On how I write. Cut for self-absorption, albeit personally useful self-absorption.
This weekend has been a reminder of something that I really, really need to remember about writing, or at least about the way I write, and it’s this: it’s often a lot easier when you’re doing it than when you’re thinking about it. There are many reasons that I haven’t been working on the major WIP since late November, starting with being knackered most of December, but a big one is that I had reached a natural point to halt and wasn’t sure what came next. Oh, I knew in general what came next (“some scenes before the murder, to include some things I’ve thought of and set up certain key points, then the murder, then the investigation, oh thank God a framework”), but I didn’t know how to carry them forward, what order things should happen in, what it was essential I included, what could wait until later, and so on. How could I sit down and write without resolving these things first?
It’s a fair question. The little problem was that I didn’t seem to be doing the resolving things first part. I still came up with ideas for various points in the forthcoming story. I went back and did some editing of the existing material and tightening things up and that was all very useful, but it didn’t exactly move me forward. At this point I should note that I write pretty strictly in order. I might devise and draft certain scenes out of order, and I have a good idea of where the story is going as a whole, but when it comes to writing the narrative I am very definitely a start at page 1 and work through until you reach the end sort of person. This means that not knowing where I’m going next is liable to be a problem.
Fortunately, it is a problem with a solution. I just need to remember this. Because it turns out that if I actually stop thinking “I need to come up with an order for the next ten scenes” and instead think “I need to write the next scene, I sort of know what that is, and if I’m not sure what follows that, then I can stop and think about it at that point”. And lo and behold, I get to the next point and an idea shows up. Sometimes it takes a little time, but I really don’t think I need to give it two months of time rather than dedicating 5 minutes to sitting down at the table to say “OK, this is the next scene, and then you’re not sure what exactly happens between it and [the murder] but you know sort of and it will become clear eventually so just bloody start”.
This post is brought to you by a weekend that went like this (let us skip over not getting down to writing until 5 o'clock, that's a battle for another time!):
5 o’clock, Saturday: attempt to write scene that I’ve had sort-of drafted for ages but got stalled on because I don’t know how it ends. Discover that in fact it can just end. Draw map and decide that direction formerly known as “up” is now officially “north”. Reflect that drawing a map means it is now a proper mystery story.
Half-past 6 on Saturday: discover, while doing the hoovering, what the next scene is. Rapidly scribble main points down.
5o’clock on Sunday: start next scene, using scribbles. Manage to incorporate vital point and inadvertently invent helpful additional plot strand.
8 o’clock on Monday: write remains of the scribbled scene, which handily decides to flow into another one. Add Jordan to list of places that are not in Corsica on which you are basing Corsican scenery. Discover you have a mayor and ponder northern towns to name him after.
Bedtime on Monday: realise what the next scene is. This provides a handy point to introduce another strand of plot that is important to the rest of the story.
Tuesday lunchtime writing this: work out what to do with the mayor, and that your Dementor science scene really needs Wimsey to make a reference to monkey glands somewhere.
Tonight: next scene (Bunter, that will be fun. He’s been a bit in the background so far, but should get more to do in the second half of the fic). Hopefully by the time I’ve finished I’ll have an idea of where to go next.
Tomorrow: same again! Only 25,000 words (or so) to go... I know how it ends, I just have to get there.
The conclusion I draw from this is very simple, not least because I already knew it, but had temporarily forgotten. It is that I can come up with lots of stories in my head, but if I want to come up with a whole narrative, I need to write them down. I’ve also not so much learned, as called to my attention, that writing begets writing. Sometimes this doesn’t work, if I’m tired, or temporarily run out of ideas, but a lot of the time it does, and certainly when I know that I have got the ideas and am frustrated because I don’t quite know what to do with them, the answer is to sit down and find out.
Short version: I’m a procrastinator who needs to get her arse in gear and sit on it!
*Random thought: in the absence of a boat, could elves swim to the Undying Lands?