Monday 7 October 2013

Good advice I can’t seem to follow . . . by Tracy Alexander

I love lists of helpful advice, from ‘Five warning signs that you’re not as healthy as you should be’ to ‘Ten ways to save ten minutes’. Tips for writers are just as keenly devoured. It’s just a shame I don’t put them into practice. Here's a list of my own.

1a Plot thoroughly
I read Liz Kessler’s blog about her method of plotting. Then I read it again. It’s brilliant. I could see it working. I will never do it. For me, it falls into the same category as knowing that if I filed all my receipts I could make a sensible attempt at my tax return.
Conclusion: Knowing and doing are two entirely different verbs.

1b Plot mindfully
I read Tony Bradman’s blog too. It made sense and seemed less arduous.
-       If I have a strong character and a clear idea of his/her goal it should be straightforward.
-       I must resist the urge to give away too much.
-       I must study plots on telly.
Conclusion: The third point is definitely doable.

2 Writing a minimum number of words each day
I tried this for ten days and, as I like rules, duly typed the required amount every day (and no more). Excellent. The feeling of achievement was very pleasant. Unfortunately the words were very mediocre.
Conclusion: Quantity had replaced quality.

3 Morning pages
We had to do this for one of the modules on the Creative Writing diploma I took at Bristol University. I treated it like an onerous task. I don’t want to write whatever comes to mind. I want to write the next bit of whatever I’m working on.
Conclusion: I sometimes have an attitude problem.

4 Set times of day
Most people who work have a set time to start and finish and a gap in between, as I understand it. If (a large word with two letters) I was in charge this is something I would consider. The set times would be eight o’clock in the morning, with a huge cup of tea, until eleven, with a gap for a second cup and also porridge. (I’m with Heather Dyer, in that writing for longer than 2/3 hours is an impossibility.)  (I’m also with Liz Kessler in that pyjamas are my favoured writing attire.)
Unfortunately for my writing, but fortunately for my joie de vivre, I have four people I live with who interfere with the idea.
Conclusion: I wouldn’t have it any other way.

5 Stripping out adjectives
Evidently too many adjectives are the sign of a novice writer. Pare them! Bare them! Oh dear, I like adjectives. The page I’m writing includes: small, huge, nicer, big, brown, caramel (in a non-noun sense), soft, great, big (again), weird. I particularly like uber (without the umlauts). I have never used the word mellifluous.
Conclusion: My adjectives, on inspection, are very Key Stage 1.

6 Show not tell
Here we go – the mantra. I get it, really I do. But every so often I fancy a bit of telling. 
Conclusion: I don’t care.

7 Throw away the sentence you’re most proud of
Conclusion: The advice of a saboteur.

8 Never think about the story when you’re not working
“ . . . if you think about it consciously and worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” Ernest Hemingway
Conclusion: I have a very tired brain. Too tired to address the issue of not thinking about the thing I shouldn’t be thinking of.

Please keep the lists coming. Advice for school visits, Christmas presents, writer's block, stress-free cooking for guests, all welcome, because in between the gems I rail against are those that I adopt with gusto, wondering how I ever functioned without that wise word in my ready-to-listen ear.

TM Alexander


Penny Dolan said...

Interesting post to start the week. I love hearing what works for other people even if, when I try whatever it is out, it doesn't work for me.

Morning pages have been a blessing to me at times. However, back when I had a young family to get to school, other people to get up, and work to go to myself, any contemplative morning writing was totally impossible. (I always wondered whether Julia Cameron had different domestic arrangements to most people.)

Clémentine Beauvais said...

So true - great post. I can identify with pretty much everything in there, apart from the very first point - I'm an obsessive synopsiser.

Sue Purkiss said...

I love this!I have the same response to a lot of the rules/mantras - but also, like you, I wouldn't be without them - there's always some thing that's really useful.

Liz Kessler said...

Love this! Really funny, and probably 99% true for most of us. By the way, I would never in a million years suggest anyone else try writing a book like I do. I have seen writers run screaming for the hills with their hands over their ears when I've told them about my process, and I don't blame them.

I reckon the important thing (which I think is what your post is saying, really) is to figure out what works for you and be happy with it.

Thanks for such a fun and funny read - and thanks for the mention too!


Joan Lennon said...

This is great - especially
"7 Throw away the sentence you’re most proud of
Conclusion: The advice of a saboteur."
I'm passing your post on - many thanks!

C.J.Busby said...

Great post - very funny, and very true!

Heather Dyer said...

rules are meant to be broken... so they say.

Miriam Halahmy said...

It's also good to try new things especially if your writing has been lying low for a while. That's why I love reading all the things that other writers do. In the end, I know I'll do it my way, but someone else's tip might be just the push I need to get going again. Great post Tracy.

Richard said...

Regarding point 1, us software engineers have a saying about the analogous activity. Writing documentation, we say, is a good and worthwhile activity, like going to the dentist.