The writer’s source

We are our writer’s source; the well spring from the conscious and unconscious elements of our minds. Our lives, our biology has fed into who we are, still feeds into us, every second of every day we are alive while we are awake and in our sleep from within, dreams remembered or not.

The minutiae of experiences we have had throughout our lives is imprinted into our brains; from what we may consider the mundane monotony or day to day grind, from childhood to adulthood, perhaps living in the same place all our lives, perhaps moving town, area, country, a wealth of formative and recent memories, the routines of life interspersed with unusual happenings, out of the ordinary events, anniversaries, celebrations, deaths, devastations and loss. All this has built a foundation of remembered and hidden memories from which our writer’s source is created in our minds.

Consider all that has influenced and shaped your writer’s source:

Our parents – their backgrounds and the effect this had on raising us, discipline, and our reactions to this.

Our interactions with other humans – families growing or shrinking, at school, after school, at work, every possible daily interaction we have with any other human being through our lives.

Our environment – every part of it from how the sun warms us, to the edge of the table we dig our nail in and make our mark, to the flavours of food prepared in childhood and what we try to make ourselves now we’re grown-up, to the hard mattress on the floor we sleep on that only becomes comfortable when we have to leave it in the morning.

Our learning to communicate – learning to talk, to write, to read, to create our own sentences.

The stages of our lives – pre-memory, infant, primary and secondary school, third level, the world of work, our own families (kids, pets, or none).

Our biology – female or male, the colour of our skin, the country of our birth, our economic circumstances, our beliefs or none, and the multitudes of ways that the society we were born in or live in tells us how or who we should or shouldn’t be.

We take all of this in, every second of the day whether we are conscious of it or not. Our brain processes and stores impressions, emotions, images, sensations into pockets of mind sometimes only released through writing (or therapy) to surprise or shock us when revealed.

When we write, we tap into this incredible vast source from within our minds, our brains, to create and what pours out of us onto the page, well, that comes from us, our rich, multifaceted source, our well spring, our writer’s source within created from every aspect of our lives, awake or asleep.

And all we have to do is find the words, from the languages imprinted within, to communicate what we want to say.

Writing and the human mind

‘…each of us who dares to reach in and pull out what is truly ourselves brings a new way of seeing into the world.’ Hal Zina Bennett, Write From The Heart.

Our minds are incredible. The power to learn and the power to imagine and create.
From birth, connection after connection is made in our minds of memories, conscious and unconscious. All this information from our bodies and our environment is pulsing into us and while it does our mind processes it and makes the best possible assumptions for us, for our survival, to make sense of the world.

Day after day, year after year, we accumulate an incredible amount of memories: images and sensations. Until one day, as the writer, we come to place the pen on the paper or fingers on a keyboard and unload one of the infinite things we have created in our lives through a sentence, a paragraph. A piece of writing springs up from the wealth of known and unknown (hidden from us, always in the background) knowledge within our brains.

In doing our writing, we reveal our uniqueness, gained through years of learning, conditioning, adapting, analysing, studying, being in this world and then released, tumbling onto the page. We create wholly from a vast source of impressions and information stored inside our minds.

The only constraint is the language – finding the right words to recreate our imagined worlds/scenes for our reader: ourselves or others. Words to make the dream or impression we want to recreate, to transfer from our minds onto the page so that a reader can journey with us when the writing is read.

The human mind is an incredible thing. Celebrate what yours is doing today in your writing. Realise your unique voice, your unique mind, there is no one else like you in the world, place your words on the page and create.

Lessons from the journey

I drew the line in the sand in my diary on the evening of Thursday 23rd December 2010 and decided I was going to write a novel. I’ve learned since that the writing life is a continuous journey of learning the craft of writing and learning to live as a writer. It will never stop and if it does, it will be because I have withdrawn from it altogether.

Dorothea Brande gives a warning in ‘Becoming a writer’ in relation to two writing tasks – early morning writing and writing by prearrangement:

‘If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late.’

That is hard. Hard to read as a writer/wanna be writer. If anything, I must have ignored that warning when I read the book two years ago and ploughed on regardless. I’ve never done the early morning pages or turned up by prearrangement (well never on time anyway) and somehow pushed out three first drafts, one of which is now a completed novel.

Admittedly, I wish I could be more disciplined, I really do and I keep booking times in my diary to get organised and sometimes I make it and sometimes I don’t. I’d say life and distractions get in the way. Them pesky distractions.

