Incubation

It took four days of writing and an additional day typing it up on the laptop but I have just completed my first story. The first draft that is. It’s come in at 5,389 words, some of which are editorial notes so they don’t really count. Is that long or is it short? I have no idea. It feels short but it is just an episode of a greater story set in a novel that is still bubbling away in my head.

It’s also light when compared to the four days I spent writing it but the truth is I never really wrote for more than a couple of hours a day. The final session I wrote 900 words in 90 minutes. That’s probably just shy of my goal: 2000 words in three hours writing. I don’t write that fast or that long yet but that’s okay for now.

I want to talk about the myriad details that went into creating the story, all the cosmic gears that fell into place to drive the writing but without the actual story in front of you I’m sure it would be very boring. And since only the first draft is complete I’m not ready to ‘open the door’ so to speak.

I will say a couple of things on it though. The working title is “White Mist. Red Evening” (sounds like chengyu, those four character Chinese idioms. I wonder how it translates in Chinese). The plot was inspired by a dream fragment, a visual that defied the odds and stuck with me upon waking. It happened to also come with (or was that later?) a single word in English, “banaca” (don’t ask me, I have no idea why). Combine with some Magic and running it through the old Japanese translatorfier and I had the basics of my story.

The characters actually came earlier, out of one of my sewing projects, but they were just minor characters waiting patiently in the green room of my mind.

The final piece came when I was sitting in the library. I was working with Candy Wars, my first story that I’ve mentioned before. King says that you have to keep riding the wave of enthusiasm when you are writing a story. You need to keep momentum otherwise the characters grow stale and you’ll lose the passion. I was doing that for Candy Wars but I hit a wall which will require a bit of ground work on my part.

So I was sitting on a couch stuck for inspiration. I sat there and let my mind drift, almost nodding off at times, for an hour and a half. I had been watching the people come in and if you’ve ever been to Customs House library you’ll see that all the newcomers do the same thing and that is they take touristy photos of themselves standing over the model of Sydney set into the floor.

I’m not sure how or what but something clicked and I had my setting. There was even a guy sitting next to me on the couch dropping f-bombs every second word over the phone. He made it into the story too.

I did worry that I was not following King’s advice to stick with the first story. Of course having started the second one, should I then halt its momentum and slog away at the first one? In this case I think the answer was clear and it worked out but I can see it could be a nasty dilemma in the future.

The story seemed to flow from scene to scene as the ink flowed from pen to paper. One funny thing did occur while I was writing. I ran out of pages in my notebook which was a first for me as a writer. Then the ink ran out of my pen. These are good things to happen to a writer (so long as you have more of them).

Another piece of advice from On Writing is that once you finish the first draft you should put it away for six weeks or sufficient time to come at it with fresh eyes when it’s time for the second draft. So I’m going to put my baby into the incubator for a couple of weeks at least. Sleep tight.

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A Hole to Work In

There are a couple of rules for writers that most people could guess at. One should write every day. Secondly, you should have a place to write that is free from distractions. Well these are not really rules but they are truly great pieces of advice, especially for fledgling writers such as myself. I’m talking about the second rule today but it is related to the first anyway. If you’re going write everyday then it helps if your writing place is easily accessible.

In his most excellent book On Writing, Stephen King prescribes a writing environment free from distractions. No phone, no copies of the latest novel you’re reading, no internet, no blogging and definitely no Facebook. In fact since I’m currently using good old pen and paper for a first draft I can probably do away with the whole computer. A prison cell in other words. If your cell has a window it had better look onto a brick wall or empty car park.

I must say that I agree with the above in theory; I just haven’t gotten around to installing a prison cell or buying an office for writing. Instead I usually write lying on the carpet of my lounge room or at the kitchen table when I’m in house. Other places I’ve written are in a secluded park (like a secret garden) under the train lines between Milsons Point and North Sydney, on the couches of various shopping centres, in libraries too (Steve actually says park benches and library carrels should be last resorts).

Recently I’ve been most productive when I take my notebook and pen to the Westfield shopping centre and choose a café I haven’t tried. I like to people-watch over a coffee and although there are lots of people and noise all around I find that once I start writing these are quite easy to tune out. I don’t bring the latest novel. I don’t have the internet to tempt me.  I order an espresso (which obviously doesn’t last very long) and get down to business. The Westfield is only a short walk from my home though rain still proves to be a deterrent for getting to my writing place.

Provided it’s not too busy the café staff will let you sit there for hours having only ordered one coffee. The only problem with this is that if I have the coffee late in the afternoon, say 4pm, I have trouble getting to sleep that night. But that’s a probably a good thing as it pushes me to do my writing earlier in the day. Steve gets his 2000 word quota written in the morning and then has the rest of the day to do other things which seems like a good goal.

The beauty of writing is that you can do it almost anywhere so really all it takes to write consistently is discipline (maybe I’ll write about this when I have some). But café writing combines some fun activities and while I haven’t found my Elephant House yet (none of the cafes in my area have the right vibe), cafes as a group have been where I’ve gotten some good writing sessions in.