April 24, 2011
David Miller said something at his Canterbury reading last Wednesday that’s now bugging me: writing / writers are not taken seriously in this country.
For anyone who thinks that knocking out a novel and slapping it on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing is the easiest thing ever, think again. Actually, just stop thinking.
Writing requires discipline, dedication and a willingness to learn about your process and the craft. It also needs you to face your flaws and be comfortable with them.
I’m a sucker for detail and this is one of the things that makes my writing unique – my attention to small details, like the weight of paper, the smell of dust in the morning, and things heard but unseen.
This novel is asking me to be more attentive than ever before; I can plot a three-act story but without the detail, those acts might as well be cardboard cut-outs of monthly ‘blockbusters’ that you see decorating Odeon cinemas.
I’m not just talking about pretty pictures in your head as you read. What is the point of detail in an image when the details of your character are missing?
A character named Jules is sitting on a jetty observing the blue of the sea. I don’t need to conjure the images that could be used to describe this ‘blue’ or the movements of the ocean, you can fill in those gaps for yourself, but let’s say that this blue is the most striking blue that you will ever encounter.
It’s lovely, isn’t it?
But why is Jules there? Why this jetty? What time of day is it? Why are they so captivated by that blue? Why the ocean and not the sky? How long have they been there? Will they ever leave? What will they go home to? Do they have a home? Have they lost something? Have they discovered something?
Are they happy, angry, sad, confused, tired, relaxed, frustrated, or insane? What are they wearing and how are they wearing it? Who do they love? What do they want? How do they plan on getting it?
What’s their job? Do they like it? What side of the bed do they sleep on? Do they sleep clothed or nude? What shampoo do they use? How does that shampoo distract them as they’re trying to smell the sea?
I could go on but you get the point.
It’s these details, and all of the details that I haven’t mentioned or thought of, that make writing what it is: a moment in time, a unique observation.
Without detail those moments become the fast-food of writing: momentarily satisfying in the sunshine but ultimately disappointing and bad for your health.
Paying attention to that type of detail in my own writing is the biggest challenge I face as I try to write this novel. There are a bunch missing in some of the most important places which means that I must put the work in.
That’s where writing becomes serious.
April 7, 2011
It’s funny that I just deleted the first line of this post, isn’t it? Considering that I’m going to talk about the act of deleting. My first line was going to be:
I’m rereading Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas
That was until I decided the sentence to be worthy of nothing more than a ‘good for you’ response from my readers (hello friends) and my inner critic (hello you). But the point of opening with this mundane statement was to (deletes words again and again)
highlight the similarities between myself and Meg, the main protagonist who can’t seem to get her novel onto the page but has deleted thousands and thousands of words already, and rejected multiple ideas.
I know the feeling.
Everything I have written for this novel so far has been, although not physically, effectively erased. The one-and-a-bit chapters for last term? Quite pointless in the grand scheme of things (which as it turns out, is nothing); so how about the 4,000 – 5,000 words I’ve drafted for this term? Equally pointless.
The plot, which was insufficient in the first place, collapsed weeks ago and today, I deleted all but three factors of it: my main character, her job, her complicated relationship. This has essentially left me with a predictable pile of horse poop. It’s a great candidate for Chick lit don’t you think? Except Mum lit appears to be on the rise so nobody would be interested in my flaccid story anyway.
Cixous tells us to cut, to know when to cut as we’re writing, and I feel confident when I do it in my own work. There’s something delicious about highlighting 200 – 300 words and making them disappear forever.
My problem is that, like Meg, I don’t have anything to replace those deletions with. Having read the book once already, I’m conscious of the changes and processes Meg goes through in order to begin writing her book; it’s not pretty. Can I afford to go through those changes too? I’d love to but I’m short on time. I need to find my fast forward button or take the literary-creative equivalent of speed to develop enough in time for my next due date.
After laying in a graveyard for a few hours (that will never sound normal), I realised that my problem isn’t plotting but my ability to spawn ideas. I know I should be putting my characters in situations where they have to make relevant and necessary choice, but I suck at figuring out what those situations should be.
I know the desires of my characters well enough but lack the imaginative fertiliser to cause those desire to drive forward and develop the narrative. Or do I?
Considering I’m now left with horse poop after today’s massive cull, perhaps I should let it rot for a short while? Do I have time for that? 5 – 6 weeks says that potentially, yes I have.
Deleting isn’t the worse thing I can do when writing. It’s more likely the best thing I can do when the ideas / plot / characters / writing I do have are weak, uninteresting, and pointless. Effacement is breathing space.
Note: This post has been deleted repeatedly.