Friday, 30 April 2010

Writing Out Of Sequence - Lucy Coats

Usually, I'm an orderly sort of writer. If I'm lucky, I have my 'brilliant idea' (usually a clear character and a vague notion of what they will do, and how). Then I write the first couple of chapters in a frenzied flurry of creative excitement, after which I do a synopsis and a detailed chapter plan which I stick to (mostly)--writing in a linear progression from start to finish, chapter by chapter. So far, so ordinary. But then I went to London Book Fair last week, and I listened to someone who shook me up a bit and made me see that the way I've been doing things is not necessarily set in stone forever and ever. More about him later....

You see, I've been feeling uncomfortable for some time about those moments when a scene comes into my head, fully formed, exciting, raring to go, saying 'write me, write me'. They are doing it more and more, and that's good, but nevertheless a cause of worry and wondering what to do about them. Because I am that orderly sort of writer, my usual response is this: 'Well, of course I'll write you--when I get there. Just hang on for a bit. You're fantastic. I love you. But I have to get through three more chapters before I reach the part where you come in.' Stupid, isn't it, when you really think about it? What is this idiotic, superstitious fear I have that writing a scene out of sequence will somehow make everything in the book go wrong? Why do I risk letting some of that excitement and energy and freshness leak away because of some ritualistic fetish about Doing It In Order?

If I didn't know before, I do now--the answer is to ask an Irishman. Yes, it was Eoin Colfer I listened to at LBF (and if you'd like to listen too, there's a video of him talking at the PEN cafe on Candy Gourlay's wonderful Notes from the Slushpile blog here). He said lots of funny things (he's a funny man), but the thing which struck me most in the present context was this: when asked by Julia Eccleshare 'Do you plan your books?', Eoin said he did--in detail, and he said that he used to stick to it religiously (so far, so like me) and write it in order. But then came the bit which made me sit up and take notice. Eoin now finds, he said, that the best bit of any book is where the plan changes and goes off track, and that if he has an idea he writes the scene straight away, even if it's out of sequence, to keep the buzz. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Sounds sensible. But it's taken all these years and another orderly writer telling me he's broken out and done it differently to make me realise that it's ok. Nothing about writing should be set in stone forever and ever--just because I've got a certain beloved way of doing things (and have had for years) doesn't mean I can't take a fresh look at it and make a change when I need to. Sometimes, I think, we writers get stuck because we are imprisoned in mental boxes of our own making. So my spring resolution is this--break free of the constricting mould, write exciting off-plan stuff then and there and don't be such a superstitious old stick-in-the-mud! PS: I'd love to know if any of you are writing stick-in-the-mud's too--and what your writing 'sticking points' are.

Lucy's website http://lucycoats.com/
Lucy's blog http://scribblecitycentral.blogspot.com/  (Shortlisted for the Author Blog Awards 2010)
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11 comments:

Miriam Halahmy said...

The way I manage the exciting spontaneity is to write it out in my notebook and I find that is enough to make sure the scene/chapter evolves in its proper place when the time comes. But I also think that the more we try to break out of our moulds the more creative we'll become. Great post Lucy, thanks.

The Curious Vet said...

Thanks for sharing this idea with us. It has certainly shaken up my ideas of how a book should be written - as you say nothing is set in stone.

francesann said...

Very often though it's the discipline of that long serious slog than generates those occasional Write me write me! moments.
Anyway, if I don't write down an idea as soon as it's popped into my head, I'll have forgotten it by lunchtime

Nick Green said...

I will sort-of write scenes out of sequence, but only in the sense of scribbling them down in the roughest form imaginable. Writing them in earnest would be futile for me... something might change between 'now' and 'then' which upsets everything. No point in plastering and decorating a wall you may have to tear down again, but of course one can sketch it in on the plans.

Lucy Coats said...

I do carry a notebook at all times, Miriam, and previously, like you I made notes (fairly rough ones). But next time the write me write me moment happens when I'm out, I am determined to do just that. Even if I'm in the middle of the Waitrose shop (what's the cafe for, after all?).

Curious Vet--excellent. I'm glad a bit of shaking up has gone on.

Francesann--I'm with you entirely on the brain leakage! But I have been pretty inflexible on this 'writing it in order' business till now--whether I'm in the middle of a long serious slog or not. I wrote a scene out of sequence only a couple of days ago (I was at the computer that time)--it gave me a brilliant feeling of freedom, and now I realise what I've been missing by being so rigid.

Sue Purkiss said...

Perhaps I don't have a clear enough idea in my mind of what's going to happen to be able to do that - because much as I'd like to get on to a part later in the book, I feel it would be a waste because all sorts on things may come in along the way which need to be picked up and woven in when I get there.I don't think mine is an ideal way of working, though: this book is certainly proving really hard. I'm really not sure if I plan too much or not enough; all I know is at the moment I haven't got the balance right! Hope your new method works out for you, anyway, Lucy.

Katherine Roberts said...

I have just demolished a 100,000 word novel I wrote 2 years ago and am rebuilding it - sort of like knocking down Nick's wall and using the old bricks in a different order, throwing out the broken ones and using fresh mortar to stick the rest together in a completely new structure.

Will there be enough left for a wall? Will it look anything like the old wall? (Hopefully not, because that one didn't sell!) Only time will tell...

Linda Strachan said...

I often write as you describe it Lucy, but I am not very orderly, in fact I am a bit of a mental butterfly, with no discipline!

So I do write scenes when they come to me and I have also written one book from start to finish with absolutely no idea where it was going aside from one recurring theme. That was far too scary.

I like the freedom to dip in and out of things, it keeps the whole thing stay fresh and makes it easier to get going again if I have to stop for a while, for any reason.

OfficeGirl said...

This is my problem. I keep feeling like there is a certain way to do things. And maybe because I'm hoping it will be easier, but I'm learning that it isn't easy and will never be. I'm learning from all these wonderful people I met blogging that no has the answers and everyone is making their own rules. That's the best part about being a writer. The rules and yours and they don't have to be perfect and set in stone.
Life changes and your writing will too.

Stroppy Author said...

I can't be that organised, writing out a plan and sticking to it. But I'll happily sit with you in Waitrose cafe and write odd scenes. I did end up borrowing a biro from the cafe lady and stealing loo paper from the toilet to write on in WAitrose cafe once ;-)

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