Tag Archives: Writing

Practice, Practice, Practice

I grew up playing piano. I didn’t sit down to a piano as a child prodigy, though. I took lessons for years, accompanied by many, many hours of practising what I had learned, playing scales, learning theory, and training my ears. Over the years I became very good and went on to learn guitar and drums and developed in intense love of music. (I also have horrible memories of finding myself subjected to performing on stage while crippled with paralyzing stage fright—but that’s another story.)

I want to talk about the practising part of that piano experience. I have noticed a number of references recently on the benefits of practice. Some have referred to music practice itself, but others to applying the idea of music practice to visual disciplines. Most recently, I found myself listening to one of the designers in the Netflix series Abstract describe applying music practice to drawing.

What about applying a music-based practice regime to writing?

There is no question that one of the strongest pieces of advice given to writers to develop their craft is to write every day. This advice hints at what practising music every day aims to do: get better. But a good musician does not merely play every day. Good music practice touches on several aspects of playing that include technique and improvisation, as well as perfecting pieces of music for performance.

I decided to figure out what applying music practice to writing might look like. I broke a practice session down into three essential parts: technique, improvisation, repertoire. I added a cool-down bit later which I will get to. Usually improv will come after working on the current repertoire pieces, but I decided to switch the order.

For technique, there are abundant sources of writing exercises available. I thought about what I wanted to work on as a writer—expand my vocabulary, control a certain long-windedness, shift from passive verbs to active—and I pooled together a list of 5-minute writing exercises that concentrated on those aspects of the craft. That list may be different for other writers, and it may change for me over time and depending on what I’m working on. For now, I pick two items at random from the list and do them when I sit down to write. It turns out to be more enjoyable than I think it will be when I start. Words!

Improv is easy to apply to writing. Flash fiction comes to mind. Writing in a journal works, too. Working on this blog entry counts. I applied the same idea for an improvisation session that I did for working on technique—I compiled a list of  eight or ten writing prompts that speak to me, and when the time comes I pick one at random. There are many prompts that involve random words, sentences, or images, and many random-generating sites that help to start a session. I do really like Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge prompts (a couple of which have resulted in fiction posts here). Because I am striving to finish a first draft at the moment, I have limited my writing prompt list to 10-minute pieces. I want to put most of my time toward working on the manuscript.

Which brings me to my repertoire. My manuscript is my repertoire, the piece that I present to the public and which I strive to perfect before doing so. Working on a little technique and flexing the imagination with a writing prompt help eliminate that ominous blank page syndrome. I like to read the work I’ve done the day before to really get the juices flowing.

I mentioned a wind-down at the beginning of this post. I have a horrible habit of interrupting my work flow with research. I love researching things. I get lost in learning. Sometimes what I read about inspires the scene I’m working on, but most often I catalogue an idea for later. I put research at the end of a writing session as a cool down. That serves a dual purpose. I don’t interrupt myself while I’m writing (instead making a list as I go to research at the end of a session), and what I discover while researching at the end of the day fuels excitement for the next session.

I put the ideas above to work this week, intimidated by the imposition of discipline. The first thing I discovered was that enjoyment vanquishes intimidation.

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From Roz Morris… Resolutions for 2017

A lucky turn of the radio dial this week and I got a real treat: the Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine interviewing Brian Eno. The whole piece is worth listening to, but this exchange particularly caught me. Vine was trying to pin down what made some of Eno’s collaborators so special – David Bowie, David […]

via Writers’ manifesto for 2017 – take your imagination seriously — Nail Your Novel

(I found Roz Morris’s first post of January 2017 hit a nerve for me. Not to mention that she references some of the more influential artists in my life.)

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Writing Fluff in Dark Times

I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but I find maintaining an interest in my period romance novel a challenge with all the down-turning of events of late. I confess my pessimism is slightly exaggerated, but the need to fight for compassion, free-speech, and environmental protection is at an all-time high, at least in my lifetime. I find myself challenging a determination to delve into a romance set two hundred and fifty years ago when most of my thoughts are consumed by the present and the immediate future. Should I drop the project I’ve been working on for over a year and crawl into a new genre of politically active contemporary fiction? Maybe I should consider that for the next one, but right now I’m not willing to drop the story I’ve been working on all year just because the world is going to shit.

The question remains: how do I tackle completing a story when I’m thinking about other issues? If I’m not interested in what’s happening in the context of my narrative, neither will the reader be. I have found a few tools and/or helpful thoughts to help me cope.

