I love writing about the craft of fiction. I love it because I had to teach myself how to write back when I was being told writing could not be learned. I had come to believe that (about 90% of me, anyway) because I’d taken a workshop in college with Raymond Carver, and I couldn’t do what he did. I didn’t really know that what he was doing (literary short stories) was clearly different from the kind of thing I wanted to do (e.g., Raymond Chandler). I just thought I didn’t have what it takes to be a writer.
Anyway, you wake up one day knowing you have to figure out how to write or something inside you will wither up and die. So I set about to see if writing fiction could be learned, and I discovered it could. Along with good writing books and studying bestsellers, I started to get it. And after I got published, I started to teach it.
For me there are few things as enjoyable as learning a new technique, or getting a different perspective on an old one.
It’s kind of like golf. Golfers are always tinkering with their game, trying things out, seeing what works. It can begin, if you don’t watch it, to drive you a little bit mad. As you’re getting ready to tee off, you might find yourself thinking of the 22 most important things at point of impact– and immediately freeze up.
Which brings me to the point of this post. When you write, you have to write freely. You can’t let a lot of craft knowledge freeze you up.
Sometimes, those who are writing their next novel put too much stress on all the things they think they should be doing, and end up not doing much of anything.
When you write, write. And try to get a first draft done as quickly as possible. It’s best to concentrate on only a few basics and just go.
1. Make sure the stakes are high enough for the Lead. I advocate “death overhanging” as being the key to this. There are three kinds of death: physical, professional and psychological. If you look at the most popular novels out there, one or all of these are at work in the plot.
2. Make sure the opposition to the Lead is stronger than the Lead. Only then will readers truly be “worried” enough to read on.
3. Make sure your individual scenes are packed with tension or conflict. That means you never have a scene where everything is hunky-dory. At all times, in some way or other, there is worry, fear or outright confrontation.
And that’s about it. There will be more work to be done, of course. Especially upon revision. But as you go through your first draft, let these fundamentals guide you. Don’t freeze up thinking about myriad things.
It’s between writing stints that you study and learn and adjust. A good golf teacher will tell you never to work on your swing in the middle of a round. Finish the round, and then go over to the practice tee and work on things. Review your fundamentals and if need be consult a teaching professional.
Keep learning, keep practicing, but when you write, write like it’s play. Get caught up in what you’re doing.
You writers out there, what do you concentrate on when getting that first draft down?