Night Two Writing Tip

Steve Brezenoff, author of THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF -1–debuting September 1, 2010 by Carolrhoda Books–blogs below. To find out more about Steve and his books visit him at

I’ve heard a lot of advice about how to write in my life. There’s the old yarn about writing every day: I think when I was in college, as a Creative Writing major in my freshman year (I switched to Literature in my sophomore year), I told someone I was a writer. The person–no
doubt an upperclassman–replied with a question: “Do you write every
day?” I had to reply honestly and that I did not in fact write every
day. I think my admitting that made his day. “Then you’re not really a
writer,” he said, smugly. “A real writer writes every day. He can’t
help it, in fact. It’s not a question of discipline. It’s a question
of compulsion.”

I believed that for years. Literally, years. It probably contributed
to my changing majors, although I can mostly blame that on my freshman
Writing Poetry class, which I loathed. But I digress.

Over the years, it occurred to me–and was probably explained to
me–that writing every day was in fact a matter of discipline. Some
days, even “real” writers aren’t driven to the
pen/typewriter/computer. On those days, we need the discipline to sit
down and bang out a few hundred or thousand words. We hear BIC
plenty–butt in chair, that is–and there’s more than a grain of truth
to it. Sometimes a clogged writing pipe needs to be forced open, and
then, after a hundred or five hundred of two thousand words, it starts
to flow a little easier. Sometimes it doesn’t, of course; sometimes
it’s futile. But you have to try.

Recently–perhaps because I’ve sold a novel and done loads of
work-for-hire writing such that I can comfortably call myself a
writer–I’ve come to understand that a writer, no matter his or her
stature in the field, need not write every day. A writer writes. When,
where, why, how often–these are all tremendous variables. If you can
count on a free three-hour block every Tuesday after lunch, and you
use it to write, then you’re a writer. If you can count on one full
day every third Saturday, or fifteen minutes before breakfast every
odd day, or forty-five minutes on days that begin with “T,” and you
use that time to write, then you’re a writer. It’s that simple.
Writing takes a lot of commitment, certainly, but it’s not a
faith–there’s no dogma.

But listen. You’ve heard all this before, in some shape or form, so
I’ll share one of my particular, um, techniques when I write. Here’s
how I do it.

I start. It doesn’t matter if it’s the beginning or some scene in the
middle or the very last paragraph or a scene before the beginning that
I’ll no doubt decide is to expository and get rid of (this happens all
the time!). Once the first scene I want to write is written, I’ll keep
going, if I can, getting to know these characters. There’s a pretty
good chance that at this point I have no idea what this story is even
about. Doesn’t matter. The characters will typically let me know what
they need out of life, and that’s your story.

Once I hit a wall, I stop that flow and take the protagonist to
another place. Is there a character I know this protagonist needs to
meet down the road? Is there a conflict I know needs to arise or an
argument or fist fight that needs to go down? Then I write that scene.
I keep doing that until I can think of no other scenes that need
writing. Now I’ve got chunks of book lying around, like a jigsaw
puzzle, so I do my damnedest to put them together. Now I have a very
unfinished jigsaw puzzle.

This is where the work starts, for me. This is where readers and crit
partners come in. They can tell you what you’ve taken for granted,
lost sight of, forgotten about. They will see the plot flaws you
missed, the characters you have no closure with, the subplots that
aren’t featured enough, or featured too strongly. They’ll see the hook
you missed. Listen to them. Then implement the ideas you think will
make the book stronger. (Yeah, being honest with yourself about this
takes practice.)

How to implement? Well, write more scenes. You might think that this
will lead to a lot of disjointed scenes, and this does happen. But
frankly connecting scenes is often a matter of a sentence or two to
establish time and scene. It’s no great hurdle.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Happy Hanukkah!

8 comments for “Night Two Writing Tip

  1. December 13, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Those are some wonderful advice, and I really couldn’t have agreed more! 🙂

  2. December 14, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Great essay, Steve. Ray Bradbury has a lot to do with that trite little truism about real writers, or maybe it’s just credited to him, like Vonnegut’s speech about sun screen. Either way, it’s just another permutation on what they call a self-sealing fallacy, aka the “true Scotsman” fallacy. Thanks for trying to put that old chestnut out to stud. (if you parse that correctly, it’s not a mixed metaphor).

  3. December 14, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Well said about the discipline, Steve. And your process, I think you have described it to me before, I am determined to try it on my next book. In fact I have already started. And what I like so far is the mystery around it, more like reading a book. Thanks!

  4. December 14, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    I find scene writing to be both good and bad. I usually only do it when I’m “stuck”, which is a frustrating place to be and thus the scene writing comes out of a place of frustration. However, I do get a lot of good material out of it in the end. Sometimes I too feel guilty when I don’t write every day, but sometimes that is the best thing that can happen.

  5. Kay
    December 14, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Great article Steve! From the perspective of a wanna be author like me, love to hear your process. I guess different things work for different people. I do write everyday, but because I need to get the ideas out of my head or I won’t be able to concentrate on anything else sadly. Major ADD.
    Thank you for sharing with all of us the interworks of the Brezenoff creative process. You are indeed a brilliant author.

  6. danny abe
    December 15, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    thanks i enjoyed that

  7. December 15, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    It’s great to see that someone else works this way. I don’t write my whole book in this manner but when I get stuck, I write scenes that I have in my head. Often, I can use them. Sometimes, I can’t. Either way, they help me see how the story should play out. Thanks for sharing, Steve!!

  8. December 16, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    I must admit to getting rather cranky when people trot out the old war horse, “A real writer writes everyday.” I do agree that some element of routine is helpful, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in life, is that dichotomous thinking usually isn’t worth the worry-lines. Out to pasture, Mr. Ed!

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