Saturday, January 29, 2011
“Look Gwama, I can wite on the puter.” I took my laptop from my great grandson, held my breath and looked at the screen. It was blue and, try as I may, I could bring up nothing but garbled lines. He’d pressed the media express key, which quick loads media programs, then, while it was loading, he’d clicked “shut down” on the main menu. Just as I’d feared, he’d fried my hard drive.
I had told myself for months that I should buy a USB drive and download my book for a backup, but I’d put it off. I only had one, maybe two, chapters left to write and now all my hard work was destroyed. The thoughts of starting over after all that work was more than I even wanted to consider. It took many long talks with myself before I could be convinced that I needed to rewrite my book. I had my research done, I told myself. The story was solid in my mind. I knew my characters. I just needed to get the words written.
Duke Ellington, jazz musician, said, “I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” Basically, that’s what I did. I took the energy it would take to pout and got started on my book. Working on it felt much better than the alternative.
Normally, I’m a slow writer. I agonize over each word, each sentence, each paragraph. In starting over, I remembered reading an article years ago about layering. I couldn’t find the article so I decided to write the book with my own form of layering. After my computer was fixed, I sat down and started typing. I told the story without going back to read it, edit or worry about the grammar. I just typed as fast as I could.
After I had the skeleton written I went back and read the story. Obviously, it wasn’t very good at that point, but it was on paper. Having it down was such a good feeling that it gave me the incentive to continue. I went through it again and looked at the action, improving what I had and adding what was needed. From there, I wrote the setting and atmosphere. That took a lot of description, so I went on to put in all of the description. Then, I added the emotions. When I had all of that down, I attacked the grammar and punctuation. And last, after I’d set the manuscript aside awhile to distance myself, I read it from start to finish to make sure every word, sentance, paragraph and scene counted enough to be in my story.
What did I learn from this? A lot.
First of all, I learned to back up my book on a USB drive so that if anything does happen to my computer I still have my book. These flash drives aren’t that expensive and are well worth the peace of mind and avoiding the needless hard work if something goes wrong.
Secondly, I learned that I’m more of a seat of the pants writer than I had thought. I really enjoyed sitting down at my computer each morning and typing as fast as my mind and fingers could move together. Yet, I’m OCD enough that I liked my research beside me, at least the information I needed that I could foresee ahead of time. Also, I liked knowing my characters and their background. It helped me with their reactions to what happened to them and their reactions to the other characters.
I learned that going back and adding emotions and description after the story is written allowed me to be more creative. I tended to slow down and consider all the emotions my protagonists might be feeling. I paused to feel the atmosphere of the setting, and while doing this, I managed to remember to blend those two aspects with the action so they wouldn’t slow the pace of the story.
I found that the second writing of my book went much faster than the first and, once I actually got started, I enjoyed the second approach more. Best of all, the new strategy got me through a difficult task.
Maybe layering could help you get your book written faster, or maybe this just isn't for you at all. As James Scott Bell wrote in the article, Ten Disciplines For Fiction Writers: “Find your own ritual that gets your juices flowing, and don’t waste it. Turn it into words on the page.”
Maxine is the author of a psychology book, "Reality For Parents of Teens." She has written numerous articles on drug and alcohol rehabilitation, how the brain works, and setting and accomplishing goals. She has authored lesson manuals for teaching classes on cognitive self-change. Maxine attended college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Idaho State University. She counseled for a women's program, Discovery House and for Road to Recovery, a men's and Women's drug rehabilitation program. She taught prison rider return classes for Probation and Parole in the state of Idaho, taught in the women's prison, and worked with Child Protection Services in Idaho as well. Maxine lives in Vancouver, Washington, and writes fiction novels.