Sunday, 28 August 2016

One page at a time...

A lesson in the obvious for you today…

I have set myself the task, or maybe it’s better said, I have promised myself, to work on my latest short story one page at a time. I know at first that may sound ridiculous but wait just a second.

If you are interested in writing you may have tried many different methods to approaching a story. If you have studied creative writing, or completed any course that requires written work, you may well have been tasked with writing in a style that does not comes naturally, or perhaps on the other hand you have never had the need to bother trying out different approaches and maintained the same method your whole life. If like me you love hearing or reading from writers in autobiographies or on YouTube telling you how they do it you may be surprised at the range of styles. You may laugh at how similar you are to someone or seriously frown at how much you contrast but the point is, I wonder how much you try a different technique to see if it works for you? There is the assumption that a natural writer will intuitively know how to produce great work and no matter where they find themselves or under what circumstances they’ll come up with the goods… and that maybe true for some. But it is also true that a lot of writers need quite specific surroundings and a quite specific set up in order to feel comfortable enough to concentrate. The room in which you write, the ambient noise, the times you write, and all that stuff is for another blog, I want to write about here the actual way you get the words down.

Remember please (repeated disclaimer No. 38872) that I am an amateur writer and this is a personal blog on my own experiences. I'm just an average bloke that is slowly crawling his way along, not in any way someone you should credit with any wisdom! In the past I have been so keen to get down ideas I have skipped back and forth between the major elements in a story, I have completed the end first, I have wrote a scene before it has any relevance to the story and all manner of different, messy, upside down and back to front ways. What I haven’t done up to now is be very strict with myself and write one page at a time. What I mean by that is not to draft another scene before I have finished the one I’m on, in the order in which the reader will read the book. If I get fed up with a page, or I’m stuck on what happens next, or I’m bored of the dialogue, etc. then I do not move on and start working on something else... as tempting as that is to do. I have persevered with this for the last few months and doggedly stuck to the bit I am on. If I am without Internet access and can’t reference something or I’m out and can’t access my thesaurus or dictionary I don’t skip it and go back to it later, I use the term I feel will do for now and continue. If I don’t particularly like the way it’s going (and pretty much know I’ll be rewriting it later) I still keep going.

Again, I know that sounds obvious. However I have found it works really well. It seems like I am taking longer and the length of a single page appears to have doubled, but I am enjoying seeing a single piece of work develop in front of me rather than having multiple sections all coming together like a jigsaw puzzle. It helps me feel more in control of the work and somehow more attentive to the way the storyline is developing. Now, this is just a trial. It’s good to have an arsenal of weapons and maybe this is a caliber of gun I use sparingly, or it may become the style upon which I rely, I don’t know yet, I will see how this story comes out. But in terms of the working process, I feel confident and optimistic it is helping me improve my writing as well as defining a clear working process. So as silly as it seems to say out loud and as face-slappingly boring it may be to hear, try writing one page at a time and never allow yourself to skip a single sentence without feeling it is complete. I have spent longer on a single page than I ever have before and sometimes given up on a writing session before making any progress whatsoever but coming back to that same point has stressed me to the point of compulsion and I have eventually found a way to break through (which is why I say it has helped improve me as a writer because I don't allow myself to pass over 'dodgy bits', I work at them until they are less 'dodgy' and just 'questionable' which is progress at my level). Of course, there will be multiple redrafts as always (sorry to all the single shot genii out there) but that has also been a revelation to me. Instead of having the entire story to redraft (which I do like but often I know there are weak or missing sections within certain chapters which will take significant time to work on) I am editing and redrafting a chapter at a time that is in a much better condition and doesn't make me feel like I am starting from scratch, this is because every time I start a new writing session I re-read up to the point I am stuck on (which believe it or not I don't always do, normally I just crack on immediately and worry about making sure the voice or narrative style, etc maintains continuity later on through editing and re-writing). That I think is one of the biggest benefits as it has helped me to tighten the structure as I go along and identify where things are working or not and incorporate what I need in the following chapter. Before, it has taken me a long time to work through a draft (the amount of red lines and annotations almost story length in themselves) and this way it feels so much more ready. It will still take work of course, I'm not saying by the time I finish the last sentence the story is ready, but because each scene has already undergone several read-throughs and edits it's not so scary a prospect to go through the whole thing. Saying that, the redrafting process (or is just the drafting process) is something I'll blog about separately. 

Right, next week: How to walk without falling over.

Have a great Sunday,

R.G Rankine