Monday, January 3, 2011

What to do With That Idea Now That You've Had It

I don't consider myself to be an expert on this subject by any means, but a friend mentioned that she had all of these ideas in her head but wasn't able to get anywhere with them. I know her pain, certainly. "Cherry Blossoms" had started out as an outlet piece I was writing while I was really pissed off. I envisioned a character ripping someone to shreds, blood splashing the walls and her arms drenched in iron scented gore.... Yeah, I was that mad. Rather than lash out at the person responsible for this ulcerous anger rising up inside of me, I took my laptop down to the hotel bar, ordered a drink and began writing Cherry.

At the time I had no idea about a middle and an end now that I had written the beginning, and that was probably the worst possible place to be. I have learned through writing this novel (and starting many failed ones in the past) that you are not going to get anywhere without some sort of outline. I used to be one of those people who thought I could just write what came out and hope that something came to me as far as the rest was concerned. That led to a lot of novel beginnings but like my current P.O.S car, stalled out at every stop light. Getting to my destination now becomes key. If you have no idea where you want your characters to end up and how they got there, you might as well forget novel writing. A story doesn't end with three chapters of a beginning and the characters left as only introduced. It takes some planning.

For free-writers like me, this became a real hassle. I am now asking myself to plan where this thing should go instead of allowing my creative side to just take hold and vomit words out on the page. When writing a novel, this just doesn't work. This doesn't have to mean that you sit down and write out one of those bubble charts that your high school English teacher made you work on but you should at least take a little quiet time to think about where you want things to end up. This means coming up with conflicts and resolutions within the story, and then the overall resolution for the story. You have to decide the message your story will convey throughout, or if that message creeps its way slowly into the ending by means of a discovery process.

I would like to think that this holds true for any kind of story, really. My lovely cousin (a very talented writer as well) writes creative non-fiction and is working toward finishing the story of her life. Having read some of it (or what it used to be when I read it) I can see that she has worked hard to make sure that the story has the overall conflict; a woman's spiritual and physical journey through abuse, and mini conflicts throughout. Each chapter allows the reader to feel what she feels and experience what she experiences, and each conflict gets to a point of resolution, for good or ill.

While it's certainly not true for everyone, poetry has been my bane throughout my years of writing. Not because I think it's a wishy-washy form of writing, that is certainly not how I feel, but because it allowed me to just write whatever I felt like writing in whatever way I felt like writing it. I could break the rules of grammar, and in some cases, spelling. I could write for no more than ten minutes, come up with a gem, then consider myself finished. It in no way prepared me for the novel writing process. I didn't know going into this how many words were expected... and how they had to be woven together into a tapestry of words that not only made sense, but went somewhere. I had to find a way to remove myself from the way I wrote poetry to the way I write novels. I still write poetry from time to time, but I find that my poems now read more like short stories in poem form. I am not sure if I think that is a sign that I am becoming more the novelist that I wish to be or if novel writing has ruined the way I write poetry. I suppose that will all depend on how well this novel is received when it is in print.

I also found that being involved in a writer's club can be the answer that you are looking for. The friend I spoke of at the beginning and I had a thing going on Sundays for a while, but with the holidays it kind of floated into the ether. I am hoping that now that the holidays are over we can start getting together again. Not only does it keep you motivated to write because others around you are doing the same, but it gives you a person or a group of people to bounce your idea off of. You can get feedback and ideas from them, they could beta-read your work, help you with editing, and provide support when you need it. Keep in mind though, that these should be people you trust with your piece of work. You need to know that they aren't going to take your ideas and make them their own, that they aren't going to share your work with others, and that they won't make you feel as though your work is not as good as theirs. 

As I said in the first paragraph, I am in no way an expert on novel writing. I am just sharing my journey with you, and what has worked for me. Maybe someday when I am a famous published writer I will come back to this blog and laugh at how little I actually knew... and in some ways that is comforting. I have no illusions that I know all or even most of what there is to know about publishing and writing a novel. I am just lucky to know some, and to have my own journey to look back on. I wish you well, dear readers. Happy writing!