I am reminding myself to have fun when I write. Guilt is a perfect recipe for sucking the fun out of anything. A writer’s state of mind always seeps across the page to the reader. I started my current novel because I thought it would be a fun story to write. I was excited not only to explore the romance between my two characters, but also by the adventure I could send them on, and the joy of delving into a setting so unlike my own. I find that the more I open myself up to playing with the plot and the supporting characters, the more enjoyment I have. If I have set out to entertain, then I’d better shed some guilt about it, or I only sabotage myself.

I am embracing the influence of political influence on my writing. There is no question that my political thoughts impose themselves on the story as I write, so I have resolved to let this happen. The accidents that happen as I write are influenced by what I’m thinking about. I understand that there is no use fighting the infusion of progressive ideas into what happens to my characters, or who they meet along the way. I have concluded the only answer is to not only embrace but pursue the influences as they occur.

I am allowing myself to enjoy productive distractions. Research can be a giant procrastination hurdle for me because, speaking of fun, I always find myself in a bottomless pit of fascination. However, research is a necessity, especially in period fiction where research provides a necessary gateway to creating a believable setting. I am inspired by glimpsing another time through experiences contemporary to the period. The insight is also helpful in revealing issues of the time that connect to current issues. History repeats itself. I have been digging into old newspapers and look forward to sharing some of my discoveries in a future post.

Finally, I shouldn’t call my novel “fluff.” It might lack serious discourse up front, nor inspire future generations of radicals, but that’s okay. I am writing it solely for entertainment purposes at a time when people are struggling to remain positive, and a bit of entertainment can be refreshing. Besides, my characters are not without opinion, and are not afraid to speak out.

I do have a completed first draft of a novel begging for attention, that takes place slightly in the future, is rife with political discourse and infused with magic realism. Guess what I might be working on next?

 

 

 

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Back on the Horse

I’ve finally wrapped up a tough work contract that absorbed all my time for the past ten weeks, with no more than a single day off in the past six. I knew going into the job that I would lose writing time, but I decided that the opportunity was worth the sacrifice given that the job was not expected to carry on for more than four or five weeks. Well, surprise—the work extended to more than double the expected duration.

Interesting thing about this particular film job: the period setting was identical to my novel-in-progress (England and the Colonies in the mid 18th century). The only difference was that the scripted colonial location took place in Virginia, whereas my novel unfolds in New York and Philadelphia. As an art director, I spent many hours neck-deep in research since part of my job is to match the look of the period. But while I took advantage of swimming in my own novel’s setting, I did not have the time to delve into my story.

How does one get back into a big story after such a long and intense break from the material? I always find the best way to get back into a project is to re-read the manuscript. The characters come to life and the story fills the mind again in a way that feels like getting into a freshly made bed. I’ve started tackling the 83,000 words I’ve put on the page to date. I’m enjoying the read, which is a good sign—and also see clearly where I need to do some re-structuring. Reading with fresh eyes is one unexpected advantage of having to take a break from a manuscript.

The timing of the end of my work contract lined up perfectly for taking part in NaNoWriMo again this year. I would have signed up if I were ready to start a new novel. However, I’m still working on an unfinished gap in the middle of the novel from last year. Instead, I’m doing “unofficial” NaNoWriMo. I’m writing every day, working to a word-count goal, and aiming to finish the middle of the book by the end of the month.

I’m finding it a challenge and suffering from immense blank page syndrome, but I’m glad to get back on the horse.

I’d be interested to hear how others deal with major interruptions in their work flow. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

 

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From a Flood to a Trickle.

I have to apologize to followers new and old for the gaps in posting.

I have been writing, but the minimal time I’ve had available of late has forced me to choose between working on the new novel or talking about the old novel. I have chosen the former.

Sales of Tempt the Ocean continue at a slow pace (very slow), but do continue. I confess I was thrilled when the earnings broke the two-digit milestone. Disheartening when compared to self–published authors who claim to make a living off their novels. I don’t know how they do it. I have to remind myself that it’s a mistake to compare my own progress to that of others.

One piece of advice I have: order a small number of printed copies to keep on hand. I never ordered a set of copies of my book to distribute by hand and that has been a mistake. I have since had people ask to buy a copy of my novel outright and have not been able to provide one. A colleague mentioned a book store in our neighbourhood that highlights local independent authors by selling copies directly, but again, I have none to sell. And when I had an opportunity to product-place my novel on screen this summer I had to pass it by since I did not have any copies to loan.

I have no news about making Tempt the Ocean available on other platforms outside Amazon.

I can say, however, that I managed to write a good 1400 words on labour day last week, and I’m plowing through a borrowed copy of A Storm of Swords so I can return it to the library in time. If I don’t have time to write at least I can read and post the occasional Tweet.

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