I’m barely into the new project and I’m ready to throw up, throw a tantrum, throw in the towel. My attention span is shorter than --
Hey look, a squirrel!
How did I do this before?
Anytime I’ve found myself in the weeds, taking the story in a rambling directions, I think of some of my favorite bits of advice from three talented writers. First, a quote by Stephen King, from his invaluable On Writing: “Story, dammit, story!”
Give me characters I empathize with. BUT, make horrible things happen to them, complicate their lives in colorful, progressively interesting and dangerous ways. Plot, with a logical and structured arc, please. That’s the story. The trick is this: don’t get too sidelined by subplots, or all the loose ends will make your story a confusing mess, bursting from the seams like so many out of control bikini spiders.
Story is King.
Don’t become too enamored by your own prose, either. It was said best by William Faulkner: “Kill your darlings.” Be ruthless when cutting your superfluous language, even entire paragraphs that contain gorgeous writing but distract from or smother the story. Cull them, but save them in a separate file in case you can resurrect them in another project one day. I do this, but I usually don’t recycle them, preferring to come up with new metaphors and similes for new projects.
And when it comes to productivity, I return again and again to this advice from Anne Lamott: “Bird by Bird.” Which rhymes with “word by word,” which is the whole point.
I have to continually remind myself that I don’t have to pound out fifty pages a day, but I do have to set a more reasonable page goal and hit it, every single day. Novels are comprised of smaller chapters, which are comprised of smaller scenes. Two scenes a day seem reasonable, depending on what’s going on in my life at the time. Some days are more productive than others.
Today I wrote four pages, but I spent three hours editing what I wrote last week. I’ve developed a habit of revising yesterday’s work and needing it to feel “right” before I can move on to the fresh material, and I’m not sure if this is good or bad.
Do you have any favorite writing quotes? What are your good and/or bad writing habits?
Jess Riley, author of Driving Sideways