I just got back from my monthly London Writers Society meeting, and there were a lot of interesting thoughts and opinions floating around tonight, so I thought I’d share some of them. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with some of these — in fact, several of them I think are totally wrong — but I figured I’d share the full spectrum, and then you guys can take or leave whatever you want!
In no particular order … wisdoms from my writers society meeting:
Great writers should aim to write 1,000 words a day
Great writers should treat writing like a full time job, and work at least seven hours a day, six days a week
It’s more effective to write for a set period of time than write toward a specific word count goal
Great writers should “blueprint” their books before they ever set fingers to keyboard
Great writers should write first, and research later
Great writers should research first, and write second
Great writers should write only what they know
Lots of interesting ideas presented … and I’m not sure where I stand on a lot of them. I definitely disagree with the “write first, research later” mantra. What if I’ve decided to write a story about 18th century pirates in the South Pacific? I don’t know anything about 18th century pirates. I don’t know anything about the South Pacific. I don’t even know if there were 18th century South Pacific pirates. For all I know, the 18th century South Pacific seas were ruled by a cabal of hyper-intelligent octopoids. I’ll never know unless I research!
Unrelated media of the day:
Speaking of not knowing what the heck you’re talking about …
I had the coolest experience this morning, and I really wanted to share it with you!
So like many creative types, I have really vivid dreams. Most of the time they’re erratic and fun, but not much use otherwise. You know, I’ll be running through a laser tag arena inside a closed shopping mall, trying to chase down a squad of Death Eaters and their pet panthers so I can stop them from reaching the grand library and aligning the twelve planets to attain ultimate cosmic power.
That sort of thing.
This morning, I had a dream about a boarding school in northern Ontario where a select group of students were learning magic instead of whatever subject they were supposed to be learning. It was pretty cool, as I’m a big fan of the whole “magic school” plot. Then I woke up, lay in bed grinning at the awesome dream for a few minutes, and then suddenly had a brainwave about a novel I’ve been struggling with. Eureka!
Apart from containing a school which technically teaches magic, but not really, because they’re mostly preparing themselves to fight giant elemental monsters, the dream had very little to do with my novel. But something about the dream triggered a spark in my brain, and led me to the solution I’ve been otherwise unable to come up with on my own.
Three big cheers for dreams and imagination! Hip hip, hurray!
Yeah … it’s going pretty miserably, not going to lie. I’m at something like 4.5k words. It’s bad. On the plus side, I have made some strides in figuring out how the story will progress, so even if I only break 10k by the end of the month, at least I’ll have a solid foundation to work from in the future!
I feel that there are two types of book memories. There are the big memories, like a major plot point, where you look back and think, “Aw man, I never saw that coming, that was so cool!” And there are the little memories, like a line of dialogue you thought was so hysterical you fell off your bouncy ball laughing. Both are important, and both are necessary to create a great story.
I’ll tell you why I’ve been thinking about this. I’m always reading about writers who swear by their outlines. And they have a good point — how can you make sure you include everything you want to include in the story if you don’t have it written down? Unless your memory is unbelievably fantastic, in which case never mind. But I’ve tried making elaborate outlines, and here’s what happens: it becomes a plodding, paint by numbers exercise in soul-sucking futility, and while I hit all the big memories (the plot points), the little memories are much, much harder to come by.
Maybe it’s just me. I’m horribly disorganized anyway, so maybe outlines and I just don’t mix by default. But when I have an outline that I’m trying to turn into a story, I follow it step by step, doing exactly what it says, and I feel like I lose some of the spark that comes from just attacking a project with a handful of characters in your head, and a vague idea of where they’re going to end up.
So when I go back and look over what I’ve written, I’ve hit all the relevant plot points — oh boy, have I hit them. But that’s all the characters do. They’re so focused on getting from one pivotal scene to the next that they never stop to have fun, or say an amusing quip, or do something ridiculous, like have an impromptu game of laser tag and fall into a vat of space jelly.
I feel like outlines stifle me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. At the same time, I’m sure there are perfectly brilliant authors out there who use outlines all the time, and produce stunning pieces of literature. It probably just boils down to personal taste.
My personal strategy is to jot down very brief notes on what will happen in the story, and then make up the details as I go. For example, in Chasing Nonconformity (the sequel to Imminent Danger), I know that the gang will head to the planet Chingu to retrieve something very valuable that they’ve misplaced. I have several plot points down for what they’ll do when they’re on the planet, but other than that, they can really get up to whatever the heck they want. At the moment, Eris has decided to go shoe shopping. And why not? I can always cut it out later if it doesn’t work with the flow of the story.
That’s the beauty of writing a book — you’re the author! You can write whatever you want, and you have no one to answer to except yourself! Well, and your fans. And your friends and family. And the general public. And reviewers. And the …
Maybe I should start that outline after all.
Unrelated media of the day:
I’ll be honest, I haven’t kept track of what I’ve posted under the Unrelated Media section, so I have no idea if I’ve shared this already. Oh well. Don’t watch it if you’ve already seen it! Or do watch it. Whatever floats your tiger-infested lifeboat.
In today’s unrelated media, Buzz Aldrin raps about how awesome it was to be an astronaut.