Sunday, May 2, 2010

The frustrations of learning HOW to Write

Most writers begin writing by writing. You sit down, press pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and create. One after another, you produce short stories, poems, and chapters to a future novel. It begins as a simple enjoyable task.

Then it happens, you decide you want to be published. You grab as many how to books as they can find, search the web for advice, and study on how to write.

You sit down to write again and suddenly it's a complicated task. They draw out character sheets, plot out novel chapters, and determine goals and conflict to include in the story. Then with pen to paper, nothing comes. Slowly a word appears on the paper, then a sentence, and then a paragraph. The words flow once again.

It's time to send the piece out and a few months later it comes back rejected. After a few times of this, it's back to the how to books. Something's missing from your writing. You are doing something wrong. You read and read trying to figure out what's missing.

You sit down to try again, but suddenly you don't know where to begin. You have over analyzed the process and confused yourself with everyone's advice. This book said to plan it out, this one said to know beginning and end, and this one wants you to know your character from head to toe. Oh, and this one said you have to figure out your own process of writing. Confused as you are, no wonder the words aren't flowing as they used to.

Now what?

A writer must separate the tasks of writing. The right side of the brain controls your creativity. The left side controls logical choices and structuring of your work. You simply can't use both at the same time. Well, some may be able to. You must separate the two to get anywhere as a writer.

You have learned from your reading, whether you realize it or not. Your logical brain has pulled information from both the fiction and the how to books and stored it away. You are trying to use this information during the creative process and that is why you are confused. It simply doesn't work that way.

This is of course easier said than done for the beginning writer. My advice is to try a few different methods and eventually you will discover your path. The main thing is to remember creativity and structuring are not done at the same time. You must decide which side of the brain should go first.

Outline - Write - Edit - Rewrite
Write - Outline - Edit - Rewrite

You may find that you work best by writing one chapter, edit, revise, and write the next chapter. You may need to complete the whole novel before looking at it with your logical brain. You may need to outline the entire novel before beginning the creative process. Think back to when you first began writing. How did you do it then? The way you began is most likely the same way you should do it now.

I began by just sitting down and writing. I didn't think of how the story would end, that came at the end. I didn't chart out my character's likes and dislikes. Of course, back then I didn't know about editing and structure either. But still, I've come to the conclusion that this is where I need to go, back to the beginning. I've never wrote a short story knowing where it was going. The story grows as it will. Why would a novel be any different?

How did you begin? Is it similar to how you write now? I'd especially like to hear from you plotters. Have you always planned out your writing, even in the beginning?

Stephen King writes from beginning to end with no outlines to guide him. I'm sure you wonder how this is possible, especially with the larger books he produces. My guess is that he does do as he suggests and possibly jots downs notes at the end of each writing session to keep himself on track. Then when he's done and wrote the end, he kicks on the left brain and begins structuring the book. This is only a theory, only King knows his true process.


Aubrie said...

I begin with an idea and go from there. At some point, maybe chapter 3 or so I start to outline. And then I plan each chapter before I write it. But that's just what works for me.

Anonymous said...

Aubrie, thanks for commenting. I expect everyone's method is different in some way. The journey of discovering that method will also vary from writer to writer.

Anonymous said...

I just take an idea and write. I've never liked outlining, but I'm thinking I may get better results if I try to work with an outline. It would help me when I get stuck.

Anonymous said...

Susanne, thanks for the comment. Maybe I'm not alone after all. I've been trying to plan my writing and getting no where.

VR Barkowski said...

My first ms I planned out, wrote a chapter, edited, wrote another chapter, edited, etc. My second book, I had a premise and ran with it. Although I'm usually an obsessive planner, I think the second ms has a better flow and a more consistent voice. Of course once I start editing it, I may change my mind. :)

Terry W. Ervin II said...

I agree that reading good writing (published works) and paying attention as you do is a key factor in becoming a successful writer.

Anonymous said...

VR - I believe it's a matter of trial and error, but of course you know that.

Terry, I've been listening to books while I work lately. I'm getting alot out of this.

Doggeanie said...

Hi Cher, I'm wondering if you ever link tarot to your writing, or writing, to tarot? Theres so much on the web about using a spread to help with a story line. I just wondered! love your blog...

Anonymous said...

Doggeanie, Thank you. It's good to hear you like the blog. I enjoy doing it. It's a great outlet.

Yes, I have linked tarot to my writing. In the past, when stuck on a story, I've drew three cards with the position of beginning, middle, and end. The extra input helped me to push further along. This can also help with your characters and better understanding them. Here's a post on just this on my tarot blog:

As in the other way around, it is interesting how I see a reading. It's almost like seeing a story in my head. The insight and understanding who your clients are is amazing. The readings are accurate and clear.

I'm not sure which I enjoy more, writing or tarot, lol.

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