Thursday, September 23, 2010

Brave Words To The New Writer

Steven Heighton's post, A FEW MEMOS TO MYSELF is filled with sage, insightful, and tough advice to a writer starting out. It's something to read through periodically if you're new to writing, or if you're established -- maybe even particularly so if you're established -- to avoid the pitfalls of becoming, as he puts it, a careerist writer. I particularly relate to his advice on embracing oblivion. It ties into my previous post on how to keep the joy of writing alive.

It's a hard-headed common sense list to help you keep it real. Be tough on yourself. Be willing to take chances. Insist on taking chances. It's the only way to grow with your writing, for your writing to grow, and to safeguard and nurture your internal creative fires.

Monday, September 20, 2010

More on Writing With Joy

When I first started writing, it was pure -- an acceptance of my lowly early apprenticeship status, an acceptance of how little I knew about writing, and a fluttering hope of being published but not expecting anything.

Now, twenty or more books later, in as many years -- oh, and a few awards and accolades too -- that pure state is harder to find.

My fault. It's when I get bogged down with outcomes, that the joy stalls. Bogged with thoughts of the publishing process (where to submit, etc), hopes for the success (big success -- hey, who dreams of failure, or even mediocre success?) of the novel or picture book, thoughts about the business side of writing and how to best get that book out there.

It's what I've heard the poet and author, Steven Heighton, refer to the secretarial side of writing, versus the sacramental side of writing.

There is a purity to the beginner mind -- it's more open to possibilities. It's less invested in measuring output against time, more open to exploration. That's where the joy is for me.

I need to periodically remind myself of that, even while I accept that the inevitable consequence of being an established author (ha! me established? I so don't feel it, even though that's how I'm regarded) is that the business side of things will keep intruding.

It's finding that balance. Not checking e-mail incessantly (who me?), not getting ensnared and entangled and lost in the countless distractions of the internet, or promotion.

Writing for the joy of it. Pure and simple. Sigh.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Round and Round It Goes

Aaaaak! Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows. That's the process of writing. It's a long, slow spiral to the heart of the final draft and boy, it is painful at times. Right now I'm going through another draft -- umpteenth -- of THAT BOY RED my upcoming children's novel for ages 8 and up, due to be released by HarperCollins Canada in April 2011.

It's been a joy, mostly, discovering/uncovering Red's world and the people in it. I've enjoyed reading it as I re-worked it, enjoyed being in his world, which is rural PEI during the Depression. I've enjoyed researching, fine tuning, expanding on characters, inserting the kinds of details that make the story seem to grow and continue beyond the pages of the book.

All requiring focus but for the most part thoroughly satisfying.



Oh, now, I'm doing what is absolutely essential -- I'm reading it out loud.

And aaaaak!!!!!

I can't believe how the flow stumbles and fumbles in places. This is the stage where I feel frustrated, embarrassed and convinced I'm a crappy, crappy writer. Surely if I could write better I wouldn't find so many places where the language stalls, where the music of the sentences jar and clash instead of flow. Where the cadence flops and drags instead of swooping with ease.


It is completely necessary, this stage, to fine tune any piece of writing, because the ear picks up what the eye doesn't.

It is time consuming.

Thoroughly humbling.

And completely necessary.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Writing With Joy

Contradictions are the spice of life, so here it is, something contradictory to the last post about opening a vein to write.

Sometimes it is like that, but I don't usually or even often wallow in writerly angst. If I did I wouldn't bother to write. Who needs the anguish?

I'd rather write for the joy of it. The sheer delight of discovering/uncovering story, the thrill of the chase, the joy of spending time with characters you love.

So what about the previous post? There are times you need to open a vein to write. It depends on what you're writing. Opening a vein to write is more about digging deep and not being afraid to explore the painful side of life, even when it's buried deep in you. And I do believe that if your stories are to ring true, you need tears when warranted. I weep when I write parts of my stories; they need to touch me if they are to touch the reader.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Opening a Vein To Write

There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

So true.

In a similar same vein (ha! ha!) Robert Frost said: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A New Idea Is Delicate

A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man's brow -- Charlie Brower

I rarely share a new idea for a novel or even a picture book, until I've written the first draft. The delight of nurturing a new story, the excitement of discovery, the burning lust for what comes next, is for me somehow quenched if I talk about it. For me, writing is a process of discovery. If I talk about it too much, I don't want to write about it. I lose interest.

Not everyone works this way. You need to know what works best for you. I jot down ideas as they come, walk and walk and walk to pound them out (oh, and walk and walk and walk as I write, too, during and in-between drafts) but I don't want the enthusiasm for my fledgling ideas, that to me seem so exciting, so desirous of pursuit, to be flattened by indifference, or crushed or overwhelmed by input from others, however well intended. It's only when I have a fair idea of what I want that idea to be, of how it will grow (of course, that's not to say it doesn't veer off in strange directions once I start to write) that I can even begin to tentatively share those ideas with others.