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 http://www.stevebrezenoff.com
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!