But how I got on and wrote more than the day’s date, I’d put down to a combination of things:

1. The decision to give it a go.
I’d written bits of two novels seven years before that date above, and then wrote another bit of a novel two years before the day I made my decision of ‘this is it, let’s just do it, prove I can do this or give up’.

2. Joining a writing group.
I joined one that started in September 2010 and bit by bit it found its feet. The short writing exercises were the start of recognising I could write even if it was only every two weeks. Support from a group is essential, if you don’t feel supported, find another group.

3. Taking a writing course.
The first one, a two day start your novel course, got me to write a first chapter. I wrote a couple after that; doubt set in and I didn’t continue. The second one, I got feedback on a short story and it made me think, perhaps I can do this. The third course I learned how to edit my work; made me realise what I was doing right. Teachers are critical to a writer – I’m glad of the ones I’m learning from, their challenges on how I view my writing and writing life, how I edit, and what I write (been writing performance pieces, one act plays etc… as well as the novel).

4. Reading about writing.
I read every book I could get my hands on about writing. I especially liked the Writers Digest collection on Dialogue, Plot & Structure, Description & Setting, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, and Revision & Self-editing. If I was starting again as a writer, I’d read those as well as: Self-editing for fiction writers, Browne and King; Nail your novel, Morris; Make a scene, Rosenfeld (I may be the only one who needed this). There are other ones on the shelf but these are the ones I’d read again.

5. Reading fiction, all sorts.
I read a variety of fiction, novels, short stories, poetry. Even snippets and samples of other writers, famous or otherwise make you realise your own writing voice. Sample the variety out there. My favourite novel is still Annie Proulx’s ‘The Shipping News’; I can dip in and out of it and find wonder at her descriptions, not static, moving, move the story forward.

6. Writing lots and editing.
Doing first drafts meant I knew I could get to the end of a story. Moving a novel from first to second draft meant I understood how to examine and revise the structure of a novel. From third to fourth draft, meant learning how to revise, cut, and reshape sentences to make the words and sentences work better. Fourth draft – read aloud to make sure that the ‘fictive dream’ is not interrupted for the reader. Fifth and beyond – feedback from Beta readers.

7. Believe.
The hardest one. Still learning.

So that’s my journey up to today.
What would you have said to yourself starting out?

Writers’ doubt and how to live with it

Doubt is normal. All writers have it, get it, live with it. Published, unpublished, still thinking about doing it and/or starting it one day.

But when it strikes, and I’m not talking about the little itty bitty strikes of ‘oh, perhaps if I change this one word, oh, yes that’s it, it’s perfect’, I’m talking about the ‘doubt doldrums’ (see Andrea’s post on this) and all the chaos and messing with your head that that involves. How do you move on and out of the doubt and the low level rumblings shaking you to the very core of your belief in yourself and your ability as a writer.

I suppose it’s the start of writers block, or the cause of writers block and I want to know if I can nip it in the bud. I’ve been dragging my feet (fingers on keyboard) for the last two weeks and all I’ve got is one poem to show for it. And the all pervasive feeling running inside my mind that I’m not good enough, what am I doing, I’m wasting time, this writing is rubbish, what am I thinking, how on earth could I think I could be a writer…it’s been running on and on and on…

But this time, I’m on to my repeating pattern and I want to stop it.
How do I recognise the pattern and nip it in the bud?
How long does it go on before I can activate some strategy to stop the doubt and get my brain back and focused on the problem at hand – writing the damn novel?

So strategy, what can be done as soon I know I’m going down the slippery slope, faster and faster, sliding down into doubt and how do I bring myself back to writing again, that carefree satisfaction that comes from enjoying the freedom of writing a shitty first draft.

1. Recognise the problem

2. Write about anything else but what you’re working on
Write about the problem. I wrote a poem. Even opening up your notebook and writing the date can be the starting point. Free write. Go to a café and write. Go to a beach and soak in the salt air and write. Write in any other place to your normal writing spot – I moved out of my office onto the kitchen table to complete the major second draft of my novel last year.

3. Get away
Do the housework, do the gardening, clean the gutters, spring clean (it’s that time of year when the light makes every bit of dust look twenty times bigger than it was in winter), walk, go for a drive.
Bigger budget – think bigger! Smaller budget, walk. Just walk. The rhythm of your feet on the ground works both sides of your brain – left and right.

