Writing Habits

Writing is an odd thing. I always think I’m not doing it, but actually – I do write almost every day. First in journals, diaries, etc. I still do that now and then, but now it’s usually just jotting down a note or a phrase or an idea to use. For a couple of years now I’ve written mostly online. And not all that I write ends up here.

So when I thought about my resolutions for 2011 I haven’t been doing so well with most of them, except for the writing part. Just like The Creative Habit (which is a great book, by the way) suggests, I’ve been making a habit out of it. I’ve managed to write at least one blog post per week and have some pretty long drafts sitting around that I will post either here or on [redacted].

While I don’t write any fiction at all this list of writing tips by Michael Moorcock hits the nail on the head. (If you don’t know who Michael Moorcock is, shame on you!) How it’s possible to write that much in only three days is beyond me, but the mechanics and tools he shares make a lot of sense. You can read the entire list at Wet Asphalt, but here’s a snip:

“I was also planting mysteries that I hadn’t explained to myself. The point is, you put in the mystery, it doesn’t matter what it is. It may not be the great truth that you’re going to reveal at the end of the book. You just think, I’ll put this in here because I might need it later.”

“What I do is divide my total 60,000 words into four sections, 15,000 words apiece, say; then divide each into six chapters. … In section one the hero will say, “There’s no way I can save the world in six days unless I start by getting the first object of power”. That gives you an immediate goal, and an immediate time element, as well as an overriding time element. With each section divided into six chapters, each chapter must then contain something which will move the action forward and contribute to that immediate goal.

“Very often it’s something like: attack of the bandits – defeat of the bandits – nothing particularly complex, but it’s another way you can achieve recognition: by making the structure of a chapter a miniature of the overall structure of the book, so everything feels coherent. The more you’re dealing with incoherence, with chaos, the more you need to underpin everything with simple logic and basic forms that will keep everything tight. Otherwise the thing just starts to spread out into muddle and abstraction.

“So you don’t have any encounter without information coming out of it. In the simplest form, Elric has a fight and kills somebody, but as they die they tell him who kidnapped his wife. Again, it’s a question of economy. Everything has to have a narrative function.”

None of this is new or complicated. It’s still hard and I like how he’s really pushing outlining and creating a basic structure. I’ve gotten better at this over the last couple of years, but it really took me a while.


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