Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dive? Wade? Submerge?

Charge into your novel without some sort of outline, synopsis, or series of turning points, and you’ve plunged headfirst into three feet of water: you could spend a lot of time recovering from sad mistakes and broken parts. Not a pretty sight.

So what about edging in? Great, except you might get so comfortable at the shoreline that you never progress. Some academics don’t complete the dissertation because they continue researching. And researching. Some novelists can boast a nifty outline, sleek synopsis, or glorious first twenty pages. They never advance: too cold. Too scary.

So if you’re not supposed to plummet or inch, what might you do instead? I discovered some answers a few days ago, when I enjoyed the privilege of a brilliant, talented group of writers discussing how to get started. What are the pitfalls and panaceas? What’s the antidote for angst?

You might call this The Submersion Theory.

Submersion Theory.

Enter swiftly, but not haphazardly.

  1. Plan first.
If you just pour your heart out, it might sound like—your diary. George Sand wrote that way, and despite her many attributes, today she’d have a tough time finding an agent, a publisher, or readers. Contemporary fiction requires not only the deep psychological insights she offered, but a causal, well-paced plot . Few novelists accomplish that without a plan. A flexible plan, certainly. But a plan, nonetheless. Unless you’re among those fortunate few, design a strategy. You can always change it as you go. In fact, by all means change it as you go.

  1. Don’t procrastinate.
Once you design an approach, avoid posing endless unanswerable questions, like “Is writing a stupid hobby/proclivity/career move?” “Will I be good enough?” “How will I ever get an agent?” Most writers require some time, say a few months, to see if the scenario works and the characters come to life. Will the joy of creating this protagonist’s world transcend the stress of perfecting it? Grant yourself some time without self-destructive questions. As Mark Twain said on the subject not of worry, but conscience, “It takes up more room than all the rest of a person’s insides, and yet ain’t no good nohow.” Will hesitating, shaming, or agonizing really make you a better writer?

  1. Revise as you go.
Completing the first draft empowers you to perceive the shape of your story, develop what you omitted, and delete all those fantastic middle-of-the-night stream of conscious ideas that—aren’t all that great in the clear light of day. But if you save all your revising for the end, you’ll not endure a series of obstacles, but could wind up with flat characters, empty dialogue, a coincidental plot, and lots of ugly sentences.

Tip: Writing is like pace in fiction; proceed neither hastily nor hesitatingly.

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