In the last three months of 2012 I pulled together the plot for the Ferret Files, working it out end to end, including Bios for all the main characters, their drivers and story arcs. I patted myself on the back for a job well done and then sat down to write the damn thing.
Let me tell you, ‘sit down and write’ is not as easy as it sounds.
I didn’t know it was going to be so difficult when I started. Having followed #amwriting and #amediting on Tw@tter for some months now, I’m certainly not alone in my aspirations and frustrations. Some days I just need to stay under the duvet; even the smell of freshly brewed coffee on the stove, wafting up the stairs can’t drag me to the keyboard.
I started out full of it, word count was everything. The higher, the better. Then I decided I’d rather write 1,000 good words than 10,000 bad ones and slowed down. What’s a good word? Shedopsycodelaphia is a good word (I made that one up, BTW). However, if I write it 1,000 times, it doesn’t make my work any better. Eventually I concluded that a good word is a word in the right place, which looks right, feels rights and sounds right when you read your work aloud, in character. Similarly, bad words abound when nothing reads right, feels right or sounds right when you read your work out. If you, the author become bored and start looking out the window, counting sheep, before you get to the end, it’s time for some serious editing.
How do you start?
Those are where my duvet moments come in. The first time I refused to get up to the sweet smell of brewing Bourbon (my blend of the moment) the missus thought I was stricken with the lurgy. The truth is, I was buried beneath the duvet, deconstructing the work of others, to figure out how they’d done something smart with their plot or revealed a certain character trait.
I started out life as a programmer, back in the days when 4K was a lot of memory. In order to become better at my job, I spent weeks hacking away at other people’s code, deconstructing what they’d done, in order to sharpen my own skills. I found I work best this way. Having someone tell me what to do, then repeating the exercise doesn’t make stuff stick in my brain, not in the same way that taking something to pieces and then putting it back together does.
Those duvet moments are important to me. I don’t tend to read books anew, I choose something I’ve read before and I like. Then I put my analysis head on and read it in a different way, almost as an observer rather than a reader. How did they disguise that twist? How did they first make me dislike that character? When the plot took a turn of speed, how did they stop it from flying off the road?
I find that when I’m reading in this manner, my unconscious mind starts to shift my work around. This bit belongs here; that bit goes there. It’s like a gigantic mental jigsaw puzzle, as the pieces rearrange themselves in my head. It’s enjoyable, it’s work, but it doesn’t necessarily look like it to an outside observer.
There are many ways of getting better and this is one of mine. Once you’ve done the best job you can, then comes the really scary bit: showing your work to others. That’s a whole new blog entry.