In a non-fiction book, I could have short, discrete chapters; in a novel, the reader needs to be drawn through, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence. Every single scene has been rewritten at least three times. Really hard. Does it ever get easier? And maybe you feel like that, sometimes. But the truly worthwhile things in life rarely are. Three-year-olds do it effortlessly. Wait, you say, fiction is different. Oh yeah? What is fiction, except fantasizing at length, which is also well within the powers of the average three-year-old.
But writing fiction? So, what can you do to make this formidable task easier? What I do is what the triathlete does: I separate the three components of the task—characters, story and language—and work on them one at a time.
No need to be fancy. I describe them physically, psychologically and economically. I list their quirks. I work out their relevant back stories. I note their relationships with each other. I mention their hopes and dreams. I put all of my ideas on paper, even the bad ones.
After I write this, I let it cook for several days at least, maybe longer. Moreover, an increasing body of research affirms what anecdotal experience has always suggested, that our brains are hardwired to create narratives and to think metaphorically. That suggests a near-universal creative potential waiting to be tapped, even if not everyone tapped will become Shakespeare. That it did not do, though it coyly hinted otherwise in its conclusion: "Despite the lack of systematic research on the aetiology of writing in general and creative writing in particular, it is rather difficult not to acknowledge the familiality of creativity in writing, given the families of writers who have entertained and educated us over the years.
These findings constitute the tip of an interesting iceberg For anyone with a successful parent or sibling there is a strong temptation to go into the family business. The advantages of doing so can be both pragmatic early training, nepotism and psychological positive reinforcement outside as well as inside the family circle. Even where positive reinforcement and practical help are lacking, familial competitiveness can be an equally powerful motivator.
It's possible that less drastic, but similar effects were present among the subjects of the study. You sit there, or lie there, or stand there with a fancy crank-up desk, and punch letters on a keyboard. Alternatively, you are in the same positions but with paper and a writing utensil, scrawling away. Writing is hard. Just a matter of the muse sitting on your shoulder, whispering in your ear… or not. You have to think them up. And think them over. Everyone has their own method for drawing focus to a topic.
A walk in the woods or park , jotting down notes, the first draft of random thoughts before a piece starts to gel. Sometimes the effort leads nowhere, stuck in a slimy, unformed state of mental goo.
We all know that. Oh yeah? Late last year, an Irish writer whose work I love came to speak at the university.
By the time some people leave the course, they already have agents. Hot and bothered On one of the last of those nights, I sit with one of the younger lads, after everyone else has gone, drinking the last of the free wine. What would it look like? The scene needs to be paced correctly — not too fast, not too slow. The upshot is that your writing ignites, informs and inspires like no other combination has before.
Literary marriages are irrelevant here, and the Brothers Grimm shouldn't count; they were more editors than writers, and Wilhelm did all the creative work. But writing fiction?