Sunday, November 14, 2010

Learning by going

I've been thinking a lot about writing process lately. Well, I think a lot about writing process all the time, to be honest. I'm fascinated by it - I read other writers' blogs, and books on writing, and that type of thing on a regular basis. 

I started doing that when I first began writing fiction seriously, sort of like an independent study project. It was my attempt to do an apprenticeship, to figure out what worked for people who succeeded in the field. What I learned wasn't so much a method (I write with pen, usually fountain pen, because there are very specific colors of ink I like) or a style (I'd been writing academically for years, and won awards, and felt pretty confident in my ability to turn a sentence), but that while there were similarities (pretty much everyone seems to have a moment where the book turns on them) the most important thing was to just sit down and write.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, but that's because at some level it's the only thing to say: the only necessary part of being a writer is that you write.

It's what puts the words on the page, and what teaches you the best way for you to write (this is, I've learned, a thing that may change over time. It certainly has for me.) Right now, I am the kind of person who needs to write every day. There are people who spend months thinking about a book, and then sit down and write it all in one explosive burst. Thinking looks like thinking, for them. For me, thinking looks like writing. This means that I've had to get used to not knowing when a new character is going to show up, when there will be an obstacle to deal with, or even what happens in the next scene. It also means I've had to get really comfortable with the fact of revision, and that I may wind up cutting huge swathes of text. It's not that I didn't need to write them, I did. They just don't need to be in the story.

At least on the zero draft, I need to start at the beginning, and write straight through. I can't write scenes out of order, or start in the middle and work back.

I don't outline. For me, outlines are the devil. They fool my brain into thinking I've already written what I've only sketched out, I become too preoccupied with what needs to happen instead of how it needs to happen, and I honestly don't see the point in telling a story I already know the end to. But for some people, an outline is a support system, not a cage.

But that's me. And that's me right now. I want, for example, to write a procedural in the next book or two, which means I am going to have to get much more comfortable with the idea of plot than I currently am. And really, the reason that I'm fascinated by process is because I'm constantly trying to become more aware of what I need to do when I write so I can help myself show less of that process on the page, so that I can get out of my own way, and all that's left is story.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this -- because I spend a lot of timing doing what you do: learning by doing and learning by reading. It's fascinating to get a look at how other people work. It shows me new ways of thinking or makes me recognize a similar methodology.

    Also, I agree: For me, outlines are the devil. They ARE. I cannot do it. The few times I had to do that for academic papers, I wanted to cry. It totally throws off my brain, and I end up throwing things in there just to take up space. For creative writing, the disruption is similar.

    Like you said, the best thing you can do is write. It's what counts: words on a page. :-)