Writing Advice 2

People in writing groups often ask me, “What do I do when I get conflicting advice? How will I ever decide which way to go?”

My answer is: “Try it both ways and see which works! Don’t just write one ending, write three!”

It’s a medically proven fact: Writing the same scene several different ways won’t actually kill you.

Take a cue from visual artists. They make a hundred pencil drawings of a subject before even starting with the paint. They paint the same dang pot of flowers a dozen times, with only slight variations. They doodle in their sketchbooks all day, making stuff no one will ever see. But they rarely sit there and just complain about a compositional problem without putting their hands on a brush/pen/piece of clay.

In my second novel, Fine Prey, I actually wrote a scene that I knew wouldn’t be in the final draft, just so I could visualize what had happened “off screen” in the story. Weird, but it worked.

In another case, I lost a short story and had to write it again from scratch. Then I found the original again. (Argh.) Guess what? The combination of the two–taking the best elements of each–was better than anything I would have reached by fiddling endlessly with that lost original. And the experience of writing a story twice and then comparing the two versions helped me understand it in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.

You see, paper is magic: Making marks on it changes your brain. So, don’t sit around trying to think your way out of problems, write your way out of them. The best place to find answers is on a piece of paper or a glowing phosphorus screen.

One quick note
Of course, thinking about writerly issues in the shower or while jogging is a fine habit to get into, because otherwise that’s just wasted time.* Please understand that I’m not against thinking; I’m only against thinking that thinking on its own will get you out of a hole. Shovel also needed.

*Except for the being hygienic and fit, which is somewhat useful.

7 thoughts on “Writing Advice 2

  1. thinking about writerly issues in the shower or while jogging

    I prefer to hash things out with my muse while I am flying my Cesna. The morning commute is mind-numbly dull without a good and proper argument to keep my mind of which direction the nose of the plane is pointing. I am sure that there has been many a morning that I would have been the perfect candidate for one of your Bungee Jackets.

    Of course, I am completely kidding. I don’t really have a Cesna, my commute averages about 12 minutes, and I don’t argue with my muse…much.

  2. Me, on the other hand, when I am at a loss of ideas (or brain waves for that matter- which trust me, happens often), I prefer to bang my head against the nearest wall. Then again, During those times I can hardly tell the difference between a wall and an antique vase. SO not bubbly.

  3. Thinking about writing while exercising or in the shower is my downfall. I’ll suddenly get all of these ideas I wouldn’t otherwise get, and I have no paper to write it on. If I’m in a place where paper is totally inaccessable (e.i. exercising or in the shower) then I have to turn my idea into some sort of mantra and chant it again and again until I can actually write it down. This can be a horrible situation when one idea sparks off into more, and you suddenly have all these ideas and you try to remember them. Another place where the best ideas come is three a.m. while you’re trying to fall asleep, and you have to get up, turn on the light, and locate a pen and paper so you won’t forget the idea by morning. Then, you try to go back to sleep only to repeat the cycle. Makes for black circles under your eyes in the morning.

  4. Amina, and the rest of y’all – a solution to the ever illusive strike of shower-brilliance:

    Using an inconspicuous corner of your shower, test out dry erase markers to see if they stain or otherwise behave unacceptably. Many shower areas are melamine-based or laminated fiberglass and some can be written on with dry erase markers to no ill effect. Do test, though, on all colors (red can be a tricky one to remove on some surfaces), through a few different lengths of wet and dry cycles. And remember that dry erase markers will stain even official dry erase boards if left up there too long, so clean up after your brain frequently.

    Barring a compatible shower, you can buy flimsy little plastic “tack up” dry erase sheets at Office Depot and most megamarts, featuring anything from pre-printed calanders to grid. Find a convenient spot en bain and tack up with your choice of non-damaging adhesive or hang from the showerhead or towel rack by a stapled-on twine loop.

    Keep a few dry erase pens handy (put them up out of reach of direct spray and store them cap down for longest life) and think away!

  5. I have been known to sleep my way through story troubles. A nap never hurt anyone, not even the fit and clean. But mostly, yes, way easier on paper.

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