Monday, July 26, 2010

Slipping out of the Time Stream

I received another rejection today. With it, the editor provided some valuable feedback to improve the story. The notes were, quite frankly, things I should have caught myself. Nothing like a polite rejection as a reminder not to get sloppy! So, my thanks to the kind and talented assistant editor who read my latest attempt at the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I shall polish and send it out again!

As I try to live and work through a hectic week, preparing for a “vacation” to Buffalo, NY, it’s difficult to keep my thoughts in focus. Doing anything in a straight line is impossible. It reminds me, though, of a topic I’ve been meaning to cover for some time.

Do you write chronologically? That is, do you sit down with a blank piece of paper, begin at point A and write in logical sequence until you arrive at point B?

I used to. In some cases, I still do. When it came to writing a novel, though, I was stalled. I tried everything--outlines, flow charts, mind maps--everything but letting myself slip out of the time stream. (And maybe self-discipline, but that’s another story.) I finally came to the point where I realized that holding myself to a chronological writing order was inhibiting my progress. If I finished a scene and didn’t have a clue what came next, I stopped. I never allowed myself to skip a scene, or a chapter, or several chapters. There I stayed. As a result, I am the proud owner of about five novel beginnings, but no middles or ends. Then, nearly three months ago, everything changed.

You see, I don’t think in straight lines. Since I don’t edit this blog as rigidly as most of my work, you may have noticed!

I’m not unique in this; many people don’t think in straight lines. My progress from A frequently passes through C and D and maybe F before I get anywhere near B. Since I don’t think in a line, it’s difficult to make myself write in one. I have a long-standing habit of cutting and pasting as I write, in an effort to make my work come out as something another human soul can comprehend. For some reason, though, I always tried to hold myself to a timeline in my fiction, never straying from the A to B progression.

Nope; didn’t work.

About three months ago, I finally gave myself permission to jump around. (And to write a crappy first draft, but that’s another story.) Hey, I didn’t feel like writing chapter two after I was done with chapter one? By all means, work on chapter five! Write the end before I’d written the beginning? Made perfect sense!

If you happen to think in straight lines, just the thought of mayhem like that is giving you a nervous twitch. If you don’t, though, the thought may be liberating. It was for me. Sure, I’ll have a heck of a mess to work with when I go for draft number two, but that’s okay. In the 2009 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books), Donna Gephart says, “…every writer knows a good book isn’t written—it’s rewritten” (page 21). You can edit out the rough stuff, but you can’t edit what didn’t get written in the first place. Or, as Donald Vaughan said (same reference as above), “It’s a whole lot easier to revise a bad page than a blank one.”

Not every method works for every writer. Find what work for you. If using your outline and writing from end to beginning works, then do that. If you realize you work best without an outline, then throw that out, too. The point is, if sticking to a certain idea of the “right” writing method has been keeping you from writing at all, then it’s time to throw it out and create a method of your own.

Anyone up for a little time travel?

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