Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Don't Buy That Method!

Oh, there are so many great sources for writing instruction out there! Authors, editors, publishers, universities, writing forums, books, YouTube clips ... For a beginning writer or even someone who is checking out the professional side of things, the plethora of resources can be daunting and confusing. Should you get a MFA? Which conventions and conferences should you attend? Which workshops should you take? One group of people swears by this method, others swear by another. Bloggers try to help by sharing their favorite methods and it adds to the confusion.

First off, take a big breath and relax.

Secondly, congratulations for recognizing that any good writer needs to work on their craft. Anyone who assumes otherwise is in for a long, hard ride.

But here's the bit of truth you seldom run into when trying to find the one-true method: There isn't one ultimate method to writing or your writing journey.

I'm sorry if that's a disappointment for some, that there isn't a fast-track to writing bliss and success. On the other hand, if you're like me, knowing that fact is a huge relief. It's easy to think you're doing everything wrong because your writing journey isn't the same as someone else. Online, everything seems so competitive. We are exposed to more success stories than we would in our real lives. Those that make it big become instant rock stars (never mind if it took them years to get there, we only see the here and now) and the rest of us are poor, deluded drudges. It gets depressing if you let it. Sometimes we're tempted to pay someone to teach us the mystic secrets of writing and publishing, and granted, some resources are worth the price. However, most of what you need to know, the basics, you can find out for free if you take the time to do some research.

Ask any writer and they'll share the resources they found helpful. It's a place to start. The next step is trying out different methods and see what works best for you. Chances are you will spend several years developing your method. That's good, and healthy.

But wait, there's more.

While it's not good to only buy into the method someone's trying to cram down your throat, did you know it's equally detrimental to only create one method for yourself? Once we get into a pattern that works for us, it's tempting to stay there, and it's possible to churn out many adequate or good books that way. So why bother rocking the boat once we get in?

Our brains are amazing, and there's this wonderful technique called interleaving that helps stimulate creativity, memory, and creating connections between facets that normally wouldn't come together. In other words, you can write better than your one-true method will allow you to.

When we're in those early experimental stages, we're actually at our creative best. We haven't locked onto one method; we're trying lots of methods. We're interleaving. Let's look at some examples:

1. You've been stuck on a particular chapter, having difficulty creating the right dialogue and exposition between two characters. You know what's going on, what needs to be discussed, even know how your characters feel about it, but things aren't working out right. Say your one-true method is to pound out the scene then go back and edit it like crazy until it shines. Not bad, and yes, you'll probably think of snappier dialogue with each pass. But, what if you tried a different method, a POV reversal. You've had the scene written out in character A's POV, now rewrite it from character B's POV. Wow, you think afterwards, I thought I knew both characters sides, but look what else came out. Switch the POVs back adding in the new angles, or maybe you'll decide that character B was the right way to go all along.

2. You're an outliner. It keeps you on track and you can check things off your outline as you do them; it gives you a sense of accomplishment and productivity. You wake up in the middle of the night with your story on your brain. An unplanned setting, an event not on the outline, and interaction between two characters you never intended to meet up suddenly makes several plotlines make more sense. Grab a sheet of paper or a notebook and write like a pantser. Don't outline the scene, write it. Don't worry about your outline, after all, outlines aren't carved in stone and you can always change the whole thing tomorrow when you add this new scene into the story. The point is, you're brain has made new connections unfettered by a strict outline which can change the success of your story.

3. You've always written chronologically; it helps you keep your facts straight; but now your stuck and having a hard time moving forward. In the back of your mind is the next key scene, the problem is you have to get your characters to that point before you can write it. Rip out that mental stop sign and go ahead and write the next key scene. By writing it, you may come up with the pathway those characters have to take in order to feel, do, and say the things that this scene demands.

4. You write your stories in first person, present tense. That's what's been popular for the past few years and you've become accustomed to it, even love it. But it's not working for your current WIP. First person's leaving out too many important details and events that would enrich the novel for your readers. The situation, at times, when written in present tense makes you sound like you're hyping up the slow parts of your novel to a ridiculous level. Try writing in close third, or even the frowned upon 3rd omniscient. Does it make the story flow better? You may find you even like it. Or, it will help you weed out what isn't working well in your pet style.

5. You've got a big, complex story with lots of character POVs. Making each of those POVs different is a Herculean task. You've been editing and editing to try to make a difference but your beta readers are struggling to know whose POV they're in. Time to pull the novel apart and work on one storyline at a time, rather than as a cohesive whole. This way you get into one character's head and stay there for the duration of their story, allowing you the time needed to develop that character's particular syntax, perspective, and style, making their voice strong.

Get the picture? Don't be afraid to stop your usual writing routine to try out something new, something different. Our brains like this kind of stimulation. We have to look at our writing from new angles in order to keep it fresh. Study the methods of others, lots of others, decide which ones work best for you, but don't stop interleaving methods. Never put yourself in a rut because it is safe.

From my own experience, I never realized I was a natural interleaver until I learned about it. I seldom get writer's block because of it, and I'm bombarded by new ideas and new connections all the time. No two novels are written the same way. If anyone were to ask me for my method I'd have to smile; I have no method. I use many and I like to discover new ones to try out. Perhaps after reading this post you've discovered you're a natural interleaver too. If so, keep it up, and don't let anyone else tell you to box yourself in. Embrace the creative freedom.

Question for you:
What are some of the methods or resources you've found helpful when writing? Please share them so everyone can learn something new.