Going Sideways To Go Forward When Writing A Novel, by Phillipa Fioretti
Why does it take me twelve hours of writing and about 5000 words to finally arrive at a couple of paragraphs that I know will be crucial to the story?
I shall try and answer that. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough, maybe it’s the nature of the occupation or maybe it’s the way I do things. I generate far too many words and I do it because it helps me think. I didn’t start out writing this way – write 300,000 then pick out 90,000 – it just seems to have evolved. I’d like to be lean and efficient, precise and minimalist, but it’s not going to happen.
There is some symbiotic process between putting the words down and generating ideas. I think about my WIP probably about 85% per cent of my waking hours, but nothing usable comes, no breakthroughs occur unless I’m walking or writing or talking about the work to some hapless soul who stumbles into my study by mistake. This rarely happens, so it really falls to the first two.
Walking is a brilliant pastime for freeing and focussing the mind at the same time. I take a small digital recording thingy or a notebook with me and have solved many problems that way. But the best way for me is to just keep churning out the scenes and the words and see what happens. But sometimes even then it’s a dead end and I have to plod back to the start of the maze. That’s the time I need a jolt.
I’ve been circling this character for some time now, but she wasn’t speaking to me. Nothing was working. It was dull. I was dull. It was over. A short writing career. Yep, time to find another challenge, my work here is done. Then I decided to rewrite the 30,000 words I had already written in third person, but change it into first person. This brought me right into the mind of the character and I saw her all of a sudden, and she was distinct. I made a copy and rewrote it back into third person – a point of view I’m more at ease with because I can get a little more descriptive. So I’ve generated much wordage, but it’s the only way for me. If I can’t get a grip on what is happening I try and write the same scene from another character’s point of view and that usually unclogs things too. I had terrible RSI last year from all these hours of writing so I have to rein in the excess, but as a method, it works for me.
The writer and printmaker Barbara Hanrahan used to draw her images upside down so she never tightened her line but kept the imagery loose and full of energy. Changing POV is a similar ‘loosening’ technique. You don’t have to use the results in the finished manuscript, although you might, but see the exercise more as a tool for shaking things up and then watching where the pieces fall.
Phillipa Fioretti’s author website: www.phillipafioretti.com.au
Writing Novels in Australia