Category: Writing Process

Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up

I feel like I’ve woken up, and I’m kind of mad at myself. I hadn’t realised I’d fallen asleep. I started this blog because I love to write. It’s my happy place. Yet after a while it became a place of apology, excuses why I wasn’t the writer I thought I should be. Word count flops, failure to publish… a barrage of shame. Rather than dreaming of other realms, the whole writing process had become a bit of a nightmare.

However a chance comment the other day was a wake up call. A bucket of ice water followed by a triple shot of something caffeine laden. A friend of mine was involved in running a writing course and she was bemoaning the excuses our writing peers *coughs* wrap themselves in. This is the gist of what she was saying:

Why are these people wasting our precious time together complaining about why they can’t write, making excuses for their inability to write and talking about what doesn’t work? As writers we have so little time together to collaborate. We should be sharing the things that give us joy, encouraging and inspiring each other, and learning from those who are further ahead and are happy to share their knowledge and experience. Everyone has something to offer that doesn’t involve accolades, or best sellers, or even finished works. Share the pleasure of words on paper, those precious moments where the words match the vision and flow effortlessly, or just rejoice in the success of a colleague.

It struck a nerve. A big raw one. Why had I wasted so much time feeling like a failure? Like a fake at my own writing group, because I hadn’t made progress on my book? When all along I have been writing.

Wait – I have been writing. That great stuff I love to do. The words on paper. Nothing to do with my book, but I’ve journalled a lot, written cards and two plays. The Stand Famous Five and the Mystery of the Disappearing Donkeys, which has been performed at work by both staff and children on several occassions.

And The History of Christmas: An Angelic Perspective, which is a multimedia affair – part pre-filmed and part acted which is being performed at our church Christmas Eve Service. We’ve spent the past few weeks, making costumes, building sets and traipsing around Kapiti filming. It’s been a lot of work, but so much fun watching my vision come to life and seeing the kids having fun. From the footage I’ve seen so far it’s looking great and should be both encouraging and entertaining for everyone watching it. It helps when you have a 16 year old budding film-maker with boundless energy and ideas on board. Collaboration is a wonderful thing!!!

I am a writer. It’s what I do. Letters, articles, speeches (I even did a debate against one of the children at work, which involved me working just as hard as him to craft an argument), and teaching programmes. I am a creative person, and I have no idea what possessed me to box myself into such a narrow view of what a writer should be.

Well no more. I am awake.

Gaining Perspective

It’s hard to admit you’ve lost your way. It’s even worse when you knew where the signposts were, but you turned a blind eye and wilfully cut your own track anyway. The problem is, if you are going the wrong way eventually you will have to get back on track, or be forced to an untimely halt.

This happened to me with my writing process. I have written for as long as I can remember – journals, sketches, short stories, songs and poems. I would get up early in the morning to steal quiet time, sneak off by myself during lunch breaks, and be thrilled with any time I could snatch to put pen to paper. It was a joy; a private, cherished, personal joy.

Yet I still wandered so far off my personal writing path that I lost all joy in the writing process. And I did this because I didn’t trust my own gift or my instinct – but decided to find how it should be done.

I could bore you with all the things that didn’t work, but the truth was I spent too much time listening to everyone else and not paying attention to my unique writing process. Eventually I had to admit that sitting around with other writers trying to dissect my poor, limp, over-thought, prose was a waste of time. I have since learned that if you find yourself dissecting something, it is already dead.

Fortunately even a dream can be jump-started. In my case the emergency paddles came in the form of regaining perspective.

I had to step back from the story and ask what had inspired me to dream up Fall of the Kings in the first place?

And I realised, for me, it has always been scratching at the why. Why people do what they do? Why seemingly small decisions can change the course of our whole lives? Why some people insist on sucking on lemons, while others jump at the chance to make lemonade?

My writing process used to involve spending time paddling around in backstories that would never make it into the novel. Apparently this isn’t an efficient way to write – but it has always brought me joy, so I’ve decided to trust my instincts and go back to what worked for me. The results have been promising too. I’ve recently learned a few juicy snippets about a couple of characters that explain why they are always picking at each other – so writing them now is fun.

A few years back I wrote a post, A Word about Waymarkers, which discussed the need for having markers or touchstones to keep a story on track. In hindsight I realised I missed a few crucial points. Firstly, it is important to take your bearings regularly, to look out for the markers, and always know where true north lies. It’s harder to go off track if you always know where you are. And perspective isn’t just for stories. If you can remember what motivates you to turn up at the page, and honour that process, you’re more likely to get to where you want to go.

I’d love to know how you stay true to your own writing style?