To Thine Own Style Be True

In my post Writing the Ravine: A View from a Rope Bridge, I had in the back of my mind my own habit of writing in circles.  For me writing can be a slow and laborious process.  Right now I’m about to tip into the second act of my WIP and yet I’ve become bogged down in the details.  I feel like I’ve almost hit it – but not quite.  So I’ve gone back and added in another POV character (feels better), spent some time fleshing out some back-story (motives now good) and have been tightening up timeframes and cultural identities (tedious and not quite there yet).  And yet I still haven’t managed to push past the Act I climax.  But then Scott left the following comment on the post which got me thinking:

I think my metaphor for my writing journey is a little different. I think I am the Forrest Gump runner who got up one day and took off. I had something bouncing around in my head that I wanted to write and so I wrote. As I went along a little, I realized that I needed a plan, so I drew myself a map of where I wanted to go (the outline for the rest of the large story I was telling) and I have been running that route ever since, occasionally stopping to check and see if that’s where I still want to go.

I have to say I was a bit envious.  I want to write like that.  I don’t want to be the girl who is so busy trying to tie her shoes properly that she never gets in the race at all.  But it got me thinking, we’re all so different (yes like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates) and that’s really a good thing.  I’m stoked that Scott knows who he is as a writer and is following after that with all his heart – because I have the same goal.  To tell a good story.  And to tell my story I need to tell it my way, and go about it in a way that’s going to work for me.

In the Lord of the Rings, there are a lot of heroes.  There are those born to be King (like Stryder / Aragorn); the graceful and elusive Elves –  fleet of foot and high of cheekbone (Orlando Bloom… er –  I mean Legolas); the resolute dwarves – stocky and pure of heart (Gimili); and of course the short, hairy-footed hobbits who like their food and home comforts much more than running around Middle Earth and saving the world.  Yet of all of these heroes the hobbits, the most unlikely of the bunch, were the ones who were able to destroy the One Ring.  They didn’t do it by charging into battle in full battle regalia – more often than not they crawled away on their bellies to avoid the fighting because they were small enough to be overlooked.

My point is – you don’t have to be a pantster if you aren’t.  You don’t have write 5000 words a day if you can’t.  You just need to understand your own style and strengths and do what works for you.  Even if it doesn’t look as heroic as you’d like.

Another example of this is the story of David and Goliath.  When David fought Goliath he was still an unproved young man charged with tending his father’s sheep. Yet he was able to convince the King to let him face the Philistine champion. The King dressed David in his own tunic, gave him a bronze helmet, armour and a sword.  David, however, wasn’t used to wearing all the battle regalia, so he took them off.  He preferred to face the giant as he tended the sheep, with smooth stones and a sling-shot. And we all know how the story ended.  One stone and one dead giant.  But it might have been quite different if he’d tried to fight the battle any other way.

So for me – I’m trusting my gut.  I’m an edit as you go kind of girl.  It’s the way I write.  Sometimes I wish my inner-editor would let me get more words on paper.  But I guess then I’d just be proud of my numbers – when it’s the story that counts.  The benefits are that I feel better if I’m working from a solid foundation and I won’t need to edit as much later on.  So when I suspect I need to tighten and work on back-story I will, even if it means it takes a little longer. And I’m learning not to worry so much.

But there are many, many other ways to write your story.  It’s better not to compare, rather to try and glean nuggets from others that might improve your own process. I tip my hat to Scott who sets his goal and runs after it.  You might plot, you might pants, you might edit as you go – or not.  But find your rhythm, and enjoy your writing journey your way.

What kind of writer are you? Are there things about your writing style that frustrate you?  That work really well?  How has your writing process changed for the better? I love to hear from you.

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8 thoughts on “To Thine Own Style Be True

  1. A wonderful post, Raewyn! For most of the years I’ve been writing, I’ve been a planner, editing the story as I go. That meant it took me a (sometimes frustratingly) long time to write the first draft, but when it was done, I didn’t have to do as much editing and redrafting. This summer, when I took part in Camp NaNoWriMo, I tried pantsing for the first time. The quality of the writing wasn’t that good, but it taught me to listen to my muse, which, until then, I’d often ignored. Now I feel like my writing process has evolved – I don’t plan quite so rigorously, leaving room for my muse to throw in some unexpected twists and turns when she’s bored. Also, I can control my inner editor a bit better than before; instead of agonising over each paragraph, I can write at a steady pace, do a swift edit after and, if any areas still give me concern, flag them up for later edits. My writing pace has increased considerably since realising that, and I’m a lot happier with what and how I write.

    1. One of the best things about the writing journey is finding what works for us! I must admit I’m gearing up to do NaNoWriMo again in November. I can’t write like that all the time – I’d have no hair left. But like you the one time I did it properly it helped me pull the editor back a bit and let the writing go. Thanks for commenting Skye.

  2. Love this post 🙂 When I started reading blogs about writing and following writers/authors on a regular basis, I thought “Oh my, I’m doing it wrong, everyone is doing sprints on Twitter and writing 1000 words an hour, why can’t I?” So I tried taking part in a Novel Writing Month and doing sprints, and I failed miserably. And I realized that it’s just not me. At best, I can write 300 words an hour, and it’s ok to be slow. It’s ok to be the Hobbit who stops for 2d breakfast (I mean, the writer who stops for a cup of tea) and wants to be the perfect host for 14 guests (I mean, who wants to write a great book) 🙂 It’s ok to find your own rhythm.

    Thanks for commenting on my query! I really appreciate the feedback 🙂

  3. Firstly – it was a great query – so you’re very welcome. One day when I’m being rescued off the side of Mt Doom (I mean when I’ve finished my novel), I hope mine is as good.

    But I agree there is a lot of advice out there – some will make you fly and others will just make you feel inadequate – the trick is to recognise which is which. I’m not a fast writer either – I rarely do more than 300-400 words an hour on a good day. But most of the time I don’t even bother counting any more. As long as I’m writing it’s a good day.

  4. Let me clarify something – when I have a chance to write, I write like that. When I started I sat down and wrote a 26,000 word story (I think that falls between short story and novella length) in 4 weeks – almost a thousand words a day. I got very busy doing lots of other stuff (family, church, work, volunteerism) and I got delayed. My next project (sequel to the first one) was 61,000 words and took 5 months (averaging about 400 words a day). I have been working on part three since September 1st and it is barely 6k words (less than 250 words a day). I think my metaphor was intended to be more along the lines of “I just sat down and started to write and have kept doing it” rather than to portray me as a driven writer (though I have finished two short books since starting back in January)

    FYI, a PDF of the first one is out there on my blog if you want to read it and provide feedback.

  5. Scott – I was impressed at your perseverence and progress! My real life has been nuts lately with all the busyness you describe and I sometimes wonder if I’m going in a straight line with anything (let alone the writing which has been something of a casualty lately). Thanks for inspiring this post though!

    I’ll definitely swing by the blog and have a look at your PDF – but it might be a few weeks away when I clear some of the backlog at home (we’re dealing with my mother-in-law with Alzheimers and it’s been a bit of a transition).

  6. We’re twinners! I have to edit as I go. I can’t seem to stop myself–although I *do* somehow edit less when I’m dashing through NaNoWriMo. Since I go back and edit that in December, I don’t know if it actually saves me anything. And I’m with you when you say it’s the words that count, not the numbers. Even so, watching my peers speed past me–not just with numbers, but with published works–can get a little discouraging. I appreciate this pep talk.

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