About Me

My photo
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.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Cloths of Heaven

A synopsis and purchasing information on the novel that inspired this blog

Digging Deep

It’s all too easy to want to hasten the process and just get on with the actual novel, and I am sure there are plenty of novelists who are capable of doing so, but I would strongly recommend that a novice novelist take the time to do a chapter breakdown. The chapter breakdown will serve more than one purpose. Not only will it give more clarity to your initial inspiration, but it will also be a valuable aid in letting your characters evolve. And even more importantly, by going through the mechanics of a chapter breakdown, you will be able to see if there’s enough ‘meat on the bones’ of your plot. If at this stage the plot cannot be padded out into about fifteen chapters, then there’s not enough story to grow into a novel.
Given that you do have a fifteen-chapter story, then the breakdown will be an invaluable aid in your writing of the novel-in-progress. On those dull days when you feel overwhelmed by this project the chapter breakdown will do just that – break it down into manageable parts. It will also be your guide, and keep your mind clear and your thoughts directed. It will serve as a map and hold your focus. If you have chosen a less traditional novel form, one without the constraints of chronology, geography or historical context, then using the chapter breakdown will be your structure. I don’t know whether Michael Ondaatje used a chapter breakdown when writing "The English Patient," but I do know that were I to write such a complex novel, then I would definitely take the time to map out the story in this form.
There are novelists who shy away from a chapter breakdown, believing it will take the spontaneity out of their writing, and prevent the plot from developing and the characters to unfold naturally. And certainly I would agree with this opinion, if you choose to stick to the initial chapter breakdown as though it was written in blood. But if you give yourself the freedom to change and adapt, or swap chapters around, or re-write a whole section, then no, this need not be the case. Then the advantages then outweigh the disadvantages.
And now, with the chapter breakdown completed the first hurdle to your novel presents itself in the form of the OPENING SENTENCE. I have a rather simplistic solution to this – just write whatever comes into your head in order to get the story going. You can always change it at a later stage, even when the first draft is completed. At that stage the story will have grown into its own style and tone and chances are that even if you’d struggled for weeks on that elusive first sentence, you’d want to change it now, anyway! So spare yourself the headache.
I mentioned the word momentum earlier in the article. Now that you’ve written that first word, put that first, virgin idea onto paper (or your word processor), make an appointment with yourself in the same way you would with a colleague, friend or family member, that you will sit in your writing chair at a certain time every day or week. Inspired or not, you will write something. By making this appointment you are creating momentum.
Eventually writing will become as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth. The novel will inhabit your thoughts. The plot will unfold; the characters will talk to you. The novel will live, become real, tangible almost. And who cares if you fail to get it word perfect first time. Just go with the flow. Enjoy the ride. Remember that this is a first draft, and it can always be adapted and improved. A blank page is just a blank page!
When you reach a point where you miss the writing if you break that appointment, when you feel restless when not writing, when you don’t break that appointment because ‘something else’ comes up, you know you are a true writer. You know you have committed to this project.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Let it go

Letting go!

Just as editing can be a painful process, so too, is the following step. If you thought all the other steps that go into the creation of a novel were difficult, then don’t underestimate the emotional strain involved in letting go of the novel once it has been written.

It’s funny, you know, but true in almost all cases, that when you undertake the writing of a work of fiction, you go through various levels of confidence and self-belief, counterbalanced by deep periods of lack of confidence and a conviction that you’re useless. None the less, if you have reached this stage, you have obviously plodded along, using the memory of the high points to carry you over the times when the novel in progress has threatened to overwhelm you and drive you to give up.

You didn’t give up. You reached The End, and now you’ve edited, keeping any particularly wonderful passages that didn’t fit the story, but were too beautiful to toss onto a garbage heap. So what now? Straight into an envelop with a letter to a publisher waxing lyrical on your talents? I don’t think so!

I haven’t talked about writing groups here as I was more concerned with you, the writer, building healthy writing habits. The process as I developed it is relevant regardless of whether you write the novel without ever sharing your work in progress with others or alternatively, while participating in a group where your work is read, or at least discussed with other like minded people. The merits or otherwise of such groups will be discussed in another article.

Right now, you’re sitting with a manuscript that you have edited to the best of your ability, using your skills as both reader and writer. But never underestimate the power of your emotional attachment to this work; never underestimate the subconscious powers within your own spirit that might prevent you from honing in on the best and worst aspects of this work of fiction. Don’t imagine that one more read, one more skim over the text will bring to light the weaknesses in the text, or plot or character development. You do not have the detachment necessary to assess this work impartially and that is no slur on your abilities. It is a simple fact. You have put heart and soul and a lot of hours into this work. Following the process as described within this topic, you have come jumped psychological and emotional hurdles to achieve this end, so don’t expect to sanguinely trim it down and perfect it all on your own.

Sit back, relax, and let yourself take one or two mental steps back from your work. Allow yourself to let go. Experience the insecurity, own it, and integrate it, so that you clear the way for ‘going public’ with your work. Just as the voices in your head whispered in your ear that you were not capable of even getting this far, so they will scream at you now to hide this novel in a drawer somewhere, because it’s all rubbish. Use the same techniques now as you employed then to overcome this tidal wave of nerves and prepare to hand this manuscript over. Imagine it being read by someone else and then visualise who that someone else is. Preferably two or three someone elses. Then ask these other people, readers you know have the courage to criticise as well as praise, to read your work, and give you the necessary feedback. Be emphatic about needing ‘negative’ as well as ‘positive’ feedback. Insist that you want to hear it all, because you know this is the only way to trim this story into shape and make it the best it can be.

When I was writing The Cloths of Heaven I was involved in a writing group, and had presented the chapters on a regular basis to my group (a small one consisting of three members, including myself), so grammatically I had done the necessary editing en route. When the first draft was completed, I did my own fine tuning and then asked my group to read the entire manuscript again. But, in order to get an overall view, I asked others to read it too, not writers, just readers, and readers who were prepared to criticise. That way I would receive a well-rounded idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the novel.

Then I busied myself with all those tasks that had piled up, waiting to be done, while my novel was being written. Do anything that takes your mind off the novel for a while, and be patient while your trusted readers do their job.