Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Lessons Learned Pt 2

So finally I'm here to go back through the things I learned in that last book... You remember? That one that I started writing with you guys and then ended up so snowed under that every word was forced through gritted teeth and it was late for it's deadline? That one???

We all know that writing is a continuous journey - that's a given. Even reading other peoples work or bouncing ideas backwards and forwards between friends can be part of the learning process. For me, with this one, I think it was over-thinking the process itself... Yes, I learned that I shouldn't do a Book With Trish series at the same time as trying a whole new (somewhat shaky as it turned out for a while) plot - cos I was over-analyzing every little detail with a view to telling you guys the way I do things... Not that I hold any blame on that to anyone but myself you understand ;)

Sometimes just having to break down what you do into stages forces you to use your brain you see... Because after a few books you know what works best for you as a writer and unless you start to write down what you do you don't actually think much about it anymore - it's kinda like breathing in and out.. Building character profiles, getting the conflicts clear, choosing a setting - these are all things that become part of the norm... There will always be challenges associated with them and parts of them may change along the way as you realize some things just don't work in the story you're working on... but the basics never change... So I still stand by everything I'd said in the workshops (just in case you were worrying)

What I learnt by looking so closely at my own writing process was this:

1/ Don't over analyze every single little thing - sometimes as writers we just have to tell the flipping story! Nothing more difficult than that. We already have it in our heads if we have lived with the characters for a while - so rather than tearing every single word to shreds, we sometimes just have to tell it - from start to finish - no matter what length it ends up or whether chapters end up uneven page count wise... Remember the joy you get from reading a book that draws you in so you don't look so closely at the craft behind it and end up having to read it a second time to try and see just what it was the writer did to make it so great??? Well that's the kind of fun you need to remember to have when you write a book too! With The Return Of The Rebel I got so caught up with trying to make sure all the emotion and angst and conflict was there that I lost sight of the story... It wasn't until I had a fresh pair of eyes in the form of my Editor that I finally got that lightbulb moment... And then I knew what I had done wrong... So with this new story I am going to go back to the basic rule of just telling the story like it is on that little cinema screen inside my head!!!

2/ Love stories don't have to be smothered in angst - Once I knew what it was I had done wrong it was one of those palm slap to the front of the head moments. And very uncharacteristic of me, which told me something I'll share in part three... But think about it, put it into that *rollercoaster ride* term that gets used so often... Yes, love can be a difficult road, but it is also filled with a lot of joy and laughter along the way. For me, there has to be flashes of those moments all the way through, not necessarily in slapstick, but in those scenes where the characters bounce back and forth off each other and end up laughing despite their best efforts not to. I need to believe that these people will make their happily ever after last beyond the last page and the only way I'll believe that is if there have been glimpses, even small ones, of how happy they can be - of how well matched they are - of how they have the ability to get each other through the tough moments with a dose of laughter or a bad pun or just a gentle softening of their thinking. Yes, it needs balanced out with an equal amount of support and understanding and sexual tension - but there has to be fun in there as well. Its something I normally don't have a problem adding in. But in this one, the characters had so much history that I couldn't seem to get past it. They were both dark, guarded, stubborn, wounded - and adding in laughter seemed to be the last place they wanted to lead me to. But it meant the book was a little depressing in places. So, when I went back in at the revisions stage I did what I should have done when I edited... I added in a proportional serving of humour to balance it all out. And when I did? Well, it suddenly made sense why they ended up together... *Duh Trish* The fact that I didn't get to that place on my own was, shall we say, annoying. I've never known two people who fell in love in real life who didn't laugh together, tease each other... wear those silly grins from time to time... And yes, adding those elements in too soon would have ruined the tension but a complete lack of it sooooooo didn't work...

3/ Sometimes you just gotta *step away from the keyboard* - Yes, it's the old 'can't see the wood for the trees' dilemma. This is where you guys not on deadlines yet have such an advantage!!! With the schedule I'd set myself last year and the fact that the one before (miraculously) made it through without revisions... I hadn't really realized how mentally drained I was. All it took was one difficult book and it was made abundantly clear to me that I was on my knees energy wise... So sometimes you just have to allow yourself to leave the story alone - to let it simmer - to come back to it with a fresh set of eyes... In this case I was lucky, cos the fresh set of eyes came from another quarter... But in future I plan to allow myself to step back when I need to - to go for a walk to clear my head or spend time with my horse - to not over edit at the early stages so that I don't get bogged down with the one problem - which brings me to:

4/ Beware of over editing before the story is told - Now, this might not work for everyone, cos we're all different, right??? With this book I constantly read back and edited right from the start rather than reading the last few pages or a chapter from where I had left off or was stuck... And that translated as procrastination for me! I know for some, they find it tough to get going again unless everything they have already done is damn near perfect - but that's just not me. Cos no matter how much I edit I will still have to come back and edit at the end or when I get stuck... I have to have told the story first before I know where the characters lead me - and then once I know I can go back and *fix* the beginning to come into line with what I now know... So, being as and how I have a lazy streak (apparently) I don't see the point in editing again and again and again if I'm just going to edit again at the end. With this book it would appear I forgot that rule. So that I had re-read the whole thing about a gazillion times and was getting sick of the sight of it. Which doesn't bode well for caring about the characters having a happily ever after, does it...? So I need to remember the first point on this list so that I can remember this fourth point on the list, right???

