Thursday, September 29, 2011

Retrieving my zero draft mentality

While I was on vacation, one rainy afternoon I pulled up the draft of the first 7 chapters of the new novel I'm working on. I read through it, did a little rewriting, rethinking, but I didn't really get into it. I didn't have a big block of time, I wasn't in a situation to build any momentum, but I wanted to be back in touch with my characters and I hoped I'd have a clear idea of where to go next in the story. That didn't arrive.

Tomorrow is Writing Friday and I'm out of excuses. I've also committed to producing at least one new chapter before my writing group meets next Tuesday and tomorrow will be the day to do it. I have to admit my acquiring of an agent has set me back a little. The stakes seem higher. I find myself no longer in the writing-for-fun mindset and that's got to change, because what I need now is to retrieve my zero draft mentality. That anything goes, that it doesn't matter if I write a chapter that won't be in the final book or if I take a character down a deadend street or if the writing is marginal. I just need to get back into it and trust that the characters, my imagination, and my muse will all come through for me.

The truth is, I love to be in the middle of a writing project and I haven't been since July. I need it to happen and so tomorrow, I'm writing something, anything, to get me going again.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thoughts on writing well from Joseph Epstein

"Learning to write sound, interesting, sometimes elegant prose is the work of a lifetime. The only way I know to do it is to read a vast deal of the best writing available, prose and poetry, with keen attention, and find a way to make use of this reading in one's own writing. The first step is to become a slow reader. No good writer is a fast reader, at least not of work with the standing of literature. Writers perforce read differently from everyone else. Most people ask three questions of what they read: (1) What is being said? (2) Does it interest me? (3) Is it well constructed? Writers also ask these questions, but two others along with them: (4) How did the author achieve the effects he has? And (5) What can I steal, properly camouflaged of course, from the best of what I am reading for my own writing? This can slow things down a good bit."

Taken from the October 2011 online magazine: Vocabula Review

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cruisin' for characters

This past week I was on a cruise that went from Seattle to Juneau and Ketchikan, Alaska. It is a great way to vacation. I went on the Holland America line, which had been recommended to me by several friends. Great food, excellent accommodations, and seeing Alaska and the coastline of British Columbia were wonderful. We did have some bad weather and didn't see everything on the original itinerary as we had to skirt even worse weather but the trip was till great. And I have to say, a cruise is an amazing place to people watch and find characters for your writing.

There are numerous options for meals. Many of the people seem to continually opt for the all-day buffet. The food there was good and it was convenient and the Lido deck, where the buffet was, had big windows and you could sit and watch the sea and the view. I ate up there for breakfast once and lunch twice and saw a few interesting characters. But the best experience for my writing was in the Vista Dining Room.

Most days we ate all 3 meals there. Many of the tables are for 4-8 people and we were 2, so they always asked before seating us if we'd like to share a table and we always said yes. It's not very often that I get to spend an hour over a meal with complete strangers, listening to their accents, their speech mannerisms. Or getting an opportunity to watch their physical quirks and gestures, their manner of dress. It isn't staring excellently but there is an opportunity to study several people in that intimate a setting.

There was a bit of sameness. They were mostly couples, mostly middle-aged and older, mostly white. But there were at least two couples who really intrigued me, who just might show up in a book soon. In his book Weekend Novelist, Robert Ray recommends spending a lot of time in public places, like a shopping mall, to scope out potential body types, mannerisms, affectations. And I've done some of that but those experiences are more fleeting.

For character studies, cruise ships are a better deal. And way more fun!