Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Knowing Your Style

Over at Write Anything a new writing meme has been posted, and Janie has asked for readers to respond on their own blogs, and post a link back. The meme itself was started by Becca at Write on Wednesday. What a wonderful way for me to break my five day writing drought ....

1. Do you write fiction or non-fiction? Or both?

Both! My first love is fiction, because your characters invite you to share in their world. It was also the first sort of writing I ever did. Non fiction writing is a little soul destroying I’ve decided after completing the reclaim sex after birth project. When you write non fiction, there is research often to sift through and synthesise, no one whispers secrets into your ear, or gives you the next plot development, it’s all up to you to bring it all together. Unless you write about something you know really well, or you’re incredibly passionate about, non fiction writing can be a little bland when stood next to fiction writing. I remain committed to writing non fiction though, to try and address the imbalance in the information that is available to women on a range of topics, and I guess to indulge that part of me that likes to educate and fuse ideas with information. It’s also a good balance for fiction writing.

2. Do you keep a journal or a writing notebook?
I keep a little note book with me to scribble ideas in (which I’ve normally left behind on my desk or on Annie’s table when I make the commitment to put it in the book) I try and file my ideas away in my head, hoping they will be there when I need them. I write morning pages, as per Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, every morning (well almost every morning) which doubles as a creative and personal purge point, as well as a personal marker of events.

My blog also tends, as Paul said, to function as a journal. I look back and can see the definite trends in what I’ve written and the subjects. I gifted myself a new blog for the last eclipse phase – but have yet to really give it a work out. I’m hoping it will be more of a creative journal.

3. If you write fiction, do you know your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts before you start writing or is that something else you discover only after you start writing? Do you find books on plotting useful or harmful?
I’ve never read a book on plotting – it seems like would be a rather mechanical and contrived thing for me to do. I believe that some goals, motivations and conflicts are revealed to you in the beginning (after all you have to start with something) and that as you go along other bits and pieces come into your consciousness.

For example: when I wrote Evie I had always intended for Sarah-Jane’s mother to be the villain, after all, she’s a woman who contrives to go and steal another woman’s baby. I knew what her motivations where to bring her to that point, the conflicts in her life. What I didn’t count on however was Sarah-Jane’s attitude to it all, and how one young woman’s words could transform the act of stealing a child into something almost any woman could empathise with. The definitely came from left of centre.

Another example is the Captain Juan epic. All I ever knew was the Ruby wanted to steal something from her husband and be free of him. I never thought in a million years I could begin to weave the plot lines of others into a semi coherent form in my head. While we do occasionally have a little plot setting succession of emails, just to make sure everyone is vaguely on the same page – anything can happen, and generally does. I imagine the Captain Juan, like any other story, would suffer from being plotted to death.

4. Are you a procrastinator or does the itch to write keep at you until you sit down and work?
Lately I have been giving in to the itch to write. I used writing to procrastinate from cleaning my house. This was definitely the case last week when I re-wrote Evie. I think rather than being a procrastinator, I’m a bit of a time thief, in the sense that I don’t budget and use my time very well … and in doing so I don’t cut out sections of time to write, and as a consequence my writing is suffering at the moment. You can only plot so far in your head before you need to sit down and have a good purge.

I remember poignantly the very first day that Dylan had a whole day at kindy this year – the house was quiet, my desk was tidy, the house was clean and when I opened up my laptop, I went blank! The perfect setting, and I couldn’t write. It’s a good thing that most of my life is made up with imperfect moments.

5. Do you write in short bursts of creative energy, or can you sit down and write for hours at a time?
I guess I’ve had to learn to be a short bursts writer – as motherhood only affords you soundbites of time and you have to make the best of them. When I am deep in a story, I could write for hours and hours – NaNo last year attested to that. While I would ideally like to be able to do that, you have to function as a writer in the real world, and for me that means continual interruptions, less than salubrious environs for writing and often writing when I’m very tired (either from having woken early or trying to write late at night)

6. Are you a morning or afternoon writer?
My body clock is so screwed at now that I don’t know if I’m a morning person, an afternoon person or a night person. I would say that I used to be a night person, and I guess I still do lots of writing at night, but I’m not sure if I am my most productive then (even if its quiet and there generally are no interruptions) I think I have to concede defeat now and say that I write best in the late morning and early afternoon … which only works five days a fortnight!!

I’ve come to learn that any time is a good time to write … being precious about the perfect everything when it comes to writing, is the death knoll of writing anything.

7. Do you write with music/the noise of children/in a cafe or other public setting, or do you need complete silence to concentrate?
I love to write to music – especially if I am trying to evoke a certain feeling or atmosphere in my writing. My most poignant memory of this is writing a short story called ‘Hail Mary’ where I had the soundtrack of ‘In the Name of the Father’, as my story was set at the same time as the movie, and involved an IRA sympathiser. It also helps to drown out the noise around me.

But yes, I can write with the sound of children ‘playing’ in the background or in the cafĂ©. Without harping on the same theme over and over again – I’ve learnt to make do. At the moment I’m writing with Tarzan in the background, but my favourite music is Snow Patrol and I’ve been dabbling back in a little Cat Empire and Mia Dyson which were the soundtracks to NaNo last year.

8. Computer or longhand? (or typewriter?)
Computer! I’m attached at the hip to my laptop. I find it difficult to keep up long hand with my run away mind. Though I do remember in the early 90’s when I was crossing over from long hand and into typing that I really struggled to make the creative connection. Thankfully now I am able to type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts … and well the conversations of my characters.

9. Do you know the ending before you type Chapter One? Or do you let the story evolve as you write?
When I began NaNo last year, Chapter One was actually the first part of the final chapter. I wasn’t sure where to start, as opposed to where to end, so I opened the book with an interview. I knew who my character was going to end up with by novels end (and of course never actually go there) but I had no idea what was going to happen between.

When it comes to short stories, I have a general idea I guess, but there’s always twists and turns that you don’t expect. When I do definitively know how it I going to end, there’s always a concern in me that the story comes across stilted. This was my worry when I wrote 24.

10. Does what’s selling in the market influence how and what you write?
No – not really. I find that what I am reading at the time often influences the way I write, or at the very least the way I think about writing. I don’t think that I’ve read anything on the current bestseller list for years (if ever?)

I get annoyed and often a little spiteful about the market influence towards established authors or the endless succession of biographies of sports persons and celebrities .. and the fact that first time writers very rarely get a see in because of this trend.

11. Editing/Revision - love it or hate it?
Had I answered this question last week – I would have said dread it, hate it, absolutely in mortal fear of it – telling myself that you can live without it!

I was an editor for three years so I guess in some respects I do love the editing aspect, but the editorial love is usually reserved for the work of others. I’ve been living with this delusion that I can churn out the perfect story with next to no revisions or alterations. Last week taught me an important lesson about that. A good story can become a great story, even a brilliant story when the author approaches their work with a detached tenacity and a lack of preciousness when they come back to revise. You learn that you are able to you sift through the bits that are good and make them great, and jettison the bits that are just hanging on. Editing is best done in the cold – that is, once the story has cooled and you can look at it objectively.

Having said that, every writer (and especially us bloggers) need to maintain the practise of giving our work a basic perusal for minor spelling and grammatical mistakes before we hit publish.

Editing/revision far more time consuming, and in some respects less rewarding in the short term, than writing. But I believe it’s an aspect of writing that you’ve got to embrace, even begrudgingly. And like everyone – you do need a good third party editor. All writers need someone who can look dispassionately at a piece of writing and point out what works, what doesn’t work and give you some suggestions for making it work. And I do believe, that taking the time to critique and edit the work of others, does improve your writing and your own skills for self editing.

Can you be both an editor and a writer? I’ll get back to you on that!


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