Archive for February, 2011

Balancing Acts

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

So I am busy at work.  These things happen and this would be OK (within limits) if I weren’t trying to carve out time to work on my new novel, train for an Ironman – which I foolishly signed up for in a moment of weak thinking – and not totally neglect family and friends (and do the odd blog now and then).  And sure, I’ve read about those writers that get up at 4 AM and write before the rest of the household gets up, or who manage to pound out 50 pages during their commute to work, but I am not one of those people.  I like to get decent amount of sleep and I run to work (although I have read of one writer who runs with a Dictaphone (I am not the walking and chewing gum at the same time type)).  My solution has always been to be more efficient – do more in the allotted time.  But, you know, that can be kind of tiring.  So if I start sounding a bit cranky, gentle reader, you know why.

Did I write that already?

Friday, February 11th, 2011

  Life is not one thing after another.
  It’s the same damn thing over and over.

          Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

When I first moved to Toronto, I lived in the Annex (in a horrible one room apartment with a shared bathroom in the hallway – but that’s another story) and my route to UofT took me past the Church of Christian Science.  Every week the pastor would post the topic of that week’s sermon.  The topics were always titanic: LOVE; GOD; LIFE; DEATH.  You get the idea.  But after a while I noticed that they were repeating.  That the pastor was rotating through some set list.  It seemed like cheating.  Weren’t his/her parishioners noticing?  Didn’t they mind?  And sure, there is probably more than one thing to say about LIFE but couldn’t he/she have then come up with a new title?

All this to say that years later I’ll draft some sentence that strikes me as pretty good but also vaguely familiar.  My god, was I inadvertently plagiarizing?  But inevitably I’d realize that the issue wasn’t copyright infringement but memory-loss.  It was me, me who had already used the sentence in some variation in another work.  Perhaps it was original, but like the good pastor of the Church of Christian Science, the repertoire needed work.

To Outline or Not to Outline?

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Some authors are big fans of outlines, figuring out long in advance of putting pen to paper the book’s sequence of events.  I’ve heard of this process entailing items from wall maps to colour-coded index cards – one colour for the major turning points in the characters’ relationships, another for the plot.  In a use of Excel that would make Bill Gates proud, one author used spreadsheets to map out the novel’s schematics. 

Outline users argue that, “If you don’t know what you’re going to write, how can you write it?”  Others strongly suspect that if you don’t outline it must mean that your story is not particularly complicated or if it is, you’re at risk of writing yourself into a corner.  This, come to think of it, might explain “the shift in the time-space continuum” that so many stories of a certain type seem to fall back on.

I don’t typically outline, but I am at times persuaded to by a fear of whether I can make certain elements of the story hang together without relying on time-space shifts.  I outlined, for example, the corporate intrigue that forms part of Tumbling After.  Otherwise, I’m in the do-not-outline camp, believing – as many writers do – that characters can have their own stories to tell and those stories aren’t always apparent until you start writing them.  For me, it’s a huge part of the fun of writing.  That said, I always, always know where it will end – you can only let those fictitious types have so much control.