For those just arriving on the shores of the island of creativity I’m calling “my writing“, welcome.
Yes, welcome. Pull up a tree trunk, park yourself and listen in.
My novel – working title, Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners (DTDLLTO) – it is already a few years in the making. If thinking about my characters was an Olympic sport, you’d be hanging a medal around my neck. Whereas, if actually writing the thing was a race, I’d be picking up the cones and turning off the lights.
When I read that back, it seems like I’m down on myself about DTDLLTO. I assure you I’m not. The thinking is important, essential in fact. I may have barely opened Scrivener this last week, but I’ve put some hours in to the narrative and characters.
Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hardDavid McCullough
I’ve created a new game. A writing game. I’m calling the game “make that paragraph less shit“. There’s only me playing so I’m guaranteed a victory. C’mon, let me show you into my mind as it tackles some DTDLLTO quandaries:
If you’re going to write a good book, you have to make mistakes and you have to not be so cautious all the time.Zadie Smith
There’s a point in my story where one of my two protagonists, let’s call her Rosa (because that is her actual name), decides that she can’t move on with the new things in her life unless she unloads her past onto my other protagonist, let’s call him Alec (which is still a working name, he may end up being Barry, or Aubrey or Victor). Not only that, she has been keeping a massive secret from him too.
The paragraph which shows Rosa reaching this decision is going to be a pretty major pivot for the reader and I want it to be seamless. Seamless but not gentle. The words need to have the reader gulping nervously but still be eager to read on.
So I wrote the paragraph as fast and as crudely as I could while I was in between deliveries at work. Then, in my next 10 minute window I rewrote it. In my official break, I rewrote it twice more. Now I’ve left it to stew in my journal. I’ll return to the paragraph next week and rewrite all over again.
It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.Jack Kerouac
I know I’ve declared NO EDITING until the end of this first rough draft, but I wanted to challenge myself to refine those moments which are going to shake the story up. The process of rewriting this one paragraph has meant some focussed reflection time about where DTDLLTO goes next. It’s not just about that one paragraph, it is also about setting me up to attack the next phase of the book with fresh ideas and a willing mind.
Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.Larry L King
So no, I’m not at all disappointed with progress (although I’ll always beat myself for not doing more!)
I bloody love my journal.
And I’m using it more and more.
My note taking has become prolific, even if I do say so myself. Looking back through the journal finding prompts for this blog, I see I’ve been paying attention to everything I’ve listened to this week:
James O’Brien interviewing Omid Djalili and Tom Walker (he of Jonathon Pie fame) for example, both of which had been scribbling about privilege and stereotypes. So much great listening in the van this week – yet another delightful episode of Other PPL podcast, with Brad Listi interviewing Kathryn Miles, award winning journalist and author.
I’ve also listened to Zadie Smith’s hefty essay collection, Feel Free.
The most notes I’ve taken though, are from the book I’m reading, Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man. Wow, so much power, wisdom and strength in the writing. A truly humbling memoir. In the face of a brutality we thankfully could never imagine, he didn’t give up on himself.
We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last – The power to refuse our consent.Primo Levi, If This Is A Man
So. With Primo Levi as our inspiration, onwards we go my friends, onwards……