Monday, 28 October 2013

How to write more: Part 1, STOP

Thoughts wrapped in wet leaves and the high canal bridge receding before my eyes: walking through Wolvercote as my friend says, "I'll have a burst of inspiration and write a whole lot, and then I just don't get back to it for too long - I know I should be more disciplined - it's just, I'm not always inspired, and..."

She trails off.  Port Meadow is unexpectedly crowded with cows and the grass is chartreuse after the storm. I'm thinking hard: I have lots I want to say to that, but want to work out the most helpful thing to say first. One thought: you don't wait for inspiration, you write anyway. Another thought: Do you have regular, scheduled writing time? Do you decide when you're not writing? The most helpful thought, though, is

stop while you know what happens next

This is the path of joy, not the path of pain. Getting published and making money from writing are hard, and they can be thin joys. The writing itself should be the joy, or what's the point? (This includes the joy of working hard to make something beautiful.) So we don't start with the whip, we start with what keeps enthusiasm alive.

When you're writing, stop while you know what happens next.  Mid-scene, mid-paragraph, even mid-sentence. Leave yourself notes of the things in your head that are going to happen, snatches of metaphor or thoughts you want to use; keep the bottom edge of your document ragged. Our instinct is to write everything we've made up, to a point of natural completion - don't. Interrupt your writing session early. If you have reached a natural conclusion and can't write any more, force yourself a little further: write at least the first line of the next scene.

When something's unfinished, it lurks around your brain, using up space and poking you. That's bad news if you've put a project "on the backburner" when you actually want to ditch it, because you're just wasting lovely mind space. It's excellent news if you want to keep your story alive in your mind. It fizzes away quietly, tugging you back to your desk, anticipating your next writing session. It's easier to honour your writing time when you have incomplete thoughts clamouring to get out. It's also easier to start writing again - you start by finishing that sentence, paragraph, and scene, and you're back inside the story.

I took years to discover this and it remains the most valuable writing lesson I've learnt. A.S. Byatt's Children's Book thrilled me when its main character, a children's writer, does the same:
She could not think what to write next. And at that precise moment - a relief, and a terror to writers - she heard the wheels of the station-fly on the gravel. Humphry was back. She wrote a sentence
    'At first the king, queen and courtiers noted only that Lancelin was even more beautiful, sunny and smiling, than they remembered. And then this singularity of grace began to be alarming.'
     Always leave writing in media res was a rule she had learned. She put away her writing pad, and went downstairs to greet her errant husband.
Here's a wallpaper reminder to stop, so you start again sooner. Click on it for the large version - I've made it huge, to adapt to any screen size. Feel free to resize it and share it, so long as it's not changed. Enjoy your writing.


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