This weekend I have absconded down to Phillip Island for a four-day writing and relaxation retreat. I always find I get a lot done down here, where the sea laps at our doorstep (almost) and all the household cares recede into the background. There is food, there is wine, there is usually chocolate — all the ingredients necessary for a period of productivity.
It is even better when I have writerly company, as I do this weekend, since contrary to what one might think this enhances my discipline. There is simply less skiving off when others might be impacted! We help keep each other motivated. Every minute of the day (that is not spent walking along the beach into Cowes for breakfast or supplies) is utilised by either writing or discussing related topics.
We have a big first-floor deck, with a view across the treetops of Western Port Bay, and there is nothing better than sitting out there with a laptop and a G&T (or glass of red). Something to look forward to tomorrow . . . and the next day . . . and the next.
I am reading a fantasy trilogy at the moment with rather a different structure than normal. I don’t think it all quite works, but one aspect of it I am finding particularly intriguing.
The first book opens with a short section (2 chapters) from the point of view of a character that dies. I was stunned by this, because the section is not a prologue, and as readers we come to expect that the character a book opens with will have some bearing on the whole story; most often that character is the protagonist. Certainly as writers this rule is drummed into us.
The main part of the first book takes part around 20 years later, with one of the main characters deeply affected by the death of character A. He dreams about her a lot, and towards the end of the book, these dreams become more and more vivid . . .
Then we reach book 2, which takes us back to the death of character A, 20 years earlier, and proceeds to explain that, yes, she is dead, but instead of her soul departing, she has been transformed into a semi-immortal being, one of several who were alluded to all throughout book 1.
What I like about this is the subversion of expectation. All the signs now are that character A is going to be a major character in the second book at least. The complete shift in perspective at the beginning of book 2 also opens the reader’s eyes in a big way as to what was going on in book 1. I’m not sure yet whether we’ll get some events retold from this alternate perspective, but it’s possible.
I think this is a really clever and interesting way to structure a multi-volume fantasy epic, that is obviously going to broaden quite substantially in scope.
In order to find a better mid-week writing window amid full-time work commitments, I am trying something a little different this week. I am taking my baby computer with me into work, and writing in a cafe before I arrive in the office.
That is, I did so this morning and intend to repeat the event tomorrow. My work circumstances have recently changed, meaning that I’m in the office rather later than before. Yet in order to beat the peak-hour rush, I’ve been taking the same train and reading in a cafe over a coffee — then it occurred to me that I could write instead.
I have had some good success writing before work (at home) in the past, but that was when I started work at 9am and the office was under 4km from home. Although I maintain that I am not a morning person, it is undeniable that my mind is fresher and the words come more freely in the early hours, before my head is cluttered with work stuff.
I really like starting the day knowing I’ve already put at least some words down on the page. Utilising the mornings helps ensure that I write every day, and even improves the likelihood that I’ll continue on in the evening.
Unfortunately, the pre-work time-window is not long enough! It was hard this morning to drag myself away and into the office . . . Maybe I’ll find myself taking an even earlier train soon, just to make my efforts pay!
Just about every writer I know will endorse the philosophy of ‘write every day’. One of the primary reasons is to foster habit (especially among those of us who are holding down full-time jobs — which is most of us); another is to maintain momentum.
I am a momentum writer. Time and again I’ve demonstrated that if I lay the story aside for longer than a week or so, it takes a tremendous amount of energy and time to get back into the zone. Loss of habit is certainly a factor, but in my case it’s more about losing my handle on the emotional level of my characters. Sure, there’s a loss of general train of thought, but I usually know broadly where events are going. Problem is, it’s the characters that need to get me there, and if I’ve lost my grip on them emotionally it’s, well, impossible actually and demands copious reading back over past chapters to reestablish a connection.
So for me writing every day is ten times more effective and efficient than having good weeks and bad weeks. Not only does it mean that I am more productive during the allotted writing periods, but I am able to utilise much smaller and less convenient time-windows. For instance, I am far more likely to commence a writing session after 10pm, or utilise a half-hour slot.
Even better, when my momentum is good and I am writing every day, I am so much happier than when I’m not.
I am nearing the end of the second draft of my novel, which is the first in a fantasy series of two, possibly three novels. It’s an exciting time, because soon I will have a manuscript that will be ready for people to read. It’s also a daunting time for the very same reason. The thought of someone reading my story and passing judgement makes my stomach churn.
It’s ironic, isn’t it. We hope desperately that we will find readers who appreciate our creativity, yet until we receive the validation of publication, we live in fear that our hopes are in reality delusions. (And then there is also the scenario that many readers would enjoy reading our novels, if only we can be lucky enough to find that particular editor/publisher who believe enough to take the commercial chance.)
We writers need to have thick skins, along with oodles of self-belief. No matter how many people tell you they love your work, just as many will remain ambivalent. I’m lucky to belong to a fabulous writing group filled with writers and friends in both camps. The former help with the self-belief side of the equation, while the latter present insightful critical appraisal that — if considered objectively with said thick skin – helps shape the manuscript into something even better.
It’s true that writers must write what resonates with them personally, but there would be very little point if no-one read our creations other than ourselves. And that’s why I’m more excited than apprehensive about inviting others to read my soon-to-be-completed draft. Because until my ‘baby’ is read in its entirety by someone other than me, it hasn’t actually been born. The only way a story can live (whether commercially published or not) is in the minds of readers.
One thing impressed upon me at last year’s Worldcon (Aussiecon 4) was the importance of having a presence on the interwebs for writers. For published authors it’s all part of marketing and publicity, while for unpublished writers it’s considered an indication that one is taking the business and craft seriously — another form of marketing I guess.
I have been blogging anonymously about writing and other things (including travel, books, cinema and anything else that takes my fancy) for several years. Today, in the spirit of my new year’s resolution that this year writing comes first, I hereby inaugurate a new blog in my own name dedicated to my writing life.
I’m intending to explore the whole writing process in more depth than I have been doing on my other blog, which has readers who I can only assume are not interested in the intricacies of such issues as characterisation and point of view. I don’t know whether this new blog will be interesting for other writers — I hope it will be. The only thing I can be sure of is that it will document my journey towards finishing a novel I’ve been working on for a while now, while helping me to believe in myself as a writer. This is the year when I’m going to be brave.