Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How Do You Do The Thing You Do? Cate Tells All

The estimable Cate Sweeney, author of Selfish Jean (which is the cleverest title around, though I have verified that 9 of 10 Americans don't get it [google Richard Dawkins, you slowboats]) has dropped a note in the comment trail about her own working methods. It, or some version of it, will probably appear on her own blog, but in the meantime, enjoy this and pay close attention to Cate's First Rule of Writing:

Hi David. I just spent ages writing about how I write and then went to publish it and it didn't save. Bugger! First rule of writing, make sure you have a copy of your work somewhere. So I'll try again, but I'm sure it won't be so good this time (oh we always say that!)

Anyway, I'll cut and paste this to your blog too, but basically I do a bit of both planning and flying without a plane. I'll do a basic plan of the story (arc if you wanna be posh) roughly where I think it's gonna go and the main characters, but then I just plunge in and bash my way through, like Bam-bam in The Flintstones, without going back over it that much till I finish a whole draft, or a least get over half way through, because the problem with this method is, you often realise there was something you should have put in earlier to make the plot work better, or as you found, the need to delay information a bit.

I think stage plays and screenplays have to be much more tightly structured (hence McKee's apoplexy!) and I studied playwriting, but think I prefer novel writing because we can wander off for a bit, as long as it's not too far or for too long.

I think the plan/no plan thing is something to do with (I say in my usual know-all way) right brain/leftbrain conscious/subconscious or something like that... so we need to be logical and contolling to work out a plan, but we shouldn't do it too much and should let the wild creative unconscious stuff take over sometimes (in writing and in life!) because that's where the magic happens, when we start making themes and links and images that all connect somehow and we had no idea at the time, or when we find just the perfect phrase without thinking...

...the downside of not much plan is I think there is a lot more rewriting to do, as I'm finding at the moment. Such as me wanting to hang onto my first two chapters because I'd just been writing my way into the characters and didn't want to let them go! Whatever way we choose, none of it is easy, but it is (mostly) enjoyable.


Lucy McCarraher said...

His David,
This is probably poor blog etiquette, but I've already posted this comment two posts ago, but would like to hear what anyone thinks of my idea about Kindred Spirits.

This was in response to Roger's earlier comment:

Now there's someone who's far more planned and plotted than me. Chapter by chapter breakdowns I do, like Roger, but index cards - that's a step too far. I did do a family tree for the 1940s storyline in Kindred Spirits, and I do jottings about characters - usually on pieces of paper I then lose. But I certainly do the "cooking" part like Roger - two to three months minimum, I think. And try to consign detail to the filing cabinet in the back of my mind where I find I can usually retrieve it quite easily when it's required (I suppose that's the thing called memory - but if I call it that I get panicky and think it won't work.)

I'm thinking of putting Kindred Spirits on the web as a free download, or only for the cost of giving me feedback. Does anyone have any reasons why this would be either a good, or perhaps a very bad idea?

Jake said...

I'll play the young inexperienced upstart who thinks he can play in the same arena as the Big Shots, and post a response in my journal as well.

Lucy McCarraher said...

Hi Jake,
Just read your interesting comment about starting to write. Now I feel I should have added to my method: read voraciously, ingest loads of different styles, notice words, syntax, grammar, imagery etc etc and file it away, synthesise it. And also, for me at least, live quite a long time, experience a lot and process that experience before you try to express it on the page in any great detail. Of course some people can live a lot in shorter real time than others.... And don't let the bastards grind you down (that's a reminder to myself as well!).