Friday, May 29, 2009

Timing is... Everything

Announcements! We have announcements!

First of all we are all so proud of our own Sharon K. Souza. Her wonderful, provocative book, Lying on Sunday, is a finalist in the RWA Inspirational Readers Choice Contest. Winners will be announced in July and we are certainly pulling for her –because this excellent book deserves it!

Another announcement is of our latest winner here on Novel Matters. Our first-time poster, Elizabeth McKenzie, has won two copies of Zora and Nicky by Claudia Mair Burney (one for you and one for a friend) – compliments of Cook Communications. Elizabeth, come on down! Or better yet, send your snail mail address to us and we’ll send them off to you posthaste. Or media mail☺

Today’s topic is timing. Not comedic timing. Not the little belt on your car’s engine that gives out to the tune of thousands of dollars in repair bills. Not labor pain timing (though it often feels like that.) I’m speaking of how to pick up writing after you’ve been interrupted.

Now, up until recently that has never been an issue for me. All twelve of my nonfiction books, and hundreds of magazine articles, were written from 3x5 cards that I arranged in logical order. It was a system that worked perfectly for me. If a child screamed bloody murder out in the yard, I could attend to that emergency and all its circumstantial tendrils (‘oo killed ‘oo; the overboiling pot on the stove, the escaping cat, the leaking diaper and on and on) – and come back to my desk and know exactly what should come next.

But ah, fiction….

I absolutely must have extensive, uninterrupted blocks of time to first travel to, and then reside in, a fictional world. I can’t write a novel in short spurts.

The absolute worst writing advice I ever acted on was that of an unnamed woman who said that the best way to resume her writing when she had to take a break was to stop in mid-sentence. She said that helped her get going for the next writing session.

I remember doing that. Trouble is, I had no idea where I was going with the half-thought on the screen the next morning. I spent half a day trying to figure out what the heck I must have been thinking. I could have strangled that woman.

How about you? What’s the worst advice you ever got regarding how to keep the flow going?


Stace said...

Worst advice? Same as yours, only less specific: "Stop when you know what is going to happen next."

Tried it once and lost what had seemed to be the perfect next step. It was three days before I could get back to it and Life had erased it. Still wonder what that could have been . . .

Working on a review for Latter-Day Cipher. LOVED it! Can't say more without poisoning the well for the reviews, but I'll send links along when they are up.

Nichole Osborn said...

I also recieved the "stop in mid sentence advice" It just doesn't work for me. I will be teaching a creative writing class for jr and sr high for our homeschool co-op next fall. The book I'll be referenceing from gives this same advice. It must work for some, just not for us.

Patti Hill said...

Nichole, you've hit the problem on the head--you can't broadcast cast-in-concrete rules about writing. We are different. Our creativity works differently. We have to take the circuitous route and experiment with how our creative, storytelling minds work, and then, smile politely when someone offers you a rule.

The worst advice I tried was writing as fast as I could to get the flow of the story on the page. When it came time to revise, I nearly choked on the panic of all that sloppy story stuff staring me in the face.

For me, getting the flow of the story is a deliberate, painstakenly slow process of research, outlining, and writing a detailed synopsis. It's tedious but I haven't found a better way to discover holes in the story before I start writing. I guess my creative brain would rather get as much right as possible up front than clean up a literary mess later. And others write brilliantly this way. I'm a little jealous.

Great topic, Latayne!

Anonymous said...

Latayne, Stace and Nichole, I have to laugh, because I took the same advice with the same results. I spent more time trying to remember where I was going with my unfinished sentence than if I'd completed the sentence and allowed my mind to work on the next scene. I've done that with my own note-taking, jotting down half-completed thoughts, thinking surely I'll remember ... but I've learned that our flashes of inspiration are just that ... flashes that are almost impossible to recapture.

Patti, so true. If there's one rule to writing, it's that there are no rules. We all have to find the method that works for us. I need to have my work as polished as I can get it AS I WRITE. I can't come back and flesh out a skeleton of a manuscript. It just doesn't work for me. That's why I dislike the editing process. But because of the way I write, I've had to do very little editing on either of my books. And that's what I aim for.

We look forward to hearing more of your experiences.

Steena Holmes said...

Whoever said to stop mid-sentence must not have had their morning coffee yet. They clearly were not thinking with a clear head that day!
I agree that I need uninterrupted time, which I don't get at home with 3 kids. So I write at work - amazingly having the phone ring doesn't bother me. But ... it is hard to come back to a scene when I've had to take a 30 min break or so from my writing (imagine the audacity of work intruding upon my writing time!)

Great post! Thank you

Connie Brzowski said...

No, I can't stop mid-sentence either. But the worst advice consisted of something along the lines of 'sit down and write from the beginning all the way through to the end, chapter by chapter.'

My brain thinks in wholes. When I start out, I've got a flower bud-- all closed up tight but all the parts are there. There's beginning, middle, end. I have to write whatever's on top first (usually, the most intense scene) then go back and write the beginning, then the ending. That's usually 20K words.

After that, it's a matter of reading back through and opening things up, adding scenes here and there.

Sometimes I think folks forget brains are all wired up different. One reason I love James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure so much is the way he gives tons of good ideas for each topic rather than a one-size-fits-all method.

Kathleen Popa said...

Like Sharon, I edit as I write. Somehow the flow and feel of the paragraphs seems to affect where the story actually goes. Please don't ask me to explain that.

I can stop mid-sentence, then come back the next day and finish it just fine. But I haven't noticed that it helps much. I still halt at the same spot I would have halted the day before, and wonder what happens next.

The best advice I can give is to know your characters very, very well before you begin. When they start talking to you on a regular basis, when they start interrupting the conversations you have with real people, you're ready to write.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

In a perfect world, I would be able to complete a scene in one sitting, but sometimes I have to leave it in the middle, take a hasty shower, put on some slightly wrinkled clothes from the pile on my ironing board and go to my day job. (I wait until the last possible minute!) I have learned to jot down the direction it is supposed to go and I carry it in my head all day until I can get back to it. Sometimes it incubates during the day - or maybe it ferments... Anyway, I agree with you ladies that it's not great advice.

LeAnne Hardy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LeAnne Hardy said...

Thank you, Connie. I have been feeling guilty because I can't seem to just get it all down as I have been told I am supposed to. I keep discovering new things that should have been hinted in the beginning and going back to put them in instead of pressing onward. I promise to stop feeling guilty and get on with it in my own way.

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

I usually edit the scene as I write it. But I find it hard to pick up in the middle of an unfinished scene. I'm always amazed at how much richer a near completed scene becomes when left for a few days. Congrats to Sharon on being named a finalist in the ICRS. Pat

Unknown said...

Thank you, everyone! I thought I had a defective author gene because I couldn't pick up in the middle of a sentence or thought. You all made me feel a lot better.

Also -- Stace -- I can't wait to see your review! Be sure and post here to let everyone know where to find it.

Writing, writing, writing....