August 5, 2011 by Marcus Speh
I’m giving myself some advice on the tandem of plotting & writing first draft, which I’m currently engaged in. As my clever sister-in-law always says, “take my advice, I’m not using it“.
1. Look for the energy: always go on writing when you’re lost. Stop when you’re excited or when you already know where you’re going next. (My wife thinks that this advice came originally from Dorothea Brande, who has written the best book for writers ever, but I haven’t checked). Why: so that the energy is high when you come back to your plot. This is important for the long haul. Why not: out of fear you won’t have enough energy (but then you probably wouldn’t even embark on a long project, right?)
2. Stay within a plotline: plot the entire novel, then write only and strictly withint the bounds of what you’ve decided the plot to be; work your way through that outline like a bulldozer. Why: because it works, logically and structurally—you want to build a house, right? Why not: because your plot may smother your characters like a logical straightjacket. Fictional houses don’t need plumbing as much as ghosts. (I followed this method for my last long project and failed.)
3. Act out your plot: act the scenes out that you already have: perform them; dance them; improvise or sing them; drum them on the window sill when the rain comes down; use the music that emerges to discover new scenes. Why: because you must use your body to be fully present in the story (Speh’s Law Of Kinaesthetic Writing). Why not: because it’s hard, takes time and you don’t know if it’ll work. This is not a Waldorf school.
4. Experiment with your material: Print what you’ve written and hang it up on a wall, lay it out on the floor or (best!) hang it in a tree. Or put them in a pillow, stuff it with the story so far. Then pull the tale you are meant to write out of the maze, pull it out of the pillow. Experiment with scene order, with beginnings and endings. Why: what looks like random behavior may reveal unconscious choices that often are the wisest. And again, you’ll use your whole body & you get away from your overheated brain. Why not: maybe you don’t sleep with a pillow? Do you mistrust trees since part II of The Lord of the Rings? Seriously, same objection as in (3) above.
5. Take your novel to the Prom(pt)s: Look for inspiring pictures anywhere (preferably not just on the Internet) and go through your library (at random), circling words that have energy for you, photos, paintings, faces, people. If you can, place them in a mindmap (you won’t have to do this: your mind will store everything that you see, especially in the context of a creative endeavor) or use them more directly as prompts for your writing. Why: your unconscious is constantly looking for new ideas and scraps of information; regular research, while satisfying to the right brain, may not grease the left brain; this branching out away from the line and the word may do the trick. Why not: see above. (I can’t really think of a good reason).
6. Turn your project into art: Print your story and cut the printout into pieces of any size. Turn the mess into a collage; or blow the text up before printing it and draw into the result; whatever you do (when looking at your writing as art), don’t read but look for shapes on the inside of your mind when you focus on your story. Why: as (5) above but even more extreme because, when you focus on your text as a completely different thing, you go, on the surface, very far away from it, but in actual fact, you may even get closer to it than when you just write. Why not: well, why the heck not—are you afraid of art?
Now, I’m off to see my personal wizard in Paris, all set for doing some prompt-seeking and art-finding in the Louvre and along the Seine and even at EuroDisney (never been to anything like it), and in the Jardin des Plantes, and…so my last suggestion will hurt your purse but not your pride:
7. Get away from yourself —and don’t bring a laptop! (I know I won’t.) Travel somewhere. Take a walk up a high mountain. Sleep in a sensory deprivation tank (for a week). Fall crazily in love. Dovetails with suggestion no. 1 above. Why: you get away from yourself because if you don’t you go crazy. Or your story goes crazy on you (without you noticing it). It has happened to me! Why not: money, time, fear of open water, planes…other writers, readers. Better to stay online. (Just kidding.)
See you next week & let me know if any of these worked for you!
Cheers & thanks for coming along for the ride,