A Drift of Quills - May 2016
Here it is! The first Friday of the month already! Goodness, but time flies. This month we Quills are delighted to have P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse, join us.
Each author will address the topic: what is/are the most difficult parts of writing for you and how do you handle it/them?
Mr. Broaddus - So happy to have you! You're up first!
Would C.S. Lewis Tweet or Facebook? What is J.R.R. Tolkien hadn't been able to find the time to finish The Hobbit? A Drift of Quills invited me to help welcome in May by penning a short note on "Writer's Challenges."
Writing is a serious, fun and tough discipline. Here are a couple of my biggest writing challenges, cut down to size.
When it comes to writing, who hasn't had a hard time with discipline and time management? I have yet to meet a writer who says, "No way, it's easy-peasy! I get up with the creativity bubbling, nothing gets in my way, my family never intrudes--shucks, I don't even have to eat!" I mean, who even says, "easy peasy?"
More often when I chat with serious writers, we talk about time management and scheduled writing. It's always interesting to hear what works for someone else--and it's almost never right for me . . .
Read more here.
So, Ms. Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, what do you find about writing that's maybe not so "easy-peasy?"
The details of How to Write a Book go on and on and on. The bajillion options can be overwhelming.
I’ve been writing since I could first manage a pencil. I wrote what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted. I wrote with joy. Gleefully! Along the way I figured that if I were going to make a career of it, I should study up on the craft.
I’ve learned a lot, but . . .
Find out more here.
Finally, here are my thoughts. You'll soon see that for me, nothing is "easy-peasy!"
Every writer knows what it’s like when an idea comes to her, then fleshes itself out into a scene that plays out in her imagination. Sometimes she has to wrestle to put other life events aside so that she may clear the time it will take to get the words down. Occasionally those words then flow out with a rapidity that defies her wildest dreams. Then there are those “other times.” These are the times when the blank screen before her can—at least temporarily—cripple her efforts. But in due course, comes the telling.
Thus it is that there are two parts to this craft I find most difficult: the first is in getting any words out at all; and the second, is in “the cutting.”
As to the first, what some call “writer’s block,” I’ve recently put a new practice into place. When I stop writing at any given time, I try to do so in the middle of something—a sentence, a paragraph, a scene . . . The reason? Because when I return later, I have no blank screen before me. I have a story already in progress. Once I get the next few words out, I’m off and running. I’ve practiced this most of the past few months—and here’s the interesting part: I started my current work-in-progress (WIP) just five months ago. At the moment, it runs almost 110,000 words—and as of two days ago, I wrote the ending to the story. Yes, I’ve much left to do with it. I need to go back, add some pieces, delete some portions, re-arrange some bits, flesh out some parts, and so on, but most of the story went from start to finish in five short months. Five. Short. Months. That seems to me, nothing short of miraculous.
As to the second part of writing that I find difficult, the “cutting,” I think I’ve finally got it. This is the part when I have to determine if something matters to the story, or helps to build the world or some character in a way that matters, or is otherwise justified for purposes of keeping the story/series moving forward. If so, it stays. If not, I (usually) cut it. Now, bear in mind that today’s readers, like most people about most things, seem to be in search of a quick remedy. Today people can take a plane to get them to a destination in short order. They can take a pill to cure them of an illness. Too often people are so accustomed to the ready-fix, that they even expect to be entertained in the fewest possible minutes, or with the fewest possible words. Frankly, I think they lose something in the experience, but all the advice out there (for what it’s worth) cautions against anything extraneous in our end-product.
(It’s a wonder, really, that anyone can read the great classics anymore. Image cutting out the unnecessary from Les Miserables (“So long!” all those beautiful descriptions that in a page give us a colorful life history of a character), or from The Count of Monte Cristo (“Bye-bye!” to all those bits about the political machinations of lesser characters), or from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (“Sayonara!” to all those descriptions of, and to the history about, the architecture of the cathedral), or from virtually any Charles Dickens work (“Cheerio!” to all the colorful descriptions of the quirky characters, places and things). For me, these things that, according to current “wisdom” should be cut, are the very bits that made these works great . . . Ahhhh, but I digress.)
How is it that cutting words is so difficult, anyway? Well, I guess it is quite simple, really. It’s because it was such a labor to get them down in the first place. Imagine spending your day earning a handful of cash, then simply dropping a goodly percentage of the bills you hold into the fiery pits of Mordor. Similarly, with the touch of the “delete” button, an entire day’s efforts can simply . . . disappear.
It was precisely this part of editing that I initially found most difficult. Interestingly, however, once I’d hit the “delete” button a few times running, it got easier. I dropped out unnecessary, words. They added up. Then came paragraphs. Before long, I found myself highlighting huge sections and then--
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait right there. I questioned myself. Was I to just toss those sections away? If so, would I, in the end, even tell the story I’d set out to tell? One author friend of mine (who it also happens is a professor of English literature) actually cautioned me when I was in the midst of this process with my first work. He told me of an early book he’d written. Following the advice of others, he cut it down to the point where he no longer recognized—or liked it—and he never published it. He told me to tell my story, my way. He said that I should, with caution, follow the advice of others. I kept that in mind from that point on (and, a couple of awards later, I am so glad that I did). Thus, in my editing process, I also decided that I wouldn’t just lose those larger sections that I cut. Rather, I dropped them into a “miscellaneous” document on the off-chance that I might be able to use some portion of any of them at another time. Interestingly, I have found a couple of occasions when I was able to use some of those bits. In the meantime, the act of “saving” them made the initial “cutting” of them, easier.
With all this said, I have one final comment. There are innumerable articles out there today about all the things every author should and shouldn’t do. Most of them offer sincerely sage advice. However, this “craft” has come to a place where we now find a James Patterson Master class on the art of writing. Those who take it expect to follow a pre-ordained formula, then become best sellers in short order. I’m certain there is excellent information and advice offered with that course, but . . . really? If there is only one way to practice this craft, then we authors will soon find that nothing short of those things we’ve written ourselves, will satisfy us. This is an idea that I have to put aside every time I pick up a work I intend to review. I have to leave room for the author of that work to tell his story his way—not the story I would have told, my way. After all, if only my way will satisfy me, then I’d read nothing but my own work—and I would be the one to suffer for it. In the end, I most enjoy those works that defy the ordinary. I want someone to push at the edges. I don’t want to read the same story over and over again. I don’t want to hear the same voice over and over again . . . I want something new each time. So for my part, when I edit, I’ll make my best efforts not to make my work look and sound like every other work that came before it . . . (even if that may mean that I include an otherwise "unnecessary" bit from time to time . . .)
What do you think? Please share your thoughts with us!
5/7/2016 08:05:23 am
Great thoughts Patricia! You are so right with your analysis of the classics. How many would be published today? And what a loss that would be. I think I will note that Moby Dick could have cut out the huge textbook section on whale biology in the middle of the book.
5/7/2016 01:21:27 pm
Yes, Parker! Having said that, I must admit that I could have managed just fine without ever having read Moby Dick. It was one of those classics that I struggggggggggglllllllleddddd through!
5/10/2016 06:36:23 pm
Excellent observations, Patricia. The adage "less is more" is not always true! (And of course I will adopt that opinion, because I always write more. Heh.) Formulas are fine, but only as a basic structure; an author shows her chops when she can lay that invisible foundation and clothe the structure with her own style of siding. ;)
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