About Me

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I still feel like a teenager on the inside, unfortunately my children do remind me how old I am!! I have lived for 20+ years as an Irish expat in The Netherlands. My favourite city here has to be Amsterdam.

Writing, reading, authentic living. It's all here at The Writing Process

Welcome to my blog. Let me start by telling you that I love writing. I love the sense of vitality it gives me. I love that it helps me to make sense of the world and to the people in it. I love that it helps me become wiser, more intuitive, empathic, and most of all autonomous.

All aspects - reading, writing and observing - are what make the process complete. The essence is storytelling, and learning about
life and yourself.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Journey

By now you’ve moved on from the struggle of those early chapters and bravely allowed yourself to be taken on the writing journey. Your synopsis, and your original novel idea, as well as your carefully constructed chapter summary and breakdown, though still generally relevant, have had to move over and take second place to something else. You, too, have had to realise that if this novel, this piece of fiction is going to have any relevance and significance, that you will have to open your mind and your heart to the voices of the characters that you initially created and named. To build on the metaphores of the earlier articles, the embryo, has grown into a living being, and even before it is born, is beginning to show signs of individuality. Any pregnant woman will tell you how unpredictable the baby she is carrying is. That baby kicks when it chooses, turns when it chooses, causes discomfort when it chooses. More than that, it will not be dictated to, or be forced into doing what it doesn’t want. How many times did I want my baby to kick for the benefit of an enthusiastic observer? How often did I, and my companion, stare in vain at my protruding stomach, waiting for a sign of life? Even prenatal, the baby had a mind of its own.
And so it is with this novel you are writing. Having decided that the characters have minds of their own, and motivations that are deeper than you initially expected, you cannot force them to act or speak in ways that just don’t suit. And the beauty of it all is, that once you truly accept this, and surrender to the characters you named and put onto paper, the deeper joy of writing fiction can really begin.
When I embark upon a new project, I do so because I am drawn by the subject matter and the effect I suppose it has on people or groups of people. But having written several novels, I am now conscious of my own need to learn, and to better understand the mechanisms of behaviour and society.
In the first section of the novel, we built the foundations; we used our structure to get our story off the ground. This, the journey, is the middle section of the novel; this is the place where the novel is a journey of discovery, not only for the reader, but for the writer too. This is where the plot unfolds, the characters, deepen, and where we, as writers are lifted into a higher level of consciousness, that at times is exciting, and at times, frightening. This is the place where writers talk about ‘the guidance of the muse’. This is about surrendering the ego, being humble enough to know you don’t know everything. This is about trusting the process.
At this point in the novel it might be a good idea to write in a stream of consciousness fashion. Allow yourself an overdose of free association, and ask yourself ‘what if’ and see what answers come to mind. Some writers will filter the answers, analyse them, and already have edited them before putting them into the story. You don’t have to do this. At this stage, and especially as a novice novelist, be as wordy as you like. Write it all, every syllable. You can always edit later.
Fay Weldon, of ‘She Devil’ fame, is a great believer in this type of writing. She says, (I paraphrase) that the first draft of her novel is full of ideas – right brain work. She only allows the left brain to take over after she has reached the end. To allow yourself to edit and censor as you go along, is to deny yourself a large part of your creativity. You can always trim a story, tighten it up, but when you’ve reached the end of a novel, it is much harder to pad it out, and deepen it in retrospect.
Perhaps when you’ve written more, you can become more discerning, but do not filter out or scrap ideas because you see them as having no value, or being silly. You know the kind of ideas I mean. They spring to mind, only to be followed by a ‘don’t be daft’ whisper from one of those internal voices.
When I wrote The Cloths of Heaven, I had my doubts about my priest, and his motivations, and several times I thought of NOT writing him the way I did. No one would believe it, I thought. What a scandal, to say such things about a priest. And so on, and so on. But I had to move beyond this, I had to continue trusting ‘the muse’. Now, after publication of my novel, with my less than palatable priest, a scandal has broken in Ireland - about priests and their unholy fondness for children. I know now, that ‘my muse’ knew what it was doing, and I am glad I listened, and somehow had the courage to write the priest in an unpleasant situation.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

This one from Joel Huan, food for thought

When I was younger, I listened to my head. For one who was about to enter university, the best courses are those that give me great job prospect, so said all my classmates. So I took commerce, with major in accounting, business administration, law. But when I graduated and worked as an accountant, an ACA, I found it boring, a distaste. In my spare time, I began writing a novel, a pretty experimental project for myself, simply because I have no formal training in writing or literature. Somehow at work, my heart took over, beating with my subconscious emotions, and soon I found myself started more writing, moonlighting. My accounting profession suffered (never proceed to CA), as I didn't go for my regular ongoing courses that is required by members of that profession. I enjoyed my research and writing. Novel writing doesn't pay, but my heart was pumping, loudly, clearly. Few years later, and in trying to get an established publisher, I got rejected by all agents. Looking back, it was good, because it enabled me to keep polishing my plot, characterization. I belonged to two large critique groups (plus a few smaller ones). And I kept ploughing away. While members of my accounting profession would be doing more socials and networking to further their careers, I was alone working on my writing. Now my novel is published. It took me ten years for this novel to be born, and I thoroughly enjoy this process. Although Barnes&Noble and Amazon are selling at their sites, I'm also offering it free online, suppressing the logic of my head lol.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Turning Point

