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Is it ever too early to start re-writing? July 26, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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2 comments

I’m trying to put my focus back into writing starting this week, and one aspect of that is to revisit my dormant fantasy novel which I have been thinking about a lot these past couple of months.  I still think the book as potential and I like the story it has to tell, but having written significant chunks of it around 2 years ago, I know it will require plenty of work.

Conventional writing wisdom suggests that rewriting comes after completion of the first draft.  The primary goal in the first attempt is to just get the words of the story out of your mind, out of your system and onto the page.  Anne Lamott, who wrote the popular writing book Bird by Bird, discussed at length the unavoidable ‘shitty first drafts’ even excellent and seasoned writers churn out on a regular basis.

The idea is that if you worry and procrastinate over every paragraph, sentence or word, you’ll never generate any momentum and it will take you much longer to finish the story.  And often it’s when you are in that ‘zone’ of pumping out a copious amount of words at a frenetic pace that some of your best writing is generated (though it has to be ‘unearthed’ from all the crappy stuff).

However, although I am not even at the halfway line of the first draft of my fantasy epic (around 150,000 words), I’m highly tempted at the moment to go back to the beginning and rewrite a few of the first chapters.  One of the main reasons is that I realised my beginning lacked a serious punch.  After an action-packed prologue, I started with the usual boring ‘fantasy world introduction’ chapter where I introduced the characters and the world in which they lived in a methodical fashion.  It occurred to me that it would have made a lot more sense to start in the middle of the action, beginning with the final of a tournament in which the protagonist is involved in.  In the current version, the tournament was already over by the time the story began.

But would rewriting before I’ve even finished the first draft be a waste of time?  What if I later change my mind and come up with a better intro?  What if later on I decide to change characters or events?

I read in an interview with Philip Pullman (author of the His Dark Materials trilogy) that he doesn’t have a particular method when it comes to writing and rewriting.  Sometimes he waits until the end and sometimes he does it as he goes along.

In Stephen King’s brilliant On Writing (my review and summary here), he says that first drafts should be completed within 3 months, which is pretty much supernatural for most people out there, but even for him, this essentially means no rewriting until the first draft has been completed.  King also recommended putting the draft aside for a while before coming back to it with fresh eyes.  That said, King might be an anomaly because he seems to churn out pretty decent first drafts.  I say this because he suggests that a second draft should tighten a first draft by 10% and that he usually only does two drafts and a polish for a novel.

Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, said in an interview that he did literally 150-200 drafts of the first 90 pages just to get it right.  Can you imagine that?  I did about 5 or 6 drafts of the first chapter of my Masters writing project and I found it to be brutal already.

In the end, my gut tells me that I should just do whatever I feel like, whether it’s keep going or go back to the beginning.  It’s been so long that anything is better than nothing.

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Pardon the delay July 17, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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3 comments

A quick one.  I just got back from our nation’s capital (Canberra) as part of a surprisingly good short vacation.  Contrary to popular belief, there is actually a lot to do there!  So some exciting posts will be coming shortly.  But I’ve still got a few China posts left, which I might try and finish off first.

I also watched the final Harry Potter movie today, so I have to give my two cents on that too.  In short, a fitting finale for a wonderful franchise, and a pretty good film in the grand scheme of things.

Lastly, some great news.  Got a great grade for my masters project (the best possible grade), which gives me a load of confidence moving forward.  I still have to finish the darn thing though, amongst other things.  A lot of big changes coming up in my life.  Not sure if I am ready to tackle them all head on just yet but I don’t really have much of a choice!  I do perform my best under extreme pressure, so maybe it will do me some good.

Stay tuned.

I Need a Good Page-Turner! July 13, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Book Reviews, Misc, On Writing, Reviews, Study.
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15 comments

Sorry if things have been a little slow lately.  Have some family visiting and it’s been craaaazy.

Anyway, I’m reaching out to see if anyone can recommend a good page-turner for me.  Actually, not just a good one, a great one.  An all-time best.

For whatever reason I haven’t been getting into books as much as I should be recently.  When I had been working on my major writing project I had to read stacks of books and articles to help me with my writing — and while they were helpful I didn’t necessarily enjoy them.  Nevertheless, I had to churn through them for the sake of my writing.

Now that I’m done with all of that, I feel like I need a ripper of a book to get me back in the groove of reading for pure pleasure.

I started reading Peter Temple’s Truth (winner of the 2010 Miles Franklin Literary Award) on the iPad recently but haven’t been able to really get into it yet.  Temple has a unique style that almost feels like he’s cutting corners with words to make his prose punchier, and it takes a while to get used to.  And so far the progression of the plot and dialogue reminds me of one of those classy Hollywood detective movies where you don’t really understand what the heck they’re talking about (at least at the start) but you know it’s good dialogue.

