Susan's Blog

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Write Stuff

A lot of friends say to me, “I wish I could write,” and they sigh. I find myself wondering, How can you not write? Writing, to me, is akin to seeing a good friend. Most of the time, you want to do it; there are times when you don’t. But if you put yourself in that good-friend mindset, you find something there just about everytime.

When people ask me how I write, I tell them I start with an intense feeling and go from there. What are you sad about? Angry about? Insanely happy about? Moved to tears over? Anything that has caught me in the belly gets written about. Most of the time I guess that’s my kids because — let’s face it — they originated in my belly, literally. But even if you adopt your kids they originate in your mind, then your heart, and once you know them there is that visceral connection. (This I know from dear friends of mine who have adopted kids.)

You start with the emotion and you then name it, and the piece emanates from there. The less I attempt to give structure to it, the better. So I never use an outline. I hate outlines. Outlines kill my creativity. Similarly, I hate writing at a prescribed time of day for a prescribed amount of time. It then becomes a task, which is creativity death, too.

To write, you shouldn’t think about the entire project in your head. That will kill it too, because it is overwhelming. Even though when I write a novel I often know how it will end, I do not let myself think about that when I sit down to work on it because that will choke me. You have to write the piece — however small it may be — that you need to write in that given moment and be happy with that. And yes, if an idea or perfect passage seizes you at 2 a.m., you should run to your laptop/pad/typewriter/crumpled tissue and write it down!

You must follow your internal writing guide, which is unique to you. Sometimes that may mean that you can’t eat breakfast. Sometimes it means that you will sit and write the entire book bare bones, and spend the rest of the year filling in the details. Sometimes it means writing a great scene, or just the inside of a character’s head. Sometimes you will discard that later; but always save it somewhere else because you can borrow it and adapt it for another project later, and you will, trust me.

I don’t necessarily write what I know. That is not necessary. Write what you want: that is the universal rule. I have written books about 19th century Russia, people with past lives, people with dead siblings. People who are divorced. Do I know any of that? No, thank God. But I can imagine, talk to others who know, and do research. I can listen to conversations and glean bits about how people really talk, and store that away for later, using their speech patterns even though I do not know them, and I am not them.

When you write, don’t judge yourself. It is best not to think things like, I write, but I am not a writer. Allow yourself to begin to feel like a writer, if you want to write. When would it start to count, after all? When you’re published? When you’re a bestseller? Why have a standard like that? Just do it. Start typing and see what comes out. If it’s awful — and I doubt it will be, if you follow my rules of thumb — go back to it and hone it. You should, anyway. That’s the final rule: you are never finished, there are only deadlines.

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