After three weeks of working on my novel, I’ve come to realise that all of the writing habits I thought I had were actually temporary. Or cyclical. Or anything other than habitual. So this week’s Tuesday Therapy, which comes from Deborah Kalin, author of Shadow Queen and Shadow Bound (both published by Allen & Unwin) couldn’t come at a better time. When it comes to the writing process, Deb says, one phrase often comes to mind:
I can’t remember where I first heart these words, but I trot them out all the time, in the beginning, middle and end of every story I sit down to write, long or short.
Like most writing koans, it unpacks into something new every time I consider it.
Sometimes it has to do with getting myself into the chair, whether that means coming up with a routine, or dashing one, or promising myself some kind of reward, or setting a daily target for hours sat or words written. Sometimes it has to do with keeping myself in the chair, like lying to myself that all I need to do is sit here for 5 more minutes, or write just 100 more words (knowing full well that after those 5 minutes or 100 words I’ll feel closer to my goal and so pushed to stay for another 5 minutes or 100 words…).
And then there’s how it applies to the story. Do I need to scrap 100,000 words because I just figured out a plot point that changes everything? Or do I need to write onwards, with only a note in the margin to remind me of this gaping hole in my narrative? Do I need more characters, or to kill one off, or to excise one from the narrative altogether? Do I need to push on, now that the story has grown reluctant, or do I need to set it aside for a while?
The answer is always going to be whatever works. Whatever works for you, for your story, for your process.
And what works is always going to be different not only for each writer, but for each story that writer works on. Because you never learn to write novels, you only ever learn to write the one you’re currently working on.
Deb, your timing is perfect! Thanks so much!
Deborah Kalin was once addressed by a recruitment agency as “Cheng Soon” no matter how often she corrected them. A resident of the east coast of Australia, she shares a birthday with Pablo Picasso, was born in the year of the Fire Dragon, collects books beyond her ability to read them all, and once worked at an aluminium smelter where a sparrowhawk routinely ripped pigeons to pieces on a lamp post just outside the cafeteria. She mostly ate not the meat at this cafeteria. You can visit her website here.