5/ Remain flexible in order to avoid hitting the wall - Sometimes when you get stuck you have to be ruthless and hit the delete key lots. This means remaining flexible all the way through the story... I was so determined that the impending *black moment* was the real crux of the story that when it meant I wrote myself into a corner, I had nowhere to go! (which led me to the editing thing AGAIN). The only way I could get out of it was to be brave enough, even when I knew the book was late, to rip sections out. Now don't get me wrong, doing that HURTS. But it was what it took to get me to the end. And I had been so busy leading the reader to that blackness that I had hinted at it again and again and again and then some more in case they had misread the signs... So that I had basically given the whole damn storyline away from chapter one!!! B-A-D-T-R-I-S-H!!!! It got in the way. It held up everything. It stifled my imagination. So something had to go! I think it's all too easy to be convinced that the premise of a story is great that we almost can't wait to get it *out there* where just *drip feeding* it is enough to make the reader wonder, you know??!!! But admitting that I had to make such drastic changes would maybe have somehow meant that the story wasn't as good as my wee brain thought it was - yes, just the kind of depressing news you wanna tell yourself mid deadline, right? It meant taking a deep breath. It meant following point three for a few hours, and it meant coming back in on one of my last editing forays to admit that things had to change - I had to be flexible and let go of some stuff - and I had to remember that again when my revision notes came back... Mind you - there's a fine line between deleting some stuff out in great chunks and throwing your hands in the air before you put the whole damn file in the recycle bin... Thankfully a deadline and a contract will nail your feet firmly down out of reach of the latter...

So there you go. The Return Of The Rebel was a testing experience - aka *a tough one to write* - so never for one second think that once you've been doing this a while it becomes a walk in the park! Cos it doesn't! TRUST ME! This was number twelve for me, so yes there are things I already know about the way I write and what works for me, but there are also still plenty of lessons to be learned - so I doubt this will be the last in this series...

I'm gonna re-start the Book With Trish series next week if anyone wants to try it again - I'm feeling brave... And I'll be running it as my contribution to The Pink Heart Society's FinDaBoo programme while my good friend Ally Blake also runs through her writing process at the same time as she starts her new book... Remember at the end of the Book With Trish Series we will also be having a competition here to win a critique!!! It'll be run as fairly as I can possibly manage and will be based on merit rather than on a lottery or raffle basis - so if you're hoping to join in come along and let me know and I'll get a better idea of how many of you might be interested in the critique prize... ;)


Donna Alward said...

Oh Trish, you have NO idea how timely this post is! It's like you've channelled me. LOL

Being neck deep in one of these myself at least I don't feel so alone. And I think no matter how long we do this, learning lessons from mss never stops.

Natasha Oakley said...

Books really *are* like babies. Every birth is so different! And, just like labour, it's important to breathe and relax into the pain as much as possible. :)

BTW, aren't you in the least bit hungry today???? I've just made apple crumble for the kids and I sooo want to eat some!

Sue aka MsCreativity :-) said...

Wow Trish! That is one heck of a rollercoaster.

Why is it that we have to go through experiences before we can learn from them?

Point 5, I can really relate to right now. I've recently decided to try to become MsFlexible in 'real' life as well as creatively.

I, for one, am relieved you're re-starting the Book With Trish series, because I'm right back at the beginning of starting a completely new wip. I can't believe I did over 33,000 words on my last one before calling it quits (for now).

I'm hoping to join you, and if (and that's a case of 'I'll believe it when I see it'!) I've written enough words to warrant a critique, I'd LOVE to be in with a chance of winning one from you.

Sue :-)

Trish said...

Hi gang!

Yes, tis true that every *birth* is different - but still, its difficult not to feel warmer towards the ones that were *good children* - I tell ya, if every one of them was like that last one I'd find it tough not to throw a woobly and stop writing for a long time...

No, hang on, I just did that a little I think... Nearly as month off to just live a little and visit friends and family and play horse and pop off to Dublin for the week... Lets hope this renewed energy stays the course for this new one, eh???

Sue! You can do it babes! I have the utmost faith!!! It doesn;t have to be today or tomorrow or next week or next month... Take your time, enjoy those precious moments with a *new child* - and just think, treating it like a *treat* will mean you're more likely to keep coming back to it, right???

Natasha - nope! STILL not hungry... but am still undoing the damamge done in Dublin... (hence the lack of a weigh in this week...)

Donna - You're almost there babes! Its just your first pineapple is all... we all have them ;)

allyblake said...

Natasha, I'll have some apple crumble please!!!


JENNA said...

What's wrong with apple crumble? At least it's not pie...oh...you must put gads of butter in it! Oh, YUM!

We're all starting a book for the new year. I need to get on it, that's for sure. When people get too serious about writing lemme know...I'll do a few posts about romance novel writing for slackers...like point and click characterization and where to find inspiration (PHS hall of fame is the first stop).

Rachael said...

Hey Trish

Just popping in to say thanks so much for restarting your Book With Trish - and I'm in for the ride. Would have popped in earlier but I've been away from the computer for a few days - oh the hell!!

Although I think it was good - as mentioned in one of your points, I really needed some time away from my wip. But I'm back - hopefully towing a whole load more zest - and ready to read and write along.

Rach (from Oz)