Monday, March 5, 2012
The Way We Write
I had an interesting conversation with a very talented writer friend named Martin Reaves who told me about his latest WIP. The idea came to him on a long drive, and by the time he was pulling into his driveway, he'd visualized fully fleshed out characters and scenes and had a good sense of the direction the story was headed. That was over a week ago. He continues to work on the story in his head, but hesitates to write it down. Once it's on paper, he feels he will be committed, that to take control prematurely before the story has completed its gestation will somehow interfere with its development. He prefers to fly by the seat of his pants for the first draft. Eventually, he will get around to writing it down.
My hat is off to Martin. The problem for me is that I could never entrust a project this large to memory. I don't start writing until I know the characters somewhat and 'hear' their voices, but I begin making copious notes from the time the idea first takes root. Names, faces clipped from magazines, makeshift timelines, snippets of dialogue all go into a journal, otherwise, it's gone. As for the ideas that come to me in the shower, I chant them like a mantra until I can get out and locate a scrap of paper to write on. Patti told me of finding shower crayons which she uses for that purpose, and I may have to seriously consider that option.
I feel the same way about opening lines. Much thought goes into that most valuable opportunity to snag a reader, and once it's on paper, I don't often change it. That doesn't mean I've never reworded one, but the only times I've changed it altogether were when I decided to begin at a different place in the story. Setting the opening line, to me, is when the story takes breath and I don't mess with it.
I've also learned not to 'talk out' my story ideas, but to play my cards close to the vest while getting down my rough draft. To do otherwise is to invite failure. Once a story idea is exposed to the air, it will whither like a vampire at sun up. In a weird way, the story is already 'told' and the urgency and gratification of writing it down is gone.
Sometimes I find 'hotspots' of creativity. Just like cellphone coverage, they cut in and out. A coffee shop on a busy morning can be a great conductor of fresh ideas IF I have earphones and classical music to cancel out the noise but can still absorb the energy produced by the activity around me. I'm not sure why this works, but it often does.
Something that has never changed is that the exhilaration of beginning the next story always gives way to the hard, hard work of finishing it. Even with notes, timelines, summaries and character charts, holding the complicated threads of plot for a 100k book takes deftness and concentration so the cats cradle doesn't snag into a huge knot.
There are as many ways to write as there writers, and everyone has their tricks. What are yours? We'd love to hear!