Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Art of Ice-Breaking

Recently I have been really battling life. I always manage to get some writing in there somewhere, but it starts to tell. At the moment it seems to be on the bus, at lunch times, squeezed in before work - you get the idea.

One of the biggest problems is breaking the ice - getting motivated and creative in two seconds flat to make the most of the fifteen or twenty minutes that I might have.

Ideally (when life co-operates) I like to write in 2 hour blocks. I find this gives me time to warm up, tune in and really get into some sort of flow. At the moment this is impossible.

The thing is you might be able to 'write' for two hours in a day - say half an hour on the bus each way (that's one hour), then another hour at lunch perhaps (in the cafe' or park). This adds up to 2 hours, but if it takes me ten minutes to reconnect and establish some sort of flow then its really only an hour and half! That's not counting the time taken to grit my teeth and drown out the two idiots at the back of bus talking much too loudly and giving their opinions on everything I really don't want to know about.

So how do you write? In snippets? In large blocks? In the emergency stairwell (yes it's been done)? If you do write in small parcels, how do you manage to reconnect with your work and get back into the flow?

17 comments:

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I hear you loud and clear, Chris. Life has been hitting me hard, as well. It's funny, when the kids were little I thought "If only they can be at the point where they (fill in the blank -- eat by themselves; use the bathroom; can read; can drive) I'll have more time to write." Unfortunately it doesn't work that way and life being too much with us, I have trouble finishing anything that's not on deadline (and sometimes past!)
And I cannot write in little bits anymore. I used to write "in my head" then sit down for an hour or so and type it all in. I don't know why I can't do it now. I'd like to think it is that my plots have grown more complex, but it is entirely possible I'm becoming ancient...
So, what I've done for the last three years is take two periods a year, usually of a week at a time, so somewhere and do nothing BUT write. It's expensive, but it's the only way to get those essential first drafts finished. Editing, I can do at home.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. That's not a bad idea. Particularly for first drafting (fun as well is you can get away from the family!). I also find editing far easier. I am also facing some first drafting and new novels/stories for the first time in ages and finding it really difficult to stay in the zone.

You know what Douglas Adams said about deadlines? "I love them. I love the sound they make as they whiz past":)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris, I know how you feel.

If I have only short breaks to write in, I'm OK as long as I have the first draft written. It is like putting on a familiar coat.

But if I'm trying to write the first draft, it is hard to remember where I left the coat. I have to remember all the characters, the world and my intention for where I wanted to take the plot.

Dave Freer said...

In 200 word pieces. That's enough to seem quickly managable and motivate me to get to it, and actually enough to suck me down into it so 200 words grows rapidly to quite a bit more.

C Kelsey said...

I generally wind up writing in evenings. For some reason I do this in an odd position with my laptop while I'm sitting on the floor.

matapam said...

I barely outline, but I have enough of a grasp of the whole that I can concentrate on specific necessary scenes, leave the rest of it out of focus "for now."

The end result is a very lumpy first draft that needs a lot of transitions and filling in between these critical scenes. Which can be difficult to get to, because you've got to read the scene before and a bit of the scene after to get back into the feel and you can start writing.

Another thing I do is if I have multiple POVs is write each one separately. Then I don't have to combine the length of time since I last wrote with writing from a different personality. It's easier to slip back in and see what happened next.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam, lumpy doesn't work for me. I keep smoothing all the time.

So I go back a few pages read, edit and then plunge into the new stuff when I get to it.

Jim McCoy said...

This is a problem for me because I have a tendency to be a bit of a perfectionist. So I can usually "break the ice" by changing a part of my story that I've already written somehow. Maybe I will make a passage more descriptive or add some dialogue, etc. The problem with this is that I'll frequently get stuck there and not end up taking the story any further. There are nights when I'll sit down to work on my novel and it will gain say 400-500 words to it... And they'll all be in the first or second chapter. I have a limited amount of time to write as well, so frequently by that time it's time for bed. But I don't know, maybe for you reading over a little of what you've already written will get you over the top.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Rowena. I am having a go at writing proposal and first chapters at the moment. Difficult! I have discovered (as a plotter) that I almost have to do the same amount of work as a full novel! I feel like I might as well write the whole thing. I have to get the whole plot sorted and develop all the characters before I can begin - I really need to 'front end load' the whole story before I can start to flow.


