Monthly Archives: March 2010

Doing it backwards

I’ve listened to many writers talk about their writing process. What I’ve learned is fascinating — but also somewhat discouraging if you’re looking for a magic answer to that whole “How To Write” question. Because there isn’t one. There are about a billion.

Some writers start at page one and write straight through until the end. Others start at the beginning, write several chapters, get distracted by something shiny, write a couple chapters at the end, then a few in the middle, and then a few more toward the beginning. Others use an outline — whether highly detailed or just bare bones — and flesh it out until they have a story. Some start knowing plot and nothing else; some start with full-blown characters but no idea of what those characters will do. Some edit as they go and once they’re done, they’re done. Others only edit after the entire rough draft is on the page. Some use spreadsheets. Or whiteboards. Music. Collages. Play-Doh and glitter.

The one thing all these wildly different and often contradictory methods have in common is they each result in a very similar product. A completed manuscript. There is no One Right Way to write a novel.

You have to do what works for you. If what you’re doing is not working, then by all means, look around, listen to what other writers are doing, try a few different things, see whether they work for you. Adopt them if they do and run like hell if they don’t.

Be wary of people who say you “have to” do things — plotting, writing, editing, promoting, querying, whatever — a certain way. What they’re really saying is that THEY have to do things that certain way. Or that they happen to know three other people who do things that way and it works for them. And that’s delightful. Good for them. It does not mean you have to, or even should, do it the same way.

So I’m taking my own advice. What I’ve been doing — writing in a linear progression, the same way I’d read a story — is not working right now. I’m close to being done, but . . . struggling. The writing feels “off” or goes in the wrong direction and I end up deleting it.

But I have a pretty good feel for how this story ends. So I’m going to start there, at the end. I’m going to write that last scene and then go backwards. Like backing a train into the station at full speed, hoping the track is straight and the platform is sturdy and that no one is standing too close to the edg– wait. That’s not a good image.

More like a detective trying to solve a crime. Taking the evidence of what happened and reconstructing it backwards in time, trying to figure out how everyone got there and what they did and said and why. Hoping I can connect the end to the middle without derailing the entire train.

I might even get really drastic and use note cards. And [shudder] coloured sticky notes.

Do I recommend this as a “writing process?” Hell no. I’m not even sure it will work. I might end up making a bigger mess than the one I’ve already got. For me, the important thing is being open to different ways of creating, of discovering how to tell a story. Trying not to become discouraged.

“Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged.” -Thomas Edison

My next book might have a different process entirely. With my luck, it will be a more difficult process. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is finding what works. If I have any advice at this point it’s to be willing to explore, try new things, look at your process from a different angle. However. Be just as willing to say, “No. That’s not how I do it. That doesn’t work for me.”

So I’m experimenting, doing it backwards. I’m also going to take a week of vacation and get in the car and drive until I run out of road, find some solitude in which to write. But that’s a different post.

By request, here is Quincy the Wonder Dog from a couple summers ago, up at the lake, wet and sandy after a swim, contemplating all the bad things he’s going to do once he’s off that leash. And he did.

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Prediction: le plus cą change…

I think horoscopes are interesting. I enjoy reading them. I don’t make decisions or live my life based on what they say, but I do think they’re entertaining. And sometimes, more often than I care to admit, they’re also eerily accurate. Like this one, my horoscope today from Tarot.com:

“You have had your vision set on the distance but haven’t been able to find a path that would lead you in the right direction. Now that action-hero Mars is turning direct in your 9th House of Adventure, the fires of inspiration are burning strongly enough to blaze a trail straight to your destination. It’s time to define the fuzzy edges of your dreams so you can make them become real.”

Well, the first sentence seems accurate, anyway. The rest of it? I wish. I really don’t believe I have an action hero in my house of adventure. I think I’d have noticed something like that.

Astrologer Michael Lutin says a “baby tiger” is being born in Leo right now (another thing I’m pretty sure I would have noticed) and, in my case, this means I need to take action in the areas of travel and foreign affairs. I have no foreign affairs. Maybe I should apply to be Ambassador to Someplace. Perhaps Tuscany would like to have an ambassador of its own rather than sharing one with the rest of Italy.

And here is the broader “weekly” prognostication from Lutin:

“Company loyalty is one thing, stupidity quite another. We all know that a steady paycheck isn’t easy to walk away from, but you can’t just sit there forever waiting for an axe to fall slap on your head. You need freedom and you need friends to help you pick up the pieces of your life and guide you toward new, unexplored territory. The urge to fly has hit you again, and when you get that old Sadge itch to run, you just gotta scratch it.”

Hmmm. Tempting as it is, I don’t think I’m going to quit my day job. But maybe I do need to push myself out of this stagnation I seem to have fallen into, this dreary routine of every day beginning and ending the same way, with a predictable morass of boredom in between.

I’ve had a big bad case of the “blahs” lately. Nothing is interesting or exciting. Doesn’t seem to matter what I read, it strikes me as trite or unoriginal. Conversations irritate me with their ordinariness. My writing has been flat and boring. Hell, I am boring.

And yes, you guessed it, I couldn’t think of an interesting topic for a blog post, so I’ve resorted to a cursory examination of horoscopes and astrology.

I don’t think I’m suffering from SADD. The daylight hours are noticeably longer here and have been for quite a while. I’ve made a point of going outside and soaking it up whenever possible. So I don’t think increased exposure to sunlight is going to help. But I need to do something.

Maybe tomorrow’s horoscopes will point me in the direction of something more powerful than the sun. Anyone have a spaceship I could use? An action hero? Maybe a baby tiger.

Really, I’m open to suggestions. Anyone? Bueller?

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