Writing About Writing - Stephanie Zia
So what's missing now?
Time of course. But if Alan Rusbridger can steer The Guardian through a tricky year whilst learning Chopin's most difficult concerto on the side, there's really no excuse. I did a little corporate freelance work this month, basic research from home. I wondered how on earth I was going to be able to do proper grown-up internet research and not stray into my own territories of email, FB, Amazon, cute cat pictures (for work, honest) etc etc. So I set the kitchen timer in hourly chunks and did my fiddles and dealt with the inevitable interruptions in between. It worked well and does seem like a habit I may try to get going with my own multi-tasking duties. One day. When I've got time to split my day into chunks.
Back to writing: I found an old piece I wrote a long time ago for John Baker's Blog. There's lots on John's lovely blog On Writing & have bookmarked for a catch-up read when I need some inspiration. Meantime here's the piece below. So: onwards with writing. I have to forward tag two authors, I have one - if anybody fancies the other slot, please let me know.
Some of my short stories, avail on Amazon UK 77p Amazon US 99c
John Baker: "What phases are involved in the creation of a text?"
When I started writing (short stories) I used to carry a notebook around and make endless notes: ideas for current works in progress; ideas for new stories; overheard conversations. I still carry a notebook but rarely make notes. They tend now to be from books I am reading, a particular word I like, or a style element. Whilst research can trigger story development ideas, I discovered fairly early on that too much research and too many notes can become more of a time-wasting procrastination exercise than a contribution to progress. For me it’s not so much the characters who take on a life of their own as the story itself. Like many writers, I have far more ideas than I could ever work up into stories. It’s when an idea refuses to go away; when the story itself takes on an embryonic life and nags to be written that I have do something about it. It’s one of the most fascinating and intriguing things about being involved in the creative process. My first piece of creative work was a film. Situations arose that weren’t ordered by me or thought up by me. They simply arrived, looking for all the world like I’d been smart enough to consciously think of them. Writing is far more of an individual journey and these connections, coincidences, signals that I’m on the right track, never fail to fascinate me and are a huge part of the addiction.
Getting the story flowing isn’t straightforward, especially when writing has to be fitted in with work, family and the rest of life. Martin Amis said recently ‘your unconscious does it. Your unconscious does it all.’ I completely agree. When a story is in full flow I find myself in the happy state of waking up with the next scene in my head waiting to be written down. All I have to do is get up and write it out with little, if any, conscious effort at all. Before I get to that stage it’s a matter of turning up. Experience has taught me that there will be bad days, bad weeks, but so long as I keep going the words will, one day, flow again. When I’ve left the desk to do something completely different, the subconscious, churns away behind the scenes. The sound of a voice, a piece of dialogue, the opening line of the whole book, a resolution, a need to cut out a whole scene will pop up as if from nowhere. I have never been able to go out for a walk, say, to think over a scene. I either have to be writing down words or thinking I’m thinking about something entirely unrelated.
The best way for me to start is to get my characters up and speaking. No lengthy character profiles, often using random names that might stick or be changed later. I’ll do several chapters trying to keep to dialogue. Snippets of description will creep in, to be enhanced or deleted later. Chunks of plodding exposition will always get through. I see them more as notes to self rather than part of the finished story, to be deleted later or changed into dialogue. In the first quarter of the first draft I’m finding out what it’s about as I go. The only thing I have to do is keep going. My writing methods are constantly evolving. My first published novel was written using few of the craft techniques and little plotting, but with detailed character profiles and piles and piles of research notes. It went through at least 6 full rewrites. As I’ve become more experienced I want to cut down the rewrites. For my latest novel it would be possible to spend months and months on lovely research but I’m holding back as best I can. For the first time I’ve diagrammed out 12 or so scenes with the opening, the point of no return, the big complication, the climax and the end. These have already evolved in some places but the bigger structure remains in place. At the final rewrite I’ll check for colour, light and wind (any breath of movement I find very effective at bringing scenes to life). As for the completed novel, I agree with Susan Hill, who said recently that she sees hers as a creature apart which goes off on its own journey to make its way in the world.