Thursday, 11 June 2009

Don't Write: Read

My advice to anyone who intends writing a novel is don’t start. For the sake of your family, your friends and your sanity, don’t even think about it. Take up something more life enhancing, like a five-year period of solitary confinement in a dungeon.

I have spent the interval since my last post editing my first draft. My head has been in a very dark place with no light to illuminate the way, and no glimmer that might tell me if I am in tunnel or a cave. So overwhelming has been my obssession, I don’t believe I’ve heard a single word anyone has said to me during the intervening period. I have found it very difficult to switch off. Even as I write this, I am thinking about two small holes that need plugging.

Still, it is finished all bar the last chapter, the most difficult of all, and I am taking the briefest of breaks to come to it refreshed.

Editing has been an interesting exercise, very different from drafting the original MS, more technical, in terms of pace, structure, use of language, et cetera. I wrote the first very sparsely – at times it reads more like a film script than a novel –with few adjectives or adverbs. It was intentional; I concentrated on developing the character of the protagonists purely through their voice. My motto: show, don’t tell.

There is another reason for the leanness of my first draft – it concerns my ambition for the novel. I will not clarify here because, if it ever is published, I want readers to decide without my explanation.

Much of my editing has concentrated on giving the reader a sense of time and place, and to create a soundtrack for the novel through language.

I found this article by Tim Clare, How to get a book deal, via Lynn Price, via Sally Zigmond (welcome back, Sally). Tim’s journey to write his book was more fraught than mine. He ends the body of the article with five points on What not to do; A beginner’s guide, the first of which is; ‘Don't believe you dilute your vision by reading others' work.’

When I was editing, I scanned pages of three authors whose tone of voice was closest to the one I wanted to achieve. These I had to hand, so every time I became stuck on a technical issue, I would look at their work and analyse how they resolved a similar problem. For those who fear reading other people’s writing will prove more contagious than swine flue and infect their own style, think of it in terms of painting.

All artists, or those who paint in oil, study other artists to learn technique, style, structure and so on. They will go so far as to directly copy others’ art to get closer to the experience of the individual they are emulating. When it comes to the creation of their own work, they have a wider range of tools available to realise their personal vision.

The same is true for authors. The more technical facility you have, the better and more individual an author you will be.


Girl On The Run said...

What do you mean family and friends?

What friends?

Tara said...

In her book on writing, Jane Wenham-Jones says that writing is like childbirth, but not so much in the sense of a magical creative cycle as an exruciating agony which you then block out of your mind when you decide to write again! Having experienced both, I thought that was pretty spot on actually...