7.31.2006

My Unpracticed Writing Method

I say unpracticed because, although I know what works for me, I suck at practicing it and keeping up with it. I was definitely reminded of this while reading this post on Maud Newton's Blog and the attached links about Hilary Mantel's method when writing. Some of the specific methods that she outlined that stood out to me were:

Become a magpie. Collect anything that attracts you: images, phrases, little glimpses, footnotes from books... Cut them out if you can, record them on blank postcards, scribble them in a notebook.

  • I always carry my writing notebook with me where ever I go, and to even make things easier on me, I've gotten myself these mini-notebooks that will fit into my purse to jot down ideas, etc. Now I just have to use the notebook more, often it lays forgotten at the bottom of my purse, the edges of the pages shredding from the friction of me taking out and putting in just about everything from my purse, but the notebook of course.
Start developing snatches of dialogue (you adore writing dialogue) and unconnected scenes. Increasingly, the information you are collecting will be written down as if it'’s already part of the book.

  • I'm always writing down little snatches of dialogue that I find interesting and amusing, and in fact have become addicted to the "Overheard at the Beach; in New York City; and at The Office" blogs because the dialogue is just so juicy it makes my mouth water. Now, if only I had stories that the dialogue would fit in...
Avoid working to a set plot; it will make your writing feel mechanical. Just fix on the feeling you want to leave your reader with and work with that goal always in mind. Though it will fill you with anxiety, you must work with the maximum uncertainty you can tolerate. (If possible, choose a historical topic, where at least some of the outcomes are set in stone.)

  • I have noticed the more I set my plot, the harder I struggle to finish the story, which is the problem with my current story. But I also have the problem of not having Any plot idea for a story and just going off of pure feeling and having the story dead end before it even really got anywhere. So I guess I have to find the happy medium.
Cultivate a kind of vagueness about the novel, to allow your unconscious to set up connections and juxtapositions. Combine this with a surgical attention to the minutiae of each paragraph.

  • I totally agree with this one. Sometimes I can look at one single sentence for an entire hour, only to change it in a minute the next day.
As the novel grows, it must take over your life. Get up in the middle of the night to work on it, then go back to sleep and dream about it. Because your material is strong and macabre, and linked with your own experiences, inevitably you will start having nightmares. Take heart! These are a necessary part of the process, and signal that the book is going well.

  • I used to do this ALL the time back when I was in college, but with the real world job it's so hard to get out of bed even with a great idea. I used to write all night into the wee hours, night time is when my creativity is at its highest, but no more. Now I'm trying to make myself write every day after I get home from work. Not an easy thing to do and I am Far less creative.
Press on, refining every paragraph, paring away extraneous matter, positioning every semicolon, until the manuscript is ready for submission.

  • Yup. You can drive yourself insane with those little details though...

Mantel also discusses the life of the characters in her novels on Mslexia (excerpt found on Book World):

"But identifying this closely with one's fictional characters carries a price. 'The more available you make yourself to your characters, the more you risk destabilising your own core,' says Mantel. 'Sometimes I'll walk around the house thinking "Why am I so cold?". And then I'll realise that I've just killed one of my characters, and they're cold, so of course I'm cold.'

Indeed, writers are rather like psychics, she suggests. 'There is a part of you that has to be available day and night to this group of people who keep talking to you, who nobody else can see, but you're in their service'. In that sense she's like Alison? [the psychic in Beyond Black] 'Yes, writing has to steal up on you. And that's what people always say about ghosts, that you see them out of the corner of your eye.' "

I found this very striking since the character for my first novel in character was a very real person to me before I even had the idea of the novel. My gal Lizard literally (well as literal as your mind can be) climbed into my mind and perched there, as if sitting on the edge of a dock, swinging her mud smudged legs in dirty cut off overalls and told me that I had to write her story. And what could I do but oblige? There were days when I wrote those first 40 or so pages that all my thoughts were in Lizard's voice and whenever anything would happen, I would think, what would Lizard do/feel/think about this? Sometimes I do feel that the life of a writer is one of distraction and not completely of your own, ghosts from some other world grabbing your attention so that their story can be heard. Sometimes you just have to give in to that inner voice and ignore the rest of the world. At times I sure do feel bad for my husband, but then, he knew what he was getting into when he married me, so that feeling quickly goes away.


P.S. Very excited, a dear friend of mine (hugs and kisses to you if you're reading this, you made my day... I will call you Very soon) said that my blog is like his NY Times, if not his Bible. Wahoo! I'm so excited to be of use to someone and am very flattered. Thank you Darling for checking in regularly, now I feel as if I have to put something important here. :)~

P.P.S. And yes, I am breaking my no blogging at home rule, but I've recently become quite busy at work and may have to for the time being, but on a good note I did write and revise before I blogged! That's progress, right?

1 comment:

Southern Writer said...

Mai Wen,

There's no e-mail address for you, so I am burying this in the comments where it will hopefully popup in your mailbox, but Sonya a/k/a S.W. Vaughn is unlikely to see it.

If you would like to participate in a birthday SURPRISE for her, please send a short greeting and a picture of you (hopefully one she has never seen). If no picture is possible, an avatar is acceptable.

Deadline is Tuesday, October 17 at 10 A.M. CDT.

She's been stressed, so something to make her laugh would be great. And please don't let her find out!

The address to send the stuff to is redheartnovels at lesiavalentine dot com

Thanks!

 

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