A Writer Writes. Except When She Doesn’t.

•July 27, 2014 • 2 Comments

I’ll admit it. I commit the cardinal sin of writerdom.

I don’t write every day.

I know, I know, I know. Get into the habit, blah blah blah. Writing requires dedication, blah blah blah. You’re not a writer unless you’re writing, blah blah blah.

Good for those people.

I prefer the words of one Burton Rascoe:

“A writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”

Or perhaps this quote from Donald M. Murray:

“Even the most productive writers are expert dawdlers…”

Here’s the thing. I don’t think sitting with my fingers on the keyboard is the only way to write. I am writing all the time. What I call ‘future-writing.’

I think it’s fair to say that about 75% of my writing happens in my head. It’s collecting experiences, bits of emotion or imagery and filing them away to use later. Jotting a few words in a notebook that will form the basis of a novel. Remembering the rawness of receiving bad news, the delayed shock and feeling of betrayal that follow. Taking an extra few seconds to really look at a piece of graffiti in a foreign city, or the way tree roots crack through the mortar of an ancient stone wall. These things are all writing, to me. They inform the words that are yet to come. I think they’re just as important, because they make the words feel real.

That’s not to say that the actual word-writing part isn’t important too. I go in fits and spurts between the two – sometimes I’m only at the laptop, sometimes I’m taking in the world around me. These past six months have taken me all over the world – to Iceland and Vancouver and California and Hong Kong and Japan, and I’ll see Belize and Wales and Scotland and Amsterdam before the year is through – and the things I’ve taken away from those places, whether they’re specific to a location or just an encounter with someone who I wouldn’t have met had I stayed home, make the words that I have written brighter. Last year I visited a coastal town that’s going to be the inspiration for my next novel. Could it feel half as real if I’d never been?

Now that I have a bit of a lull before I hit the road again (two whole weeks!) I’m eager to reconnect with my laptop, for although I’ve lugged it around the globe, I produced nary a sentence. Who would want to travel such distances to keep their nose buried in front of a screen?

You can’t write unless you’ve lived. Right now, I’m doing a whole lot of living, word count goals be damned.

On the Benefits of an Honest Critique

•June 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As a writer, probably one of my least favourite things to do is share my work with others and ask for a critique. Not because I’m worried they’re going to tear it apart, but because I’m afraid they’ll just say “I think it’s great!” and hand it back.

A critique like that is exactly 0% helpful. I don’t want my ego stroked. I want to know what doesn’t work so I can make it better. Whether it’s something I know needs work but I can’t figure out how to fix it, or feedback that takes me entirely by surprise, a good critique can only be helpful, if you listen to it.

This article from the Huffington Post sums up how I feel about the subject nicely. It’s worth a read by anyone who strives to improve themselves, whether at work, at a creative pursuit or even aspects of their personality.

I’m not saying critique doesn’t hurt. My dad is a particularly thorough critic of my writing and some of the stuff he says makes my cheeks burn when I read it. Instinctively, my reaction is always along the lines of “well you’re just wrong.” And I vow to ignore it.

A few days later I read his critique again. And even if I don’t take every word to heart – there’s no rule that says you can’t stick with your original thought or plot device or whatever – I still consider his reaction and why he might feel that way. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can listen to everyone’s complaints and assess them. All feedback is useful in some way, as long as it’s constructive. I often end up coming around to the critiquer’s point of view and make some changes.

I kind of love critiques. Like in a sadistic, “hit me ’til it hurts” sort of way. I mean ultimately, even if it makes me squirm, my goal is to be a better writer, right? I used to hate it in school when I’d get a paper back all marked up with red ink and I didn’t have the opportunity to re-write based on the feedback to improve it. It was just done. With the long editing process and multiple drafts involved in writing a novel, I finally get to do that. You’re damn right I’m going to listen to someone who has an opinion if they’re willing to take the time to offer it to me.

The Art of Words

•May 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As a person who finds herself inspired by words, I surround myself with wordy things. Books by the hundreds, typewriters of all shapes and sizes, even a writing-inspired tattoo (and another to come soon).

And then there’s artwork. My favourite pieces I own (apart from this painting by Brandon Bird which is the first thing you see when you walk into my house) all have to do with books and writing. There’s the large-scale print of a couple embracing under a tree that’s actually made using the entire text of Wuthering Heights, and the vintage typewriter ads, including this one which is pretty much exactly what I look like when I get on a real tear.

This is what I hung in my dreamy little writer’s shed tonight:

Tragedy #388 by Benjamin Dewey

Tragedy #388 by Benjamin Dewey

It makes me chuckle every time I see it. The poor wolfman! No one will ever read his comedic space opera.

I love the Tragedy series, btw. We have a bunch of them and I’ve gifted several more, but this one has been stored away until my retreat was complete. You can see them all, and buy your own prints, from the Tragedy Series Tumblr, which I strongly encourage you to do.

Why Wait Until New Year’s?

•May 28, 2014 • 2 Comments

I’m going to throw down some mid-year resolutions. And I’m going to put them on post-it notes and stick them all over my desk so I have to stare at them all the time.

In no particular order:

  • Finish my query letter
  • Send out ten query letters for each of June, July, August and September
  • Finish the first draft of The Unknowing
  • Re-read Writing 21st Century Fiction and post-it note the shit out of the tips I feel best apply to me
  • Write up an outline for the new book idea I have stewing

I think that’s a pretty solid start. I encourage everyone to join me in making a few resolutions as well!

Mutiny!

•May 23, 2014 • 2 Comments

I’ve often heard other writers say their characters are in control of the story and they’re just along for the ride, that every day writing is an exercise in finding out what they’re going to do next. That is so not me. Even when I was technically a pantser with no outline on paper, I still knew the complete storyline in my head and spent a great deal of time every day plotting out what the next day’s writing would look like.

So imagine my surprise when I realized this week that I, too, don’t seem to have much say in what some of my characters are doing. Two of them keep making out. In my head, I’m all, “okay, here comes a suspenseful and dangerous bit,” and then my fingers hit the keyboard and they proceed to try and take each other’s pants off. I’m at my wit’s end over it. I need things to happen, and those things don’t include kissing. I mean sometimes they do, but only when I say so, dammit!

The last couple books I’ve read have been rather smutty. Maybe that’s the cause. Whatever it is, I need to get things back on track, and I fear my delete button is going to be putting in a lot of work this weekend. Or maybe I’ll just run with it and see how things pan out, because you never know. Maybe sometimes the characters do know best.

 
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