The Best Writing Advice Ever

I know I’ve succumbed to hyperbole with this title – but I promise I’m not selling anything. *checks pockets* Nope all out of snake oil. But I would like to offer you a story today. A story – one of many that have been told around the tables of Cafe Novella during the course of the Kapiti Speculative Fiction Writers’ Group. A story that on the face of it doesn’t appear extraordinary, but unexpectedly struck a chord within me. A life-changing, writing-changing chord that has already impacted the way I write, and has inadvertently rekindled my love for storytelling.

Such is the power of a good story. At just the right moment.

Now you probably won’t believe this, (especially if you are new to this blog *coughs*), but I have been known to bemoan my lack of progress trying to write The Fall of the Kings. Admittedly not one of my finest attributes. But every month I turn up at our writing group, and we discuss how our work’s going. And for a little while now I’ve felt like Mike Noonan, the blocked author in Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, relying on older work to cover up a disappointing lack of output.

So, last month, knowing my writing hiatus was at an end, I figured I needed to come up with a solid plan to move Kings forward. I was quite hopeful about it too. Basically I told the group I’d figured out the best way to break out of the rut was to rewrite the start of the novel and follow the story from one character’s perspective only. This would also neatly avoid some of the difficult characters I’ve been struggling with.

It was a perfectly logical response, and something I’d not tried yet, so I was expecting some positive feedback. Or at the very least – insincere platitudes.

What I didn’t expect was Pat, our awesome group leader, to say this: (Bear in mind Pat has read the first 50 pages of Kings and his feedback was very positive).

Pat’s parents both liked to paint. His father painted sporadically. Whenever the urge struck, he’d pick up a brush and paint out whatever it was that was within him. He was a gifted artist and his work had that inexplicable freedom and spark which set him apart from the hobbyiest. Pat’s mother on the other hand worked at her art diligently and painted all the time. Often she would come home with composition sketches that showed she too had a good eye – that hint of something special. But then she’d sit and paint, and paint – until she’d painted the life right out of it. The paintings themselves were fine. But they could have been really great.

It’s the difference between joy and toil. And with any piece of art, you can tell the difference.

And, yes he effectively told me to stop killing my writing. But he was right.

I have a head full of stories. Amazing stories. Interesting characters. And a vision of what they will look like, fleshed out – writ large. But sometimes I get insecure about telling them just right – getting the details just right that I squash the playfulness, the natural flow or whatever that indescribable thing is that makes my writing special.

So how do I change those ingrained bad writing habits? For me it’s realising that I don’t want to write my stories to death. I don’t want to follow all the writing rules at the expense of the joy I feel when a story comes alive on paper. I know the basic outline of Kings and I love it. It has a killer ending which I can’t wait to write once I’ve built the bridge over this rocky middle. But until I get this internal editor under control I’ve had to park Kings for the time being – because every time I look at the middle section I want to scream. It’s toil and right now you can tell.

Fortunately, I’ve taken my new, enlightened attitude into The Moon is Made of Glass, and I’m letting this new story emerge organically. I’m enjoying the research (such a hardship reading the old celtic fairytales again…), enjoying this new world that is unfolding, and celebrating each unexpected character or development as it’s presenting itself. I haven’t started writing the story yet, (apart from the prologue) – but am looking forward to NaNo as the vehicle to knuckle down and do it.

Do I really believe this is going to sort the problem?

Well I’m practising already. I’ve started an ugly story. One that will never see the light of day. A story that’s been floating around in my mind for ages and I’m writing it as it comes out. Bad grammar, poorly structured, and boring at times. But as I’m letting go, I’m also starting to see those lots of little gems starting to emerge. The ones that got me excited about the story in the first place. The joy has already turned up.

Don’t get me wrong, as the good book says, there is a time for everything; including editing, grammar, and cleaning up the story structure. But now isn’t that time. Now’s the time for rediscovering my love for my stories.

Have you ever felt like you’ve lost some of the joy of writing? What keeps you on track? What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

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9 thoughts on “The Best Writing Advice Ever

  1. Have. Definitely. Been. There.

    I had a completely different ah-ha!-moment about it, though. Recently, actually. After I let it sink in, it broke up the dam that was holding in my creativity.

    In my case, I had to realize that writing is my “job”. It can’t be my free time filler or reason to procrastinate anymore. When I try to use it for those purposes, or reserve it for those times, it bogs me down. It needs to have it’s own place in my to-do list so that when “free” time comes around, I can spend it on more relaxing things. (Ironically, my current thing is sudoku – i.e, math. Go figure.) Don’t get me wrong, I still LOVE writing. But now it’s more like having an amazing job than a discouraging hobby. 🙂

    1. Oh I get the discouraging hobby thing. I think that’s where I had gotten to as well. And the times I was carving out never seemed long enough to do anything but pick at the problems. Recently I’ve been trying to carve out a solid block each day – free from other distractions, with plenty of time to let the story run.

      I’m so glad you’re finding your writing zone too. It’s all about balance, especially when you’re a wife and mama and it feels like you’re on 24/7.

  2. I think that’s the best thing you can do focus on a new and fresh novel and just simply write it because you’re enjoying it (and not screaming, that’s never good when a section of your novel makes you want to scream…). 😉

    I found having deadlines to produce work when I was doing my creative writing MA was a fantastic way of letting go of the editor in me, allowing me to just write. Reading my work to my MA group however rough was very liberating! I’m hoping NaNo will help me write book two of Time Shifters in the same way and I’m already excited about starting to write it. Can’t wait to hear how you get on with The Moon is Made of Glass.

    1. Thanks Kate. I don’t think the screaming option was working well for me either. I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday about NaNo gold – and some of the surprising twists our stories took when we were working at NaNo speed. I can’t wait what I’m going to find with this story. Only two days to go – so I am really limbering up. Looking forward to touching base on the way through! Go Time Shifters the sequel!

  3. It’s true – our desire to write perfectly can inhibit our ability to write, period. My first book took four weeks (28 days, exactly) to write. I edited and edited and edited and sent it to various folks for feedback for three more months before deciding it was done. After that, I focused more on the quality and it took five months to write (followed by a month or two of editing). My third one took ten months to write and another couple of months of editing.

    Ultimately, we want our stories to be great, but we have to realize that they will never be perfect. My goal is to finish my current story (which in my case means finishing the fourth and fifth book in my series) and then, if I still feel motivated to go back and “fix anything”, go back and do it. My hope is that my excitement over other ideas that have caught my fancy since I started this project will overcome my urge to perfect my current work.

    1. I agree with everything you’ve said here Scott. Pat’s words seemed to trigger something in me and I must admit the writing is going better than it has in years (which is why the blog has been somewhat neglected). The really great thing is that those other ideas that have been simmering away in the background are also benefitting from this new bout of creativity. May we never go back!

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