Your right - tough to keep all that fresh when you have leave it and come back to it.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Dave. Its been so long since I have been in 'first draft mode' that I have forgotten that word targets can work! I've been re-writing and editing various other novels for years trying to get them market ready. When I was doing this only a time goal made any sense.

Nice idea - I'll try it!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, matapam. Writing out of sequence! Now there is a concept! I have always stuck to the story flow, so never would have considered writing one PoV across the story then switiching to another - well at least in a novel. I've done it in my short Memories of Mars to get the alien PoV more consistent - but I let myself go a bit more in shorts.

Interesting though. I should try letting myself off the leash a bit more. Maybe I don't need all of the background in my head for every scene. Worth thinking about.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Jim. I also find it a lot easier to start re-working things I've already written, or taking things beyond the first pass by adding atmosphere, re-paragrahing etc. I find this naturally 'sucks me in' more.

I can definitely do this, but I start to feel uneasy about how much real progress I am making & have a sense when time is limited that I am copping out. I shouldn't really feel that way I suppose -- its all work that needs doing. It just feels like you make more progress when you extend the story and hit the magic end of chapter points.

Taking the story forward into the Blank Zone seems to be a separate sort of creative work. Re-reading the last few paragraphs or page is part of my standard technique for re-connecting. Getting the creative flow back can be a little bit difficult though. I think I do let nerves interfere a bit a well - starting to wonder if what I am writing is any good rather than just trusting in the story and letting myself type on. I should probably let myself write things I would normally wait for as well - things I might think took a certain bit of research or really having the whole plot sorted to the detail.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris. Have you thought of starting a new Movement in Writing Yoga? Or Writing Palates?

You could enhance your chi & work off your Karmic Burden while advancing your story! I can see it now.

'OK, class. Inhale. Now type a sentence. Release your breath with two lines of dialogue.'

Revolutionary!

Stephen Simmons said...

Chris, I'm with matapam. The fantasy I'm working on has multiple parallel plot-lines, which will intertwine as things progress in later volumes. I've been writing them each straight through, independently, rather than writing the book front-to-back like I did the first-person SF novel. I had to outline the whole mess (all four volumes) first, of course, but this method has made it much easier to maintain a consistent voice for each of the POV characters.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Stephen. that would definitely represent a new approach for me! Its interesting, but I wonder if I would lose the sense for the novel and the way the tension builds from chapter to chapter if I did that. Often I try to build that by cutting a scene in a certain place etc.

Interesting though!

Stephen Simmons said...

Chris, the timing between the various plots can (usually) be tweaked, at least a little, to adjust the chapter-to-chapter flow. I've found that have to keep that in mind when I'm laying out the timeline, so I don't end up with all of the action scenes clumped together over here in this part of the book and "development" scenes clumped together over there. Of course, since this is my first attempt at having anything remotely resembling an actual plot outline laid out in advance (which feels really weird, by the way), I discovered that I could actually adjust the map, when necessary, to make the timelines work out right. Even now, my map consists of a number of highly-detailed spots, with generally-defined relative positions and rough distances between them. The rest is all hazy, "the characters haven't walked here and created any definition yet" gray space.

Getting back to your original question, though: When I'm only able to write in short bursts, which happens to me frequently, I try to grab a piece of the plot-line that I know is ahead of me and is already fairly well-shaped by the outline, and throw words at it. That way I don't have to "reconnect" first. Just move through that scene in fits and starts, as time permits, because you know basically where it's going. When I'm doing that I know that, at some point, I have to get a genuinely uninterrupted session at some point so I can carefully trim the edges of all those scraps of fabric and stitch them together into a presentable quilt. But for me, it seems to work (so far).

Anthony J Langford said...

Yes its tough to get a flow going. And for that you need time. A little warm up. I daydream for the first ten minutes.

I'm with you. Two hours is a good block. If I cant dedicate at least an hour I dont bother. It's not enough. What if I get into it and have to stop? That kills.

And a good spurt can leave you exhausted..like after a sprint. After a couple of hours I'm ready for a break.

With Editing I can jump in and out any old time... For 10 mins or 4 hours..

Cheers all for yr thoughts...interesting to hear how others work...