Before you even open the file of the novel or story- in-progress on your computer, the world you’ve created is already there, at the back of your mind, characters and action frozen in time like a still from a film, just waiting for you to move the story on with the mental get-go equivalent to a director’s call of Lights, Camera, Action! But the different is that we, as the writers, have to make all the decisions about the fictional world we’ve created, act all the parts, write the dialogue, control the plot, and a host of other crafting features…we have to do everything, it all has to come from us, and us alone. We have the freedom, the excitement, the God-like powers, but we also have the responsibility of every little detail, of getting everything ‘right’ for ourselves, for the reader, and for the theme, to tell the truth as we see it. This story has to matter. If it doesn’t matter to us, how can it matter to anyone else? No wonder then, we can feel a little tense before we even open the file, and frequently experience what is sometimes called ‘writing anxiety’. Who wouldn’t?
Of course, we all go about the next step in our own individual way. According to author and editor, Victoria Mixon, the effective writers among us can be sorted into 6 types:
The diligent – those who sit down and get on with it
The imaginative – who can play with ideas on how to spice things up
The sensitive – who can use this quality in their writing
The insensitive – who can withstand rejection and maintain a professional attitude
The patient – who take their time, knowing that we spend our whole life learning
The blessed – those who are lucky in their endeavours, with a bit of serendipity
I’d say we’re all probably a mixture of these and who knows which parts of us are operating at the beginning of a writing session? I’d say in my case it’s a clash of diligence and patience competing with sensitivity and imagination, what I prefer to call…
Continuity versus Spontaneity
So once my work in progress is open, I have a little continuity routine to get me across the stepping stones, over the frantically frothing river of ‘writing anxiety’, to enter my fictional land on the other side – the land that often seems like a densely-planted forest which you can easily lose yourself in, where you’ve got to keep the whole forest in some kind of aerial objective perspective from above at the same time as stumbling around far below, through the trees, sometimes not knowing where you’re going, or other times making pathways through, that meet or divide and go off in different directions. So first that precious continuity:
- I usually read the last paragraph or two to do a little editing and get back into the story.
- I usually have a few notes to pop into the manuscript or enter in my bio details for a certain character – these bios stay on my desk, ready to hand.
- I might have forgotten to include something earlier on – for example, what Thomas, the cat, might have been doing in chapter 3, while my central character, Janet, was having her TV dinner and watching Coronation Street. She’s just fed him and I forgot all about him. And since I want him to be important later on, I have to have him in the reader’s mind now and again, so I go in and solve the problem by having the cat flap bang to show he’s going out to hunt – now that’s a nice little continuity detail!
- Or there may be a strong reminder for myself of where the character is actually at right now, something I don’t want to forget about their inner state, mood, or motivation.
And then I’m in – tweaking is over. If you were playing a musical instrument, I suppose it would be the equivalent of having finished your tuning and warm up, and you’re now ready to perform.
So then, as you take the narrative forward, as you pace through the trees at whatever speed is deemed necessary right now, the spontaneity is the guiding force. Your feelings intensify as the creativity of the right brain takes over the logic of the left. And while you carry the action forward, you’re inside your characters, you’re directing their every move, every frown, every gesture, every inner thought, then shifting to the next person, feeling what they’re feeling, or is it them feeling what you’re feeling? You don’t know any more. Now you’re really writing for you, not the reader, but they’re not far behind. You’re putting into play your exciting ideas, sparks fly, explosions go off, sometimes planned, sometimes not. Compulsions, passions, personal meaning, values, frustrations all march into the forest now, and you’re in the middle of this world of your novel, of your own making, relishing it, its colours, its hard and soft edges, its repeating forms, its random forms, but then…you suddenly, urgently have a little internet research to do, so you do it right now, itching to get back to where you were to drive forward, to chop way a few more branches to extend your path, to keep going…and going…until you feel you’re using every part of yourself, synapses firing, in this challenging act of fiction writing…
And then, after about three hours of this, you tire and when you tire it can be a suitable time for the left brain to have a look, so you mentally mark where you are in the forest, you tie a coloured ribbon around a tree and slowly make your way back to the river, which is now smooth and calm, and you make a few notes for next time as you saunter back across the stones, with a good feeling, as the session ends – knowing, always knowing, that no matter how experienced you may become at handling all the little details, at handling your craft, it will be the same the next time, and the time after that.
And so, to you writers out there – as you enter the challenges of your fictional world with a cup of strong coffee to help you – enjoy!