Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
Despite the fact that I had always carried the knowledge within me that I would one day become a writer, for many years I also believed that I couldn’t write, or at least that I was incapable of producing any writing of value. Not surprisingly, this caused a deep conflict within me and some confusion. Looking for the reasons behind this fundamental lack of faith in my own ability, I could cite low self-confidence or even low self-worth, and to a certain extent this was true. However, the real reason can be found in the word ‘value’. I believed that I could not produce anything of ‘value’ because I was quick to measure my abilities against those authors I read and often loved in high school. My schooling had given me a clear sense of what was valuable and what wasn’t. Maths and Science were valuable, while Art and English were not. And in English, the subject I was most drawn to, some authors were valuable while others were not. At the time I didn’t question these hierarchical constructions. I revelled in the glorious language of the authors I was studying, and in the process became deeply engaged in exploring the underlying meanings of texts and excited by their philosophical and spiritual explorations. Yet, while enjoying these texts I also came to believe that I was not a good writer because I couldn’t match D H Lawrence’s vocabulary, the intensity of his passion or the richness of his descriptions; Shakespeare’s depth of understanding was beyond me, and while the philosophy of Euripides was tantalisingly wise, I was too young to embrace it. Continue reading →
The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.
While editing is not a particularly inspirational topic, it is no doubt a useful one. It is also a topic that is on my mind as I recently completed a first draft of my novel and am about to embark on the long process of editing.
Lots of people despise editing, some fear it, others enjoy it. I belong to the ‘enjoy it’ camp. Editing is part of the creative process but there is less uncertainty involved. It’s safer because the outcomes are already known, though inevitably with the safety comes a reduction in the magical process that unfolds in the first draft as we find our story. The roller coaster ride of the first draft becomes a merry-go-round in the second draft and I find this a welcome chance to catch my breath after all the excitement.
When I am writing a first draft, I politely ask my Editing Self to leave the room because it inhibits the writing process by undermining my confidence and forcing me to stop and start as I check for imperfections. My Editing Self requires me to question too early the value of a scene rather than trust that it is there for a reason. And it insists that I get caught up in the intricacies of vocabulary and sentence structure instead of concentrating on the broader sweep of theme and story and character. For me the writing process is predominantly intuitive and I follow my nose, allowing one scene to dictate the next, one character’s actions and reactions to lead the plot and a theme to emerge and then weave its way through the story I discover along the way. Continue reading →
“An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”
The ideas that come to each of us do so for three reasons. Firstly, we are listening. Philip Pullman said, ‘I don’t know where my ideas come from, but I know where they come to. They come to my desk, and if I’m not there, they go away again.’ My ideas are rarely this polite. Instead they arrive at their own convenience, demanding to be heard and threatening to leave if they are ignored or treated badly. So if we are to capture ideas we must be there, waiting to receive them with gratitude and accept the responsibility for their maturation.
Secondly, we are the one person who can bring that particular idea to fruition at that particular time. In his book, Dreamgates, Robert Moss tells us that according to the Australian Aborigines, ‘the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush.’ Each of us has a unique combination of experience and skills, of themes that resonate within us and dreams that draw us onwards and inwards. The ideas that come to us do so because somewhere in the fusion of all that makes up our selves, lies the possibility of creating something harmonious that speaks beyond our limitations. A big story. Continue reading →
‘I do not plan my fiction any more than I normally plan woodland walks; I follow the path that seems most promising at any given point, not some itinerary decided before entry.’
Recently I’ve found myself immersed in discussions about the pros and cons of planning a novel before embarking on the writing of it. These days there are endless numbers of story planning tools, maps, checklists and even software designed to help us plan our stories. Many of these tools are no doubt very useful and I know a few writers who swear by them. People write in different ways, according to their character and preference. Some write haphazardly with no story in mind, then cut and paste, creating links between sections until a story emerges. Some plan everything before sitting down to actually write a story, mapping out chapters and scenes, character traits and biographies. Others plan very little and simply trust the process. There are dangers and rewards in each of these approaches. Too much knowledge of a story can set the boundaries so tightly its natural growth becomes restricted. Too little and the story might never be found.
‘Of course, the writer can impose control; It’s just a really shitty idea. Writing controlled fiction is called “plotting.” Buckling your seatbelt and letting the story take over, however… that is called “storytelling.” Storytelling is as natural as breathing; plotting is the literary version of artificial respiration.’