Last night in workshop, we briefly discussed the idea of outlining a novel, especially after the first draft had been written. I’ve never written a novel before and much of what I’ve read about craft discourages outlines. But I think it’s important to stay open to methods that could potentially improve a story’s structure or plot. So the question for me lately is, Should I outline a story or not?
Thanks to all who showed up last Thursday night for Fresh Pond Writers‘ first networking event. McCabes on Mass turned out to be a pretty good spot. Good snacks, nice drinks and cozy atmosphere that wasn’t overcrowded or too loud. Some folks walked away with a couple of “new” literary journals and everyone who came submitted a writing tip in our TIP jar. Here are the submissions as promised:
Just $25 for a 10-week session with a handful of other writers. These sessions are for advanced writers and you have to apply first. But after that, it’s easy. Workshops start next week. Check us out. Fresh Pond Writers
Writing is a process. Not only the actual production of it, the sitting at the computer or legal pad and clawing down into unknown depths, but the living of it. The writer, like all writers, starts at the beginning. Here, there is only a small voice and little knowledge of the craft, save what she intuits from the books she reads, the classes she takes, her own work, which in the early days is terrible, just awful and stays that way for years, squeezing her heart of joy and her wringing her ego of self-esteem, until she believes she has failed, is a failure, must give up, and throw it all away, until … one day.
Last night in workshop, we had a nice discussion about fight scenes. They’re difficult to write well because the instinct is to narrate every step in the action in real time, neglecting all else. I offer a few tips.
What was any art but an effort to make a sheath, a mold in which to imprison for a moment the shining, elusive element which is life itself — life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose?
— Willa Cather
I love to read. It’s why I love to write. At the moment, I have piles of lit journals on my nightstand, collections of short stories and a couple of novels.
But I’ve discovered in the last few years that when focussing on my own writing, reading becomes a liability. Too much reading is bad for my art. I have the voice of the author in my head too often drowning out my own voice. Even after putting down the book, I have a difficult time getting that voice out of my head.
That’s one. A second reason to reduce my reading intake has to do with distraction.
I haven’t written a blog post in nearly a year. The reason? I have been writing.
Last September, I started a writing workshop via MeetUp in order to connect with local writers. Previous to that, I had been attending workshops through Grub Street and although I admire their programs, the cost is high. As a result of the workshop I started, I’ve met a bunch of extremely talented writers, but the best thing is that the workshops keep the fires burning. I’ve written more new stories in the last year — and also revised more manuscripts — than I ever have.
In this last year, I’ve grown exponentially as a writer. My prose is better but even more than that, I’ve come to a better understanding of who I am as a writer. I’ve been tapping into those deep, personal zones, the ones Robert Olen Butler calls “white-hot” places in From Where You Dream. The ones that scare you or feel difficult to broach. I’ve been working on staying there, unflinching. The idea speaks directly to what I wrote nearly a year ago in The Path Not Taken. That is, if you want to create honest-to-goodness art, you must slog through the mud. Actually, sit down in it. Dive.
So that’s where I’ve been. I’ll check in again.
Credit: Ruud Onos / Flickr, Creative Commons
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” — Stephen King
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is DO A LOT OF WORK. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take a while. You just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass