Saturday 30 April 2011

Weekend writer – Michelle Lovric

How many writers have weekends? Or an off-switch, for that matter?

I have spent many weekends without writing a word of fiction. But if that happens, then I try to make sure that I am living it. (See my other blogs).

I’m in the lucky position of having deadlines, but in general who ever dares to stop writing?

You can’t just leave your characters alone for the weekend, any more than you can leave your dog in the car on a hot day. It’s just not responsible. It’s not kind. And frankly, it’s not really possible.

You’ll take your characters shopping with you, noticing that a certain green scarf is just the colour of the eyes of your latest character. In the stationers, you suddenly realize it’s time you decide exactly what kind of pencil-case pedantic Renzo would take to school, or the exact pink of the lining of the coffin in which Rosibund sleeps, in The Mourning Emporium.

The most banal day is full of snafflable incidents. Whatever good or bad befalls the writer is easily recycled into her characters’ lives.

This being the case, the writer’s most vital organ is the one of discrimination. With so much possible input, the skill of the author lies in weeding out the unwonderful.

A clever journalist friend of mine once offered advice on my chronic affliction of over-writing (always closely followed by painful, drastic cutting). She said, ‘Think of each piece of writing as a sculpture. The sculptor chooses his piece of stone to suit the figure he will create. He doesn’t buy a ten-metre-tall piece of stone for a one-metre-high sculpture. He wisely chooses a piece 1.2 metres tall. This means less work and less waste. Try to think of each story the same way.’

And so I would, if it wasn’t for the weekends. Those weekends spent stealthily gathering odds and ends of seemingly vital material. Those Saturday afternoons watching black-and-white movies in which the heroine turns her head just so, and you know you need that gesture for your next book. The Sunday morning egg yolk that spills out of its fretwork of white – just like one consumed by your hero at dawn on the day of the exam that will change his life. Or the gondolier who admits that, if tourists ask who lived in a certain palazzo, he always tells them that Casanova lived on the first floor, and Marco Polo on the second floor and Lord Byron on the third floor. This charming and fluent liar also urgently needs a guest-appearance in your book. As does the ‘preen gland’ of the flamingo, just written up by scientists. And …

So Monday morning finds the writer facing a ten-metre monolith of material, when all she wanted was a nice shiny little pebble she could roll neatly into her text.

Does anyone know where the off-switch is, for next Friday night?

Michelle Lovric’s website
See the video trailer for The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium, on YouTube


Mary Hoffman said...

You are asking the wrong person in me! The lack of an off switch accounts for much insomnia, which I believe a lot of writers suffer from.

The sculptural simile is very apt for me currently but just think of the Rondanini Pietà, which started off normal size and Michelangelo was in the process of whittling down at his death.

We still often don't know which size of block to buy. Lovely post.

catdownunder said...

And I am absolutely hopeless because I have to write in snatches in between other things...I "write" while pedalling to the shops or the library. I do more hanging out clothes or cooking a meal. I grab words and fragments from all over the place. If I have not written it down at the end of the day then it tends to go to bed with me at night!

adele said...

Three comments here for the price of one!
1) NOVEL HEAD is what I call it when I can't sleep on acc. of thinking about my book. It doesn't happen all that often I'm glad to say.

2) Heard a wonderful thing on the radio today. Asked what his job consisted of, a sculptor of lions said: "I get a piece of stone and chip away all the bits that aren't lion!"

3) Re everything being material, I heard the story of a mother and teenage daughter having a fight. Teenager raged at her mother: "You did this, you've done that!" Etc ad infinitum. In the end the exasperated mother sighed: "Oh for goodness' sake, just put it all in your first novel."

And no, I don't have a weekend off switch!

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

Also suffer from insomnia, but it might be better attributed to not getting round to getting any writing done - from one weekend to another - but still having 'lines' of text I have not yet written resounding frustratingly in my head.

My off switch? Two small kids.

Still looking for a really good on switch!

Stroppy Author said...

A box full of scraps of paper. Write down all those snippets of info that have to be used, put them in the box, browse at leisure. It's not quite an off switch, more going on standby. It means it's possible to negotiate life (including children). But I'm negligent and have sometimes left characters locked in the dark for ages. Evil. I am the Josef Fritzl of the writing world...

Adele, I *love* the lion quote!

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

I love your box full of scraps of paper idea, Stroppy Author. Am seriously thinking of starting one - and I think I have the perfect kids' shoe box!

Nicky said...

Oh dear I wish I had your problem. I have more problem switching on!

Lucy Coats said...

Off switch? Wish I could find mine.... I am with the Book Maven on this, as with so much else.

Jeff McGraw said...

Might the block of granite for the sculpture be estimated by word count? Books at 75k plus or novellas or short stories etc? Having a finite box to fill might help weed out the extraneous. Just a thought.