Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Facing the blank page. Again.

Yes ... it's time to face the blank page again. I have a new book to write. A new deadline and the inevitable feelings of panic, fear and misery until that first draft is done.

It's at the very beginning of a book when I feel most alone. It's when I measure myself up against all those other writers out there feverishly zipping out thousands of words a day. It's when I stare at the blank page (or screen) and wish I hadn't chosen this profession. With each book I write, I promise I'll start early but I never do. I always seem to cut things close to the wire.

There was a friend of my mother's–now long dead—who wrote for a slew of popular British television shows during the 1970s. His wife divorced him. She couldn't stand the weekly stress of whether he would make his deadline. He'd be happy as a clam all day Sunday (the day after the Saturday shoot wrapped). He'd lounge around drinking and catching up with friends on Monday and Tuesday. By Wednesday he'd start getting a little agitated. By Thursday his mood had darkened and he still hadn't written a word. When Friday came around—he was suicidal because the show was shot every Saturday and that was when he got cracking. He never missed a deadline. That was his process. Pure torture.

I know that when I finally get going, the words will come—they'll come out kicking and screaming, but they will still come because they have to.

What I find really helpful is the "Pyramid on Point" method created by MWA University instructor, Jess Lourey. Here is a quick recap.

1. Summarize your novel in one sentence (the point on the pyramid). This is what your book is about.
2. Expand the one-sentence summary into a full paragraph including obstacles and definitely how the book ends.
3. Invite your characters—flesh each one out focusing on what they stand to lose, what they want more than anything in the world. I like to give each of mine a secret. I also like to know what I'd find in their trash bin.
4. Play around with your setting—this could be gathering images for a vision board.
5. Develop each sentence in your paragraph (step 2) into a full page description. Add in sounds, smells and details.
6. Roughly outline the novel. There are always two schools of thought on this subject. Are you an outliner or a pantser (as in seat-of-the-pants). I do both. I roughly block out my chapters until about midway through. I know my ending but that large gap in between is revealed by my characters. I want to leave room for surprises.
7. Write it.

Other tools I use are mind-mapping and Scrivener's cork board feature. Basically that's using old-fashioned index cards but on a computer screen. What I love about the cork board is that you can also print out the "index cards" as a continuous document, too. I like to work with paper so I can scribble notes everywhere and plaster it with Post-its. But the secret to writing a book is to show up at the page every single day.

I'd better get cracking.


VG said...

Its a very good post. I was very pleased to find this site.

Charlotte Hinger said...

My "method" is beyond weird. But it IS mine and it sort of works. Too long to go into here, but wanted you to know I agree whole heartedly that the important thing is to start. Period. Or full stop as friends across the pond would say.

Hannah Dennison said...

VG - thanks for stopping by! Glad it was helpful.

Charlotte - I would love to hear your method - would you mind emailing me when you've got a second?

j welling said...

Nice - enjoyed this.

I have organically come to this method and find it crucially important for the clarification of what I am doing and where the story should go. I tend to be a little more fast and loose with characters but this sort of process works well.

An outline does not work as well for me as a essay outlining the story I am attempting to tell. I like outlines; but, I need more material text.

I'm glad to see it here as a type of validation that my analytically approach isn't too weird. Having a chapter of solid direction has put off a couple of folks I know who follow a zen-like "flow of consciousness" belief in the craft.

I cannot "flow" without thought and preparation.

I need my notes to work well and refine my thinking. Glad there is a club. Maybe I can get a blazer sometime.

Lovely. Thanks.