Thursday, April 16, 2009

thoughts on writing

It's Thursday, so Debby's chiming in.
Rick, that must feel great! Congratulations.

I know what you mean about not being able to stop working on the book. And I'll bet those two new scenes will enhance the work. I love those revelations, when an idea nudges your psyche with an insistence you can't ignore. Where I run into trouble is when I get them after the book has gone to the printer. Or how about when you're in the middle of a reading at a library or bookstore and you find yourself editing. Meanwhile, that inner voice is saying, "Yuck, what a stupid sentence. How could I have used 'fill in the blank' twice on the same page?"

Which brings me to a thought. I often use a quote from Justice Brandeis, which says, "There is no great writing, only great rewriting."

We’ve discussed outlining before beginning the actual novel. DorothyL members have chimed in with illuminating comments, too. One person (Beth, was that you?) uses a time line. How many others among us use time lines?

I do, but it’s incorporated into the outline I make as I write the actual novel. (Know that I am using the term outline loosely.) What I do is make notes on a chapter by chapter basis so I can find where certain events occurred. I make sure to note minor characters’ names, eye colors, spouse names, stuff I’m sure to forget later. It also helps me when I’m on page 252 and I can’t remember where a minor clue appeared. I can almost bet on needing to tweak it later. I also use this “outline” to make notes on what I need to change later, particularly if it’s a significant change that reflects characters’ actions earlier in the book.

Which leads me to another question: how far back in your writing do you go to edit? I usually edit what I’ve written the day before, but if I add or subtract a scene, I’ll probably need to make changes in the characters’ earlier actions or reactions. Instead of going back to page 76 to make the change I’ve effected on page 238, I make a note on my ongoing outline so that I can do a bunch of edits at once. This way, I get through my first draft without breaking my train of thought.

Which takes me back to Brandeis’s statement. However, I’ll bet writers use thousands of other methods, and I’d love to hear about some of them.

14 comments:

Rick Blechta said...

I suppose part of the process for me is that being a musician, I'm used to going over and over and over things until they're perfect -- or as perfect as I'm ever going to get them.

Sadly, my novels aren't perfect. Such a huge sprawling thing is nearly impossible to perfect unless you want to spend a decade on it.

The other part is that truly enjoy tinkering with things. A month away from something I've written will bring all sorts of insight and a fresh eye to pick out those horrible barkers of sentences that we're all guilty of writing far too often. I've actually edited sentences as I'm doing a public reading because it's suddenly clear that I just can't inflict such a bad collection of words on an audience.

I suppose if all I had to do with my life was work on my novels, it would all be a lot easier. However, life ain't like that (at least for me), but I'd rather do what I'm trying to do than not write at all.

We just have to keep going, don't we?

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Amen. I can relate to what you're saying. I'm still reading Sunday's NYT, and last night read the article about Mike Nichols (I know, I finish it just about the time the next one arrives) and how directors could spend loads of time on movies in the past. He mentions The Graduate. Made me wonder whether novelists had much more time thirty years ago. Seems like everything is rushed now.

Rick Blechta said...

Georges Simenon apparently wrote his Maigret novels in one long weekend, start to finish, final copy. Sure they're not long books, but they're brilliant. I have no idea how someone could do something like this.

I wrote A Case of You start to finish in 12 weeks, I felt like 40 miles of bad road by the time I sent it off to the publisher. And it took her 10 weeks to get around to reading it! And it was her who asked me to write it so quickly. I may never forgive her...

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Twelve weeks! Amazing. I'm impressed with Vicki's goal of doing 2 books a year, each a different series. You guys are inspirational. I'm going to step up my writing schedule. Except I'm subbing next week. See? I've got to say no! God knows, I'm old enough to know how.

Vicki Delany said...

Of course Rick was in the loony bin for a year after the 12 week stretch!

Rick Blechta said...

Did I mention that I was also working full-time for most of that stretch?

And Vicki, I've always been in the loony bin...

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