Friday, 30 October 2015

Writing Lessons Learnt

I have finished the second draft of Paradiso. What a great feeling. Two years of writing to date. Now to begin some reviewing and formatting before sharing it with some trusted readers. And then I'll start Draft III in the New Year. Another year to go I reckon.

Things I've learnt in the past two years. My top three.

1. A routine helps.
    I began writing at home and found that I was making many cups of tea, walking to the letterbox or checking the vegetable patch etc etc. Too many distractions for a procrastinator so I negotiated to use a room at the local bookshop and committed myself to write there three days a week averaging about four to six hours each day. It worked. I had company but I couldn't see them. I had coffee made by someone else, and I was around writers, though again mostly invisible to me for most of the day. My room has light but the window is frosted so again, one less distraction. It's a writing cave. I even disciplined myself to decline invitations from my mates to go fishing or play golf on those days. Thursday and Friday became my play days.

2. Keep writing.
        I set myself the apparently silly goal of writing at least one sentence each writing session. Why? It was easy to get sidetracked by the research process and follow the path of new information endlessly. The one sentence rule meant I could go home feeling I had added to the story even if by only a few words BUT it never stopped at one and even if it was 5:00pm, my knock off time, I'd often find myself there for another hour having lost track of the time.
      Secondly I decided that it was better to write badly than not write at all. When I was feeling lost or dejected or uninspired I just wrote. Sometimes it was pretty shit stuff but it did move the story forward and when i came back to it for the second draft the bones of the ideas had been laid out.

3. Writing teaches you how to write.
     Sadly or gladly the end of the book (at this stage) is better written than the beginning. I learnt stuff as I wrote, as I read, as I thought about writing and as I listened to other writers. Dialogue for instance. My first attempts were clumsy. Then, for a while, I unconsciously avoided dialogue and finally I started converting my narrated story back into dialogue wherever it was possible. It felt awkward at first - he says, she says etc but, on rereading the new stuff I realised that the combination of narration and dialogue made it much more lively, much more believable and much more interesting and the 'he says, she says' started to feel normal. No great revelation for experienced writers but a big step for me. Now I am acutely conscious of that balance in my writing andf in reading other writers. Some have the balance one way , some the other. It's horses for courses but in an historical fiction the temptation is to put in too much detail (all that research) when perhaps clues and 'mentions in passing' gives the reader more of an opportunity to build their own picture, create their own story.

I'm off to Laos and Cambodia for 3 weeks. Hopefully some stories will come from that trip.

No comments: