Back to blogging

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Over the summer, apart from having a wonderful holiday that has refreshed me (and made me realise that being on holiday forever would not be a bad thing), I have had time for reflection and planning. Consequently, I have made some decisions about my writing (to be revealed in due course) and have set some wheels in motion to move those decisions from mere thoughts into action.

Rescued filing cabinet, old string and pages from unloved (till now) charity shop books.

Rescued filing cabinet, old string and pages from unloved (till now) charity shop books.

I have also begun the joyful task of creating a writing space/art studio all of my own; the trauma of grown children leaving home does have its compensations. This has led to quite a bit of sorting (not yet completed, as you will see from the photos) during which I stumbled across the reflection below. Written in 2008 as I completed a Creative Writing course with Lancaster University before I ever completed a novel, I have found myself encouraged from my-voice-from-the-past as I realise how far I have travelled, how much I have learned and how much my writing has improved. Three completed novels later, one underway and others queuing to be written, little could make me happier. Except more readers. For which I have plans …
Art studio; not there quite yet

Art studio; not there quite yet

Writing space; almost there

Writing space; almost there

“During this course I have learned more about the importance of having a plan. However, if that plan proves to lead to dead ends or scenarios that are contrived or forced, then it’s back to the synopsis to make alterations rather than ploughing on regardless. I have learned not to set my ideas in stone, and that I can’t hang on to my ‘darlings’ just because I long for them to work. Planning involves flexibility rather than rigidity, allows for creativity and is key to achieving the goal.

I have learned that I don’t have to write in a completely linear way, starting at a) and moving inevitably to b). In trying to do this, ideas that come to mind can either be lost as I try not to listen to them when they don’t fit into the section I am writing, or I can try to force them into a section where they don’t really fit. During the course, I have developed the habit of ‘parking’ ideas when they occur, by making notes that I can turn to and use in different parts of the novel, or even store for another story entirely. This has been a liberating experience.

I started the course with the intention of using an omniscient voice to narrate my novel, as I didn’t see how I could communicate some of the information I wanted the reader to have any other way. Feedback has made me realise that I don’t need to do this, and that it isn’t always very helpful to the reader. One fellow student commented that they wanted to skip through sections of information-giving to get to the action, to find out what was happening next. Another comment I received likened a section to reading through gauze. On reflection, most of the detail I introduced via the omniscient voice was ‘backstory’ that added little to the action, nor did it move the plot forward. Anything that is vital for the reader to know can be revealed quite easily through the developing plot, for example by entering the thoughts and memories of the main character, or through dialogue. The details the reader doesn’t need to have, but which are known to me as the author, add depth to my knowledge of the characters, which, hopefully, allows me to write more fully developed characters who have credibility with the reader.

I experimented with free indirect discourse but wasn’t very successful, as instead of creating a sense of intimacy and free access to characters’ thoughts, the effect was distant, like looking at something through smoky glass. I need to hone that technique to use to optimum effect so that the reader never loses the sense of where they are in the story-present.

I want to create characters who are real to the reader and create plots that allow my characters to develop and learn about life. I want readers to be fully convinced, to experience a reading dream that captures their imagination and takes them away from their real world to worlds they will remember long after they have read the last page of any novel I write. If I ever achieve that, I will be a happy woman.

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12 thoughts on “Back to blogging

  1. It’s lovely to have you back, Julia. Thanks so much for sharing so much about your writing process and the journey you’ve been on. I’ve also been trying to experiment with different ploys for creating stories. One of the techniques I’ve learned through screenwriting is to create a skeleton of the story quite early one, and then build up the detail. That means that the structure of the plot stays on track, but also gives you the freedom to work on different parts in a non-linear way ie if a particular relationship or bit of plot is occupying you and you want to get that down. I’m not sure how successful I’ve been, but I can see the wisdom of it!

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    • Hi Veronica. It feels like I’ve been away for ages! I think that learning writing techniques is good but have no doubt that we all have our own take on them; it’s what works best that is the ‘correct’ way to write something. To an observer, my approach would possibly look like a heap of disjointed scribblings. But to me, my chaos is exactly the place where I work out my order. I don’t have tight plots to start, but I do know the beginning and the end, and also have a chunk of ‘in the middle’ details. They are what keep me meandering too far from what I’ve set out to achieve (I have learned, to my cost in terms of time, that too much meandering leads to becoming completely lost in the woods, drowning without a paddle …). I look forward to reading more of your stories and reviews.

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  2. All sounds constructive and exciting! Can’t imagine writing a novel. The course sounds good. What was it like receiving feedback like that in real life, in a room? I don’t know what free indirect discourse is…

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  3. One thing about writing a novel, if I can do it, it must be within the scope of anyone who wants to give it a go. Lots of discipline required for the days you just don’t feel like it though. Creativity is quite a slog I find! As for the course, two of the three modules were on line. for the Lancaster uni one. Feedback could feel quite brutal! It took some getting used to, but on the whole, once I’d got over the irritation of complete strangers suggesting ways I could make my writing better (implying it wasn’t totally brilliant already), I found the process invaluable. You can’t take it personally – it’s objective. As for free indirect discourse – I’d forgotten what that was! The reflection came straight from 2008. Anyhow, there’s a pretty good explanation here: http://www.shmoop.com/literature-glossary/free-indirect-discourse.html

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  4. I love how our processes evolve. I remember the first time a critiqued for someone who had bolded words as a place holder in the manuscript. I went, “Brr?” It’s a system I use all the time now, leaving bolded notes as I work through, leaving the thoughts that come in place until I have time to address them. Don’t ask me what that has to do with your post (other than our evolving process) but it’s what your post reminded me of.

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    • Sounds like you have been doing some heavy thinking, Julia. Re the writing in a linear form, like you, I often am thinking ahead in a story, and sometimes a good scene comes to mind regarding somthing that will happen on down the road. If I don’t stop and at least take notes, when the time comes for the scene, it’s lost. On worksing novels, I keep a notebook, divided into sections by chapters. I put my future scenes where I think appropriate. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least the scene isn’t lost.
      And I think you made a wise decision not to information dump too early in a novel, and work backstory in bit by bit in flashbacks and memories. You have to keep the story ever moving onward to engage the reader.
      I hope I haven’t come across a a know-it-all, because I most definitely am not. I took a few creative writing courses a couple of years back, and believe me, the time and money spent has paid off.
      Glad to have you back home in the blogosphere. 😊

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  5. Great to see you on here again, and I don’t know what key I hit a minute ago 🙂
    I had to smile when I read about your study / art studio. My small study / studio came about when our son headed off to university – and the feeling that I had when I first gained this small dedicated room was unbelievable.
    I thought it might be pertinent to mention one of my present projects and how it’s shaping up. ‘A Taste of Honey’ is my priority right now and I decided to try a new method.
    Instead of writing a synopsis and making notes, I decided to charge on and write the first draft straight off. I wrote the entire story in about six weeks. There is very little detail in the imagery or characterisation as yet.
    Since completing the first draft, I’ve left it to simmer for a week or two. I’ve now made a lot of notes on new sections and sub-plots all ready for the second, more detailed draft.

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    • Good to hear from you, Tom. I have been wondering how you’re getting on with your projects and am delighted to hear how well they are going. You must be very excited to have finished one draft so quickly; I wonder if that’s a record? I can’t ever imagine getting a whole novel done in that length of time, though I realise it’s the first draft. It can take me six weeks to write one chapter (well, not quite, but sometimes it feels that way 🙂 ). I haven’t been able to get much writing done this week, as the house is teeming with all manner of builders. But look out winter! I’ll be warm, ready and writing!

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