Thursday, March 17, 2011

Titanic Theory of Writing

I've been amusing myself again by doing writing analogies. This time it's the Titanic Theory of Writing - or specifically, how to manage your 'ship' without hitting an ice-berg and having your writing productivity plummet to zero (with a few ideas fleeing in the lifeboats).

In this case the icebergs are a handy analogy for creative lockjaw. The emotional freeze that stops your creativity and the words flowing. It's not much good running into one and saying 'Oh Damn!' Much better to be on the lookout for dangerous waters - events and snarl-ups that will dent your productivity. It is better to sail around them or cut back the engines then rip out the hull.:) These would be things along the lines of staying alert for events coming up that will restrict writing time, or knowing that you will get a manuscript back with red pen all over it - both of which might effect your flow, or at least divert energy. That might be time to cut back the engines and chart a course.

You also need to stoke up the coal-fired boilers to give yourself motive force. Maybe plan a few things to keep the motivation and love of story alive inside you as well. Need to keep the flame alive inside you to keep going along. Of course all good nineteenth century engineers knew you did not want too much pressure in the boiler - otherwise kaboom! Not point winding yourself up and setting the expectations too high.

I've recently had to jump the hoops of a few Navigation Room incidents. The ship needs to chart its course (OK so I am a plotter - sue me!). I need a certain amount of planning before I declare 'full steam ahead'.

And last but not least - make sure you have enough lifeboats! Plan emergency measures for severe dips. I used to keep a David Gemmell novel in a sealed envelope along with written instructions (no I'm not kidding).

What's your favourite writing analogy? How do you keep the coal-fires burning on your ship of prose?


Rose Transpose said...

Heh heh, I like this ship analogy. I know I've needed to venture a bit into other writing projects from time to time to keep the creative juices flowing.
- Nicholas

MataPam said...

Heh. My best analogy is the shopper who's forgotten where she parked the car, and they all look alike. She's running from car to car trying the keys in the lock. Surely one of these vehicles are hers?

When my writing bogs down, it's not that there are no words flowing, it's that I can't seem to concentrate on any one idea, let alone the one I know I ought to be working at. So I jot down this new idea, run off and try to edit a first draft but get lost and read half of it, bring up the one I should be polishing, remember that I needed to run to the post office, come back and check a reference for accuracy and get lost reading the reference . . . by the end of the day I feel beat, and have done nothing.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I absolutely love your analogy. of course, it still doens't tell me what to do...

As for analogies... uh... I don't have analogies for writing. I just do it...

Analogy for a specific novel is car repair. Sometimes I can't find the flaw, so I take the whole thing apart and spread it on clean sheets on the garage floor...

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

LoL, Chris.

I think of my books more like paintings. Some parts are really detailed and clear, other parts are just sketched in and I won't know what they look like until I actually paint them.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Nicholas. Is that a little bit like jumping ship? Or perhaps charts a new course while the ship sways gently on the wave in the mid-Atlantic?:)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Matapam. You need the writing equivalent of a remote key:) You know the trick - people walk around the carpark holding their remote key in their hands pressing the buttons and watching to see which car's blinkers flash with the 'I've just been opened' signal. It's great for finding hire cars at the airport.

Or perhaps a set of writing blinkers? Maybe you could hide all the other projects. Won't stop the ideas of course!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. I wondered what that smell of engine oil in your living room was from:)

I like that analogy. For me writing is a little like making a kit car, I put all the things together and hope that the damn thing will start - then actually drive down the road!

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Rowena. I could have guessed your mental map would be something in the visual arts line:) No wonder you find art so inspirational for your writing as well.

I guess I do have something similar, but it's more an undefined feeling of vagueness - then I have to keep prodding the thing unitl I finally get to whatever was bothering me, whether that was a character not being fleshed enough, or some plot point that is too 'flat'.

Looking forward to Supernova?

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


as when I took machinery apart, as a kid, I always have pieces left over, but the thing still works. :-P

Some of my editors have been alarmed at emails saying "I'm sorry, the thing is still in pieces on the garage floor" though. :)
Word Verification: Legag -- what you do when you read le-bad-novel

Chris McMahon said...

Hey, Sarah.

Dear editor, please recieve:

(1) One novel, as new
(2) Three assorted whizbangs &
(3) Seven widgets in various sizes.

Beware - some widgets bite!

Stephen Simmons said...

Pam, for me, that flurry of alternative (Look -- shiny!!!) ideas almost always means that I went off the rails somewhere, and the book or story is refusing to take another step forward until I go back and fix the problem. (Not that I'm complaining, mind you -- BOTH of the stories NRP has accepted started out as distractions from the fantasy WIP ...)

Chris, I agree with the consensus: Your analogy is excellent. And it works just as well for non-plotters, I think. (I don't know if I'm a pantser either, exactly ... more of a punster, I'd say ...) I know that I don't plan out the whole course of the journey, just the major port-calls. Beyond that, I just keep my goals (AND the Characters' goals) fixed in my mind, and nudge them toward the next waypoint.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Stephen. I guess in your case you have a team of people in the lookouts, watching for new story developments? :)

I must admit I have a lot of fun with these analogies. Mind you it's getting a bit crowded in my office with all these sailors and massive iron steamships:)

The icebergs I don't mind - at the least penguins have a sense of humour.

MataPam said...


Yes, sometimes the distractions are your subconscious trying to break through and tell you something needs fixing before you go on.

And sometimes it's too much caffeine and sugar.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Matapam. Try decaffenated ideas:)