I have been going back through my files (mostly from Writer’s Magazine) and rereading Robert Owen Butler, From Where You Dream in preparation for NaNoWriMo. Here is what I have found:
I will write first thing in the morning for two hours, before I am bombarded with all the words, other’s words, life’s everyday stuff, while I am still partially in the dream state, so I can more easily get to that intuitive place of true emotion and imagination.
Write every day.
Some beginnings: a line (poems, billboards, conversation you hear), a list (Who is making it? Why?), a title (Does it suggest a theme? Character? Place?), a character, a situation (Is it troubling? Does it make you wonder?), an event, an image, a subject (a drought, a flood, grade school), an oddity.
Get unstuck: Write a scene where the character enters a new place. Bring in a minor character. Write a monologue for a character you would like to know more about. You don’t have to write in order of your story. Write a group of crucial scenes.
More getting unstuck: Free-write on an emotion, a character, a place. Free associate on a word, a character’s name, a place. Write a list of possible character choices in a particular situation. Why that choice? Have another character make a declarative statement about your main character – does it surprise you? There is less chance of getting stuck if you write every day.
Trust in the writing process. The first draft is exploration and discovery. It is an adventurous journey you begin not knowing where you will end up. I read this by John Dufresne, and got even more excited:
“You have nothing to prove in the first draft, nothing to defend, everything to imagine. . . . You write the draft in order to read what you have written and to determine what you still have to say. . . . You may have a destination in mind, and you may well set off in that direction, but what you encounter along the way will likely alter your course. This uncertainty, though daunting, is crucial to the writing process. It allows for, even encourages, revelation and surprise, while it prevents the manipulation of character or plot to suit a preconceived, and usually ill-conceived, notion of what the story must be. In writing the first draft, you begin to work through all the uncertainty and advance toward meaning.”
You may remove words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters in the second draft, but nothing is ever wasted.
The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right, but to get it written. John Dufresne wrote that, and he has completed two story collections, three novels and a book on fiction writing. www.johndufresne.com.
Have fun on your journey, everyone. I plan to have fun on mine.
The blank page. We are all faced with it. Is it exciting, overwhelming or a little of each? Even when you know what you want to write about, where do you start? Easy. You start.
No snickering, please. I meant it because it does not matter where you start, it only matters that you begin. That is what the first draft is all about: beginning, writing along and, eventually, ending. Do not look at what you have written, do not self-correct, only keep going until you get to the end, even if that means days, weeks or months in the future. If there is something you want to add and correct in the beginning, make a note of it, but do not go back and “fix.” You want to keep the flow going. You want the flow to come from a real place within and not be concerned with what anyone else might say or think or whether what you have is a Pulitzer Prize winner or whether it will make you rich. Few writers get rich or can even make a living from their writing. You are writing because you cannot not write.
You have to end that story. Many writers get stuck in the middle or three-quarters of the way through. There is an urge to go back and read what you have written, fix it up, anything but go on to the end. It has happened to me, and maybe it has already happened to you. Resist. Maybe you can’t think of a proper ending, or maybe you cannot say goodbye to your characters. Resist. End it even if there is a nag telling you your ending is a mess. You can fix it later.
Now forget that precious story or novel for a while. Many authors say for at least a month or two or six. Stephen King waits at least six weeks. I put him in here because he knows what he is talking about – don’t you think? You need to look at your story with a fresh mind. Try this, and you will understand what I mean. The longer you wait, the more objective you will be.
The next post will have more about the first draft. How do you find time to write? What is this “from dreams” business? What separates a literary or, even a “good” story from all that mess out there? Stay tune.
According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Robert Olen Butler, the process of writing is not intellectual, but emotional, and it is necessary to enter our dreamspace in order to write honest, inspired fiction.
I am a writer. Mostly. I dream a lot, also dig animals, especially my tuxedo cat, Dickens.
I love to prepare food, all kinds, though soups are my favorite because I can get creative without messing the flavor up too much.
I have been a painter of pictures, and I still dabble in watercolor now and then, though writing takes up most of my time.
I love travel and adventure and meeting all sorts of people and experiencing diverse cultures, so those doings will show up here at one time or another in photos or what not.
I think about all sorts of things. Like what we are doing to our environment and why so many people love chocolate.
I like to know what other people are thinking. I hope you will let me know. You can disagree with me, of course, but please be nice about it.
The photo above? That’s me, eagerly looking out the window at the world. Many pounds and wrinkles later—still doing it.