Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thoughts on Writing

I don't have time to take any writing courses right now and an MFA is out of the question both time and cost wise so I have started a program of self education. Inspired by my friends at the Northville writer's group, I am reading Plot and Structure by Larry Brooks and listening to Stephen King's On Writing.  This could be a frustrating exercise since Stephen King is adamantly against plotting and Larry Brooks is obviously for plotting.  Strangely though, there is a lot of over lap.  Both have said it is important to write. And do a lot of it.  Both have said it is important to have a daily word goal.  Both emphasize the characters in a novel.  Both, in their own ways, are talking about the same thing.  Writing an engaging story that allows the reader to leave  his world for a while.  This has always been my goal as a writer.  I don't care if I ever get any awards for literary genius, I just want to write a great story that is fun to read.  

At this point, I am trying to take in as much information about the craft of writing as I can.  Opposing view points are OK, and there are a lot of them.  I am always willing to listen to what people have to say regarding techniques, style, what is in, what is out.  Use this word, don't use that.  It is endless.  But I have also always known in my heart that ultimately, I am the author, the self styled goddess of the world I am creating.  I am going to do what works for me, the characters, and the story.  It is all about integrating all that knowledge into a new whole.

If I hear things more than once from opposing sources, then I am more likely to pay attention to that piece of information.  Take the daily word count for example.  I have heard that from many different people.  I finally decided that I have to do it.  It's that simple.  But knowing my schedule and myself, I also know that a daily word count could set me up for unbelievable frustration.  So I modified things a bit.  The goal for 2012 is 5000 words per week.  This way, if I have an off day, or I have to run The Girl to the orthodontist in the morning, I don't spend the rest of the day castigating myself that I didn't hit my goal.  I can just pick up where I left off the next day.  

This lead to the next change I made recently.  The idea that I needed a place to write where I wouldn't be disturbed has been floating around in my head for a while.  I love to write at the dining room table, but there is too much going on in the center of the house, too many "Mom's" and "Honeys" and cats walking across the keyboard.  I learned that Stephen King wrote Carrie sitting in the laundry room of a double wide trailer with the typewriter on his lap.  All he needed was a place where he could shut the door.  So I am writing this post in our unfinished basement facing a shelving unit filled with the flotsam and jetsam of our lives.  The computer is on a folding table, I am sitting on an exercise ball (good for the abs) listening to the furnace run. The cat boxes are down here, so it smells like cat pee but it is quiet and I can completely focus on what I am doing.  I've gotten more writing done down here in the last couple days than I have in months.

There are a lot of other pieces of advice that I would like to implement.  But I have also learned that if you try to change too much at once, nothing changes.  So I am slowly ramping up.  The weekly word goal right now, then more reading, then working on submitting to publishers.  I will slowly build up to a writers life.  It won't happen over night, but it will happen eventually.  And really, that is all that matters.


  1. Hi Jeanne,
    Wonderful words of wisdom!
    In a way, it's like learning to paint. Picasso didn't take a class and become a perfect painter (how could I resist a little alliteration). But overtime, he learned more and honed in on finding his painting voice. Not all advice works for everyone. I've learned to trust my own instincts more and in the process listen to all advice then follow some. Loved the Stephen King trailer writing. I even write away from my computer; walking the dogs, waking up, driving. Of course, I race to the office the second I get home (or scramble for a piece of scrap paper in my handbag when I have these brain storms!).
    I guess it can be a long road, but worth the personal rewards. Happy writing!

  2. @Sharon
    Thanks for reading Sharon! It is good to know I'm not out here slogging around by myself! I hope 2012 is fantastic and full of joy and wishes come true for you and your family.

  3. i have to agree with the above commenter that trusting your instincts is so important, and also that the only way to hone those instincts is to read, read, read. not how to manuals on technique which will only inhibit intuition, but the writers that you adore. what are they doing that's working? also, henry miller's on writing is great for "this is how i did it..." he was not formally trained either. and i heart that you are giving a space to your work, even if it smells like pee (and you can light a candle to begin each writing session. i've found beginning and ending ritual to be so helpful for centering). great post! fyi i've added you to my blogroll. ;)