Saturday, October 13, 2007

Write, write, write...and smell the roses

Valerie Wolzien (Guest Blogger)

The best advice you can give a writer is write every day. It’s great advice, but sometimes, I think, you need to stop and smell the roses…

Somewhere out there are writers who, when they sit down to type page one, already know what will be on the final page of their manuscript. Many spend months making detailed plot outlines. They have notebooks (or computer files) crammed with descriptions of characters: everything from age and hair color to preferred breakfast food. They research locations and topics before they start writing and they don’t lose their notes only to discover them long after the complete manuscript is safely in their publisher’s hands. These paragons may work in the modern day equivalent of an ivory tower: a table at Starbucks, a private corner in the local library, or just a room of their own where they can close the door, positive no one will interrupt. Many claim that they write every day and they never, ever get up from their desk without completing a few thousand words.

Not me. I think of myself as a seat of my pants sort of writer. When the only thing on the page – or screen – is Chapter One, I rarely know more than who my main characters are (when you write series mysteries, that’s one thing you always know), who will die, and what the setting/season/situation will be.
And it’s fun to write the way I do. Since I don’t know how my characters will develop they frequently surprise me. Since I don’t know what I’m going to need to know when I begin, I can justify taking off to do a little research from time to time. I stay interested in my plot and I hope that means future readers will as well.

On the other hand… characters sometimes develop in directions that don’t fit in with the plot. I pick a murderer and then discover half way through the manuscript that I like him or her too much to make that character the killer. And sometimes I get stuck. Really stuck.

And if that happens to you, I’m going to suggest something slightly radical. Stop writing. Get up and go smell the roses. Or do whatever smelling the roses is in your life. Bake a cake. Take the dog for a long walk in the woods. Pull out those weeds strangling your impatients. Soak in a warm bubble bath. Get a pedicure. Find a road you don’t know well and go for a drive. But whatever you do, do it alone. This is not the time to call a friend and hit the mall. You need to clear your mind, not provide a social distraction. Your writing may be important to your family, but don’t ask them for tea and sympathy. This is time for you and you alone – time to let your subconscious do a bit of the work.

And sometime you’ll have an “ah ha” moment. The answer to your problem will appear almost miraculously. Sometimes. And it if doesn’t?

Sit back down in that chair and write, write, write.

Valerie Wolzien is author of the Susan Henshaw mysteries and the Josie Pigeon series.

2 comments:

paul lamb said...

I "know" my stories much the way I know a train trip. I am certain where I start, and I know where I will end. And I know some of the stops along the way. But that still leaves plenty of surprise and unexpected innovation along the way.
I'm pleased when I get 1,000 words written in a sitting.
Sometimes when I get stuck I try writing something completely different. I take my familiar characters and put them in an unfamiliar genre. My cozy mystery couple are suddenly homesteaders in the Old West, for example. It does wonders for invigorating them as characters, it generally breaks whatever "block" I am suffering, and it gives me new perspectives on how to use them.

Darlene Ryan said...

Smelling the varnish has been helping me work through some outline problems. No, I don't need a stint in rehab. I've been varnishing tons of woodwork. Bundled in a heavy sweatshirt with the crisp fall breeze blowing through all the open windows doing basically mindless work has turned into plotting time.