I also started reading my fourth John Grisham novel (after The Innocent Man, The Associate and The Firm), A Time to Kill, his debut work.  After I expressed my disappointment in The Associate some recommended that I check out his earlier stuff (before crap like ‘Theodore Boone — Child Lawyer!!’).  I’ve never seen the film with Samuel ‘Maryland Farmer’ L Jackson and Matthew ‘I have good genes!’ McConaughey, so I’m finding it quite an enjoyable read thus far, but as Grisham admitted in the intro, he does ramble on a fair bit.  Thus I would call it a good page-turner but not a great one — something that could keep me occupied on a train but nothing that would keep me up late at night.

A third book I barely started is Everyone’s Pretty by Lydia Millet, a dark comedy about the porn industry.  This was one of the books recommended to help with my writing but I thought it would be an interesting read too.  A few pages in and I’m somewhat intrigued, but haven’t gone back for more in days.

Not sure if have time to finish all these books in the short term as I have another book review to do for a trade publication.  It’s called Lives and Letters by Robert Gottlieb, a series of profiles on fascinating public figures, artists and entertainers including Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn, and so forth.  Being a published profile writer myself (ahem), I’m looking forward to this one, though the fact that I have to read it dampens my enthusiasm somewhat.

Am I just too picky here?  Some might say these are all perfectly good page-turners, but I’m not satisfied.  I need something to blow me away.  I’m not necessarily talking about a wonderfully written book (from a technical perspective — I mean, Madame Bovary is supposed be to ‘technically’ perfect but her ‘bovaries’ kept putting me to sleep).  I have pretty pedestrian tastes, after all.  I just want a read that will make me want to tear through it in a couple of days and inspire me to read more.

Help.  Anyone?

The Joy of Writing Workshops July 4, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Movie Reviews, On Writing, Reviews, Study.
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2 comments

The subject of rewatchable movies has been going haywire on this blog lately.  Speaking of which, today I rewatched a DVD a good friend of mine lent me — Todd Solondz’s 2001 film Storytelling.

The first time I saw it I thought it was pretty good, but personally I preferred Solondz’s other films, such as Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, two utterly hilarious and disturbing films.  Storytelling, while equally disturbing as those two films, wasn’t quite as funny, though in some ways it was even darker.

Anyway, Storytelling is split into two parts, ‘Fiction’ (starring Selma Blair as a student in a fiction writing class) and ‘Nonfiction’ (starring Paul Giamatti as a documentary maker making a film about John Goodman’s family).  It’s the type of daring, politically incorrect, perverse, oftentimes cringeworthy film where you don’t really know where it’s heading but you are nonetheless compelled to keep watching.  Fans of Solondz’s work will know what I mean.

To cut a long story short, the reason why my friend wanted me to watch Storytelling again was because of one of the first scenes in Fiction, where Blair and her boyfriend (who suffers from cerebral palsy) attend a writing workshop.  Having gone through dozens of such workshops in the last 18 months, I can certainly say that Solondz hit the nail on the head with this one.  I for one can definitely appreciate what the students are going through.  Check it out below.

Rekindling the passion with old writing projects June 27, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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3 comments

Have you ever started writing, got halfway through, or almost finished a piece of writing, but for whatever reason never saw it through to the end?  Have you then, days, weeks, months, or even years later, tried to pick it back up again to see if you can finish it off?

That’s what I’ve been trying to do the last few days.  I have no less than three ‘old’ projects that I’m trying to get back on track, with the time off being from a couple of weeks to almost a couple of years.  And you know what?  It’s really really hard.  Ridiculously hard.

What I’ve been trying to do is rekindle the passion I once had with these projects, to recapture the flame inside me that made me want to write all day, work on it all night, think about it as I’m drifting off to sleep and getting right back into it the moment I wake up.  I’ve had those moments with all three projects, but whenever I stop (due to a plethora of reasons, including laziness, procrastination, holidays, other work and unforeseen circumstances outside of my control) I find it difficult to regather that momentum again.

I ask myself why that is the case.  Do I still want to finish them off?  Of course, more than ever — in fact, now is the best time because I actually have the time to work on them.  Do I still think they are good ideas?  Yes.  Perhaps not as brilliant as I originally envisioned, but good enough.  So why, dammit?  Why?

I guess part of it might be because I fear that I’ll pick up the old project, have a look at it, and be stunned into depression over how crap it is and how much work I’ll need to do just to fix it up.  That almost always happens when I look back at my old work.  But surely I’m not alone in that, and others have gone on to put in whatever work was necessary to finish it off.

Having a zillion distractions around you certainly doesn’t help.  That’s why I am so enamoured of full-time writers who work from home, people who can just sit down at the table X number of hours a day and work on their shit rain, hail or shine and no matter how much they don’t want to do it — like a real job.  I remember Stephen King said something like that in On Writing, that you have to take your writing seriously or else no one will.

That’s it.  I’m going to give it a try and see what happens.  Work on my shit like a 9-5 job on the days where I can.  I’ll report back with the results in a couple of weeks.

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