Friday, August 20, 2010

Practicing what I preach

Today was a Writing Friday gathering and I didn't feel much like writing. I've been in deep reflection since my last session with my therapist on Wednesday and didn't really feel like pulling out of that to plunge into my novel. In addition, I hadn't solved the issue for the novel that I'd been mulling over all week--how to reveal a key piece of information to my heroine and to the reader. I'd come up with two solutions but one was prosaic and the other one I couldn't quite make happen logistically. So I felt stuck and the muse wasn't giving me ideas and I didn't want to "waste my time" without the solution.

At the same time, I didn't want to wimp out. As a writing coach, I feel it important to set a good example and to practice what I preach. And I often preach the need to keep writing even when you don't know what you are doing. A huge part of the creative process is keeping on keeping on even when you don't know what comes next. Because in art-making, there are no mistakes, just experiments that do or don't work out.

So I went out to the terrace (it was a gorgeous day here in Portland--cool, sunny, 70s, and my terrace was just a heavenly place to be. I set up my laptop, and took the last three sentences from last Friday's writing as my prompt and just let my hands be guided. I kept coming back to trust, trusting the muse would show up, trusting my imagination would work and it did.

I discovered I needed to write another small section before I could reveal this part of the mystery and a great idea came up at the perfect moment. And I wrote that next chapter.

Then after lunch, I was about to move away from the computer, read a couple of articles I'd been meaning to get to, but then I thought, hey, it worked this morning. Go back to the story and see what come's next and I wrote another good chapter. Not as great, not as clear, but a good first draft. Very pleased tonight.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Planners vs. Pantsers

At the Willamette Writers Conference workshop I attended with Larry Brooks, he talked about the spectrum of advance work that novelists do. Some people are what he called "planners" (and he was one). They map out the whole strategy, the chapters, the major and minor characters, the major incidents and plot twists. They spend a lot of time on this and then write from this outline. Brooks says this saves a lot of time because you sort out the difficulties and the weaknesses beforehand and don't have to do so much rewriting.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who write by the seat of their pants (pantsers), who, he said with some disdain, claim their characters talk to them. I'm one of these. I'm probably not completely on the liberal, loose end of the spectrum. I do some serious consideration between writing sessions to sort out what comes next, rather than sitting down with no plan at all in mind. Right now I know what's going to happen in the next two and maybe three of my chapters and definitely that we are coming to the dramatic end of Act I. But I don't know "who done it" in my mystery, I don't know if my heroine will end up with any of the leading men, I don't even know if she'll be alive at the end of the book.

It's more interesting to me to let it unfold. If I'd worked the original idea to its logical conclusion in a plan, I might never have come up with the story that I've got going now.

I don't think one way is more valuable than the other, or leads to better writing. And I don't think Brooks was intimating that that was true. But I do think my way's less work and more fun.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Home Readings

This morning my good friend Kathie hosted a home reading for my memoir. This is a the second time she has done it. She invites women she knows to attend a brunch, reading, and discussion at her home.

Kathie has a lovely home and is a great entertainer and eight of us enjoyed her hospitality and food. Then she introduced me and I read two selections from the memoir and talked about the process of writing the book and my belief in the value of writing our personal stories, whether we publish them or not.

I don't remember where I read about home readings but I really enjoyed reading in that intimate setting, getting direct feedback from readers--not only about my writing and what had intrigued them but about what ideas had resonated for them.

Today we got into a big conversation about creativity, about how you make time for it, create the support you need. I talked about writing Fridays and writing retreats and the ways I've built in support for my own work. Afterwards, some of the women bought my book and I was thrilled to send it home with them. Hope they will let me know what they think.

So if you're publishing your book, you might consider asking a friend or two to set up home reading events for you. They don't need to be as fancy as a gourmet brunch, just tea and snacks will do, but it is a great experience for writer and reader alike.