March 22, 2010

Writers and Readers Week, Writing, Editing

As I expected, I loved Writers and Readers week at the International Arts Festival in Wellington. Highlights? Kamila Shamsi, for one. She's Pakistani and writes about wars on terror as an ongoing historical phenomenon, and how fear leads to accepting anything in the name of safety and security. Her novel Burnt Shadows is stunning. Also Neil Gaiman and Margo Lanahan both of whose books have large fantasy elements which I have enjoyed a lot. Audrey Niffenegger was fun, too, talking about Highgate Cemetery and her latest book. Geoff Dyer said he can’t think of stories so his books don’t behave the way readers expect. He admires Allan Hollinghurst, who does tell stories. Dyer looks for “unmediated experience” and tries to reduce the the distance between what he is writing and how he is writing it. I do love listening to writers talking about writing, even if I don’t always understand everything they say. I take notes. Another highlight was Philip Hoare, historian of the decadence of the nineteen twenties and, more lately, his current passion, whales. A very entertaining eccentric.

On my daily tasks I am doing better on writing 250 words a day than I am on editing my book. The latter needs longer periods of time I think, and my days have been very full lately. I am surprising myself with what comes out of my mind in the daily writing. At the end of March, I have decided, I will print all to date - about 40 beginnings - and read them and see what I want to add to and what I can mine for other purposes and review the whole exercise. I’ll keep doing it, might just change the parameters. Or not. Will report.

I’m changing my editing plan to available half days, of which my diary indicates there are some ahead. Interesting how recording these activities makes them concrete.

March 5, 2010

Reading the web, new writing & revising

I’ve been looking at lists and blogs about writing and writers. The best general writing blogs are via literary publications, like the New Yorker’s Book Bench and the blogs at the LA Times and the Guardian They all have links to other places and writers and act as useful filters (for me, anyway) so you can avoid spending hours trawling through individual author websites devoted mostly to bios and promoting their books, which is fair enough, but not what I want to read.

The New Yorker Book Bench is particularly good. It often links to non-nyer sites and, as is the nature of the internet beast, one thing leads to another. The trick is not to spend (waste?) too many hours on the intelligent musings of good writers. It can feel ‘educational’ but actually there is a law of diminishing returns. Lists of writing ‘rules’ and tips crop up often, some of them really useful, but in the end it’s each to her own. I really like to read what published writers say about their routines and habits, and there's plenty of that. Again, I look for the occasional tip that can be useful to me rather than rules to follow. For example, in spite of advice to the contrary I don’t plan to give up semi-colons altogether in favour of full-stops, but I might be more considered about where I use one. I might.

So, to create some discipline in my own writing I have set myself two daily tasks.

The first is to write 250 words of new fiction a day. This isn’t much, about two paragraphs, and can be done in fifteen or so minutes. I started about three weeks ago and so far have 21 short story beginnings. In a year I could have 365 short story beginnings. Yikes! Many of course will never go anywhere and I could try endings and middles in due course. Or even look back at earlier beginnings and add another 250 or so words. The word count is not exact, by the way, it’s not a matter of stopping at 250, it’s that once this number is reached I am ‘allowed’ to stop. It is interesting to have to dredge up an idea/ character/ bit of plot from scratch and get something on the page. Occasionally I surprise myself.

The other task I am setting myself is to spend at least an hour a day revising the novel I first-drafted last November. This is proving to be a major undertaking, which I am enjoying more than I expected. There have been lots of time and other detail issues to sort out, and now I am concentrating on tenses. I want to use present tense a lot and this is tricky. Will write more about this in a later post.