Friday, July 3, 2009

The How of Your Writing? - Stop Analyzing

Writer and writing teacher Darcy Pattison, on her site, Fiction Notes, said that she'd be interested in seeing a posting on how we write kissing scenes. I questioned her about it, because she's so clever and certainly more than capable of writing about The Kiss. I blithely didn't wait for her response, but simply threw some ideas down and pasted them into her comments box. She responded that she wasn't looking for samples, but a detailed description of the how - the technique involved in producing those words.

So today I have a confession: I don't have a technical approach to my writing. I understand all those lovely sites that talk about flow, voice and rhythm, but when they suggest the premeditated analysis and explanation of the words, discussions about character development and plot structure - well, this, for me, would discombobulate my work, and my head, and I can't do it.

My plots rarely follow my original rough (two-page) outline, because my characters develop as I go, and they take over the plot. I'm often surprised at where they take me. At times, of course, I have to dig them out from where they're mired, but not too often. The only certain thing is, and I've said it before, I always have my ending in mind from the start, and I know I'll get to it eventually. It's always been this way for me.

I don't know how I write, nor do I need to know. If I were to rush off now and take writing courses, I believe it would spoil my approach, not improve it. I took just one writing course in my life, some time ago, and that was because the final parts were about how to get your book published. No doubt, Prof. Hans Ostrom would shake his head at this, if he were to see it.

Which brings me to your writing. If you're writing properly - have the very best knowledge in matters of spelling, punctuation, general grammar - then the flow of your writing is unique to you, and shouldn't be overshadowed by worries about the technique you use. Take writing courses, by all means, if you feel you need improvement and believe, passionately, that you are meant to write and that this will cinch it. If you're brave and rebellious, you can even break those very rules - but at least know the rules you are breaking before you try this. (Think James Joyce.) However, over and above syntax, please just get on with it.

Reading good books and poetry is still one of the best ways to hone your craft. No one begins from a vacuum, writer and artist alike. This is the apprenticeship from which you'll never graduate; we never stop learning, do we?

The act of writing is a world apart from analysis and critiqueing. This is why we have such a hard time doing the revision work, because we're using another part of our brain. The hard-nosed editor in you is unrelated to the soft, overly-sensitive soul of your writer.

To do your very best work, listen to it as you write, let it sing to you, feel the rhythm of your words, sense when things are out of place, or missing entirely, and decide, sadly, but firmly, when you've said way too much. Do, for pity's sake, READ IT OUT LOUD. If you're honestly satisfied, and not just making do with that weak bit of dialogue in chapter ten, you can safely leave the criticism/praise to others - be it writing buddies, agents, editors, and - soon, I hope - your book-buying public, reviewers and critics (the last two, with luck, from the New York Times).

I love Darcy's work, and follow her posts avidly. I've learned some interesting things from her, but not the 'how' of writing. I said at the start that I didn't want to know. Like analyzing love, it spoils things. Just let it be.


Strachan is about three chapters from the end. I haven't been sleeping a full 7 hours this last few weeks, knowing how close I am. If I get completely carried away, and no one visits, I could be finished by Monday. It's heaven to know the book will not be playing on my mind when I go to England in August. I would have made lousy company over there, head-writing the whole time! When I'm doing it, I get this weird, blank look on my face, I'm told. Like I'm high...

Have a wonderful 4th of July weekend!

3 comments:

cathryngrant said...

Thanks for some great comments, especially "feeling the rhythm" of the words. It can sometimes be laborious to read out loud, but SO necessary.

I'm glad to here Strachan is on the final stretch!

Embee said...

This is a great post. I, too, tend to write freestyle. I understand the concepts of developing characters who aren't flat, and making sure there's tension, and plot and all that stuff, but I don't tend to outline and unlike you...a lot of times I have no idea how the story's going to end. In fact, for my current WIP, I have some general vague idea, but I'm basically just following the characters. I'm sure the current first very rough draft is very messy. I haven't even reread it yet because I'm in such a headlong rush to get the story on the page. I KNOW for a fact that the first edit is going to be a lot of rewriting, but at least I'll have the bones on the page and I can start adding the fleshy stuff. Hubby thinks I'm insane writing like this, but so far it's working!

As always, I love your thoughtful writing posts!

Melissa Marsh said...

I love this post, Fran. When I start to analyze my writing, I freeze up and can't put a word down that doesn't sound absolutely awful. I'd rather just do as you suggest - just sit and write and not worry about it so much. That is what editing is for!

And I agree - reading is an absolute MUST if you want to write. I started reading at a very early age and haven't stopped.