love some clichés!) Once a week—one do and one don’t. As I continued, I saw that a “how-to” book was in the making. All I had to do every week was write one entry. Here we are one year later. Lesson Fifty-two! It’s a testimony to perseverance, if nothing else.
I learned a lot during this year about writing and about life. I do believe you have to keep going. You run your race. You do it on your own terms. You don’t check to see what other are doing. You keep your eye on your own ball.
My plan is to continue, and also to cull out the best of the lessons, organize through subject, and create a book. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Lesson Twenty-Nine of Writing Do’s and Don’ts
Just as in a game, it helps to know the basic rules, the basic skills, and the basic strategies in the craft of writing. Here they are:
- Plot and Story: What happens and how it unfolds. What is the CONFLICT?
- Characters: Who is involved? (Basic conflict formula: Human against Human, Human against Nature, Human against Him or Herself.)
- Dialogue: What characters say that tells you about them, gives information about the story and moves it along.
- Description, Narrative: Setting—Where and When the story takes place.
- Theme: Why, Motivation.
DO make sure your story, fiction or non-fiction, includes the 5 items delineated above. Remember that every story has a beginning, middle and an end!
DON’T get too cute. You have to be really good to pull off a story where an animal is the main character. “The Art of Racing in the Rain” is a great example of it being done well.
Assignment: Write a short story, which incorporates the elements above, that tells about a pivotal point in your life. Make your story about 3 pages.
Writing Aerobic: Until the bell…