The past few weeks have been an interesting mix of ways to fill up a day. Because I’m not working, it’s become entirely optional what I do with the hours I’m awake and that’s been both a blessing and a curse, as they say.
I’d started chiding myself for sleeping in and mooching about to the degree I was, but on reflection I realised I’d done quite a bit and just not noticed. (It just seemed small in relation to my to-do list!) In short the achievements can be summarised as reading, weeding, planting, equipping, shopping, painting, watching, socialising, exploring and writing. Yes even writing has occurred.
Not half bad, methinks.
Still, I had hoped to have done more writing and instead have found myself doing more thinking about writing. Maybe because I’ve been reading so much fiction. Maybe because I hosted a writing group meeting for the first time in yonkers. Maybe just because that’s what you tend to do when you’ve written barely a word for six months and only recently lured back your writing demon.
Probably some combination of the above, but the net result set me to confronting a long running prejudice of mine. A prejudice against ‘writing books’.
Until a week ago, I had read just one book on writing fiction. That book was thrust on me by an imploring friend who pretty much trapped me in a room until I agreed to read it. Her motivation was pure – she wanted me to become a Mills & Boon romance writer and make my fortune. It was actually an interesting book for someone like me who’d never read a romance novel, but what I remember about it most strongly was the adamant opening statement that the is no formula to romance fiction. I remember that because the rest of the book read suspiciously like a formula for writing romance fiction!
So why the prejudice against ‘writing books’?
I’ve always had a suspicion that such a how-to analysis might just suck the joy out of writing for me. Assuming it had anything useful to teach me in the first place.
I know that sounds arrogant. But when you’ve been writing fiction since before you started reading it for yourself, without anyone teaching you and doing ‘OK’ it’s just seems a doubtful proposition that a book can teach you much. Which isn’t to say that I thought my writing born into the world perfectly formed, but it had been good enough to match my own ambitions.
So what led me to reading no less than four ‘writing books’ last week? Two things I think.
Firstly I’d found myself wondering if I wasn’t just a complete moron for avoiding doing what pretty much every author I know has done in pursuit of becoming a better writer. Secondly I have a library card (normally I buy books), and unlimited time on my hands, so it involved remarkably little effort!
Besides, a few writers I know had extolled the virtues of On Writing by Stephen King, and he’s an author I could absolutely imagine having things to teach me.
My library had two copies of On Writing, and a range of other books from which I picked a fair selection. I have one left to go, and think I will re-read On Writing before I slip it back in the library returns chute.
No I didn’t come out of the experience feeling reborn, or even with a notebook crammed with favourite insights and advice. What I did finish the week with, was a great sense of motivation to do something I didn’t think I’d do… redraft my one finished manuscript.
The Sci-Fi Novel, as I usually refer to it, was finished in ’08 and as far as I was concerned it was done. Not perfect, but good enough to just exist as it was. Also, it being a ‘first novel’ I thought why should I spend more time on it? There were other novels waiting to be written.
Now I think I was just waiting for an excuse to go back to it, because it’s a bit suspicious that the first two ‘writing books’ I consumed led straight to that inspiration (brains and writing demons can be sneaky like that), but maybe not.
The first book (The Little Red Writing Book) was all about sentences, which is kind of logical when you think that well-turned sentences maketh the book. My mind instantly bounded off to the shelf in my head labelled “what’s missing from the sentences in my sci-fi novel”. Yes that shelf actually existed in my head, and had done since I got ‘beta-reader’ feedback on the novel shortly after I finished the draft.
What Mr King brought to the mix, was his saying he writes his first draft ‘with the door closed’, i.e. a whole draft with no outside input. Then he redrafts with ‘the door open’. I’d largely written the first draft door-closed, but after opening the door I’d stopped.
Suddenly I knew that this is what I’ve been wanting to do since 2010, when I was seized by the desire to add a prologue / new first chapter from the POV of my antagonist.
Apparently my writing demon approves, and has been flying loop-da-loops all around the house since last Thursday.
So maybe, at this stage in my writing life, the benefit of ‘writing books’ is to hold up a mirror to my own practice?