The ‘writing’ habit has formed. We still the unwanted voices in our head with journalising; we have our synopsis, character sketches, chapter breakdown; we plan our writing day into our diary, just like any other appointments. On a therapeutic level, we are recognising our own driving emotions, and those that get in our way, and we are dealing with them. As writers our empathic capabilities are growing, and our characters are deepening, their motivations becoming more complex, and yet paradoxically more logical.
Before long we will have reached the middle of the novel, and BLANK, it all dries up. The next chapter just doesn’t make sense any more. It is at this point, (for me at around chapter 3 or 4) that many writers will, after struggling and failing to write that next chapter, just toss the unfinished manuscript aside. Others will by some feat of willpower, manage to write the next chapter, as laid out in their chapter breakdown, and continue writing this novel, but with an ever diminishing sense of achievement, only to finish the novel, knowing that it is only mediocre. It has turned out to be a much blander story than that original, brilliant vision. The characters, initially so full of potential have faded into two dimensional banality, carrying out their assigned tasks with little vitality or originality.
What has happened? Quite simply, at a point in the novel where the characters are on the verge of truly coming to life, the writer has imposed his will upon these unfolding individuals, and denied them their authenticity. The writer, afraid himself of taking the plunge, chooses to box his characters in and try to tame them. These futile attempts will either kill the story, or make it at the very least superficial. The characters will lose their credibility. Because we as writers hold on to the belief that we are in charge and that the characters, invented by us, brought to life by us, can do only that which we tell them to do, we rob ourselves of the greatest gift of all. We rob ourselves of an opportunity to truly create.
Despite journalising and owning our emotions we can still sabotage our writing. By not wholly believing in the organic growth process that our writing can go through we will never move on from the mediocre to the original and maybe even genial.
A truly wonderful writer, one that inspires and touches his reader, must first trust the power of creation. He must, figuratively, hold the pen in his hand and let the muse take over.
So there you are, at chapter three, your literary crossroads. Whether you are truly conscious of it or not, three choices await you. Do you give in to the despair and the frustration and just quit? Do you, ignoring all the previous steps, force your will upon the story and the characters, and mechanically ‘get this story over and done with’? Or do you take a huge leap of faith, and accept the greatest gift that writing can offer you and allow your characters to come to life?
When I was finally able to go for the last of these, it was as if all the lights went on. Being able to let go of my original notions of who my characters were, and how they would react in any given situation, was exhilarating. What had until then been an unnameable driver in my writing, now became clear. I too wanted and needed to learn more about human nature. I too wanted and needed to understand behaviour. My initial driver – my need to tell others what I had already discovered – was now strengthened by my desire to take the journey with my reader.
But as I discussed in detail in my other articles, I am not going to be able to ‘let go’ and enjoy the characters I have created unless I have owned the wide spectrum of emotions that make up my own personality, unless I am comfortable with these emotions. My fear will prevent me.
You might think that this is all far removed from what we think are the difficulties and challenges we will encounter when we choose to write, but I truly believe that great writing comes, not from knowing the grammatical constructions, and having the vocabulary to tell a story. For me, great writing comes from the heart, the soul even.
Fiction cannot exist without ‘characterisation’. Not true you might think, but have you ever read a book where there is no characterisation? Great writing dares to take the plunge into the depths of human nature. Or as in Watership Down or Animal Farm, into the depths of animal nature. And I am sure there are stories with inanimate objects as focal point. But they are still driven by characterisation. We either use people in our stories, or we assign human characteristics to whatever we choose as focal point in our fiction.
The only course of action, when you reach this ‘turning point’ in your story, is to be patient and courageous. Continue to dig deep into your own emotional makeup using the tools we mentioned in earlier articles. Now it is more important to wait for the truth of the character to emerge, rather than forcing it to fit into a preconceived mould.
It is not the plot that is in danger at this stage. It is not even the closing sentence or the concluding scene. It is how you get there. And the first hurdle (or opportunity for new vision) to getting there is whether or not you allow your characters to truly come to life.
Don’t now jump in and try to rewrite all the subsequent chapters in the light of your new discoveries. Choose now to ‘go with the flow’ for a couple of chapters. Use them as a ‘loose’ guideline, but enjoy the journey. Enjoy the discovery.