Friday, April 30, 2010

State of (Writing) Grace

Following up on yesterday's post, the following is from "About France," the excellent book by friend, fellow alum, and Paris resident Joseph Harriss, about the incredibly prolific crime writer, Georges Simenon. Simenon wrote over 500 novels. (Not bad, as the author points out, for someone who never graduated high school.)

"Simenon uses an artisan's methods when writing. He constructs his books solidly around a few characters. From a few initial traits, he builds them up, giving each a complete family, often down to an address and phone number--he keeps a stock of telephone books as a source of names--even if these details are never used in the book itself. Then he draws a diagram of the apartment, office or house where the action takes place carefully noting which way doors open, which windows admit the sun in morning or evening.

"That done, be becomes the main character himself and enters what he calls a 'state of grace' in which he thinks as little as possible, letting his subconscious have its head. He sustains this for up to two weeks, writing a chapter a day and reserving three or four days a the end for revisions. His concentration is so intense that if he misses a couple of days writing due to illness or other interruption, he usually is unable to continue the book and gives up on it. He seldom has the whole plot in mind when beginning. He puts his characters in a situation and watches, a spectator, as the action develops."

("About France," by Joseph Harriss, p. 225.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Getting Started

Had dinner last night with a journalist friend. We were talking about the writing process and how to get started with a story or an article. His method is to give himself no more than 15 minutes to stare at a blank screen. After his 15-minute grace period, he forces himself to start typing and not stop for a paragraph or two.

He doesn't expect anything he types to make sense yet, but it's important to get something on the screen. He then revises or, more often, replaces those paragraphs over and over until he's satisfied that he has his lead (in journalistic circles, the opening of the article). At that point, he's off and running.

Different story with me. If I had to feel good about the first paragraph before moving on to the second, I'd never be able to complete a story.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Park Your Favorite Book Here

Forget where I downloaded this from... but had to risk legal action to share this picture of Kansas City's library parking garage.

Agree with all the selections ("Truman" allowed because it's his home state; also happens to be an outstanding biography) except "Lord of the Rings." I'd replace it with something by Melville, Faulkner, or Twain.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Yep.

What about you? Keep "Lord of the Rings" or replace it? With what?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dang Them!

Been a while since I've done a grammar posting, but I'll let the New York Times do all the work.

A quick and often amusing lesson in the dangers of dangling.

Click here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vomit Draft Update

You've no doubt been on the edge of your seat since the April 12 post, wondering if I decided to write the final chapter of my vomit draft.

The good news: I did.

The bad news: When I finished the chapter, I realized the story wasn't close to being resolved. One of the characters stared out at me from the screen and asked, "What the hell are you doing? You can't end it here. I haven't had my say yet. Get back to work."

But I couldn't bear to continue to write in vomit mode. So I have begun writing the official first draft. The ending will just have to wait until the characters determine the denouement.

The question: Do you argue with your characters about what they're saying or doing, or simply let them have their way?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mysterious Writer's Ways

A few hours after yesterday's post, I came across this interesting article about Agatha Christie's writing method--or lack thereof.

No vomit draft for her, apparently, except in her notebooks. And no idea who would eventually be nabbed for the shooting, stabbing, poisoning, or garroting.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Writing With the End in Mind... or Not

In several previous posts, I've mentioned my "vomit" draft -- a draft so jumbled and stream-of-conscious that it doesn't deserved to be called a first draft. Today, I reached the point where I think there's just one chapter to go, after which I'll be able to start writing a real first draft.

But I'm having trouble pulling the trigger. I'm not  sure I want to write this last chapter. I'm not at all certain I want to know, just yet, how the story will end.

I had no idea how Bill Warrington's Last Chance was going to end until the very... (my editor will not like the repeat here) end. I wonder if that was part of the fun in writing it, and part of the motivation to keep going with it.

Yes, yes, I know that the ending will likely change--most likely with each future draft. And yet... not finishing this chapter seems disloyal to the vomit draft, which has waited patiently for me to get to this point since last October. It has put up with my blogging, my Facebooking, my Internet surfing, my sudden need to clean the desk and straighten the shelves while it remains open on the screen, waiting.

So do I bring this vomit draft to its conclusion, offer it a sort of closure, or do I leave the ending for the first official draft?

Some writers know exactly how their stories will end before they begin writing. What's your approach? Do you already know the ending while you're writing that first/vomit draft?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Writing While Distracted

More than ever, writers are expected to promote their work through blogs, websites, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, email, Twitter, Skype... the list grows faster than (wish I could think of a clever way to end this sentence).

The challenge, of course, is managing the time needed to keep up with all that and still get the writing done. Compounding the problem is... it's fun! More fun, for example, than diving into the first draft of that next scene or wrestling down a particularly slippery sentence. And the ease with which we can click on an icon and check email or the latest postings from Facebook can test the resolve of even the most disciplined writer.

I have to make a conscious effort to divide my day up. First, the creative writing. Then, check email and social networks. Then, the "paying" (i.e., nonfiction) writing. Then, more creative writing. Finally, a last check of email and social networks. That's my strategy. Execution so far: dismal.

What's your approach?