4. Take a break
No, not a couple of hours. A real break, a holiday from writing. A free from ‘any writing pressure’ slot in time, marked in the diary, just for you to get a real, complete break from writing. All jobs give you holidays – writing should be no different. Know when you’re coming back.

5. Accept that writing is for the long haul
Disillusion can set in when we are in the middle of a project. Recognise that novel writing takes time, has its ups and downs, fluctuations, bursts, day dreaming times and it will get done. We are creating even when there are no words on the page. These moments, days of doubt are normal, meander through them and rest in them. Find the courage to see these days for what they are.

6. Come back to the page
Write the date. Write some rubbish, stuff you’ll never use for anything else.
Try the 33 minute productivity technique.

7. Read about doubt to understand it.

Dorothea Brande in her book, Becoming A Writer, says in the section entitled ‘The Slough of Despond’,
‘But then comes the dawning comprehension of all that a writer’s life implies: not easy day dreaming, but hard work at turning the dream into reality without sacrificing all its glamour…wonders how (s)he ever dared to think (s)he had a word worth saying…Every writer goes through this period of despair. Without doubt many promising writers, and most of those who were never meant to write, turn back at this point and find a lifework less exacting.’

I started this post to think of ways of managing moments, who are we kidding, periods of doubt and I’m ending it by saying, we need to recognise doubt as a normal part of being a writer. But in order to be writers, keep writing, we need to find our own way to move forward through moments of doubt and disillusion, to step out onto the other side.

 

 

Writing a third novel and still doubting

Imagine that you’re writing your third novel and still doubt that you can be a writer.

Last September I completed a novel. Not just a first draft, or a second structural draft, or a third draft tightening everything up, but the final, read it all aloud, every single word, draft and I have three chapters and a synopsis all polished and looking good. And a Beta reader (three to date) read it and gave feedback and when I got the courage a month or so later, I began to send it out to the few agents that deal with science fiction, in the UK and Ireland. I’d send out about three submissions, tailored to each agent’s requirements and when the rejections came in, I’d prepare the next three and so on. The rejections were lovely, kindly written and I knew that I wasn’t their fit. I’m waiting for another two responses at the moment.

That novel ‘The alien woman’ was the second novel I’d written. I began it in November 2012 and completed it after two re-writes to get the plots, subplots, and structure the way I wanted. As I’ve written about in previous posts, the creation of a ‘Fact Sheet’ was a turning point because there were so many subplots I needed to make sure all played out correctly and back stories fixed and set before the revisions would work.

I wrote a first draft of my first novel ‘The 13th vision’ in 2011 and did a second draft in 2012 but it wasn’t working and in November 2012 I took part in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and started the second novel. I did it to prove to myself that I could write and wasn’t a one novel writer. I didn’t want to get bogged down working on one novel for years and not know how to progress it. Also, I figured that a first novel is like a first child, it’s your practice novel. So what better way to learn than starting a second novel and, with new skills on editing and re-reading every book I could lay my hands on about writing, I proved to myself that I could write another first draft.

That’s where the ‘Fact Sheet’ and my own version of a Beat sheet (see Nail your novel by Roz Morris) which I called my Scene and Chapter Intentions sheet were used (see also Scene Intentions) and I moved the second novel ‘The alien woman’ from first to second draft and sorted out structural issues until I was happy with it. The Fact sheet came out of feedback I got from a mentor through Artlinks and the Waterford County Council Arts Office. We were reviewing a draft of the Synopsis. She asked me many questions about aspects of the plot and back story and it made me realise that I kept changing things and needed to fix the facts of the novel (character facts, location facts, plots/subplot facts, back story facts, timeline etc…) before I could do a real structural edit. Once that was done, a full structural draft and then writing the Synopsis became much easier.

In November 2013, I started my third novel called ‘Things to fear’. This novel has been emerging out of me almost fully formed. I’d done a Character Journal and it helped me know my main character in advance before I entered her world. (A first draft does that as well, gives time with a character, a chance to see how they get on, react, live in the world we’ve placed them.) I’ve been a little slower finishing the first draft of this novel. I’m on Camp Nanowrimo since start of April and hoping to make a dent on the end of the novel.

But back to the statement above. I still don’t believe I’m a real writer. Perhaps it’s because I’m not published yet. I’d love to be published the traditional route but I realise that since I’m only starting out and the kind of science fiction/stories I write about may not be what the traditional route is looking for at the moment.

I know I haven’t written much in the last week because I’ve been doubting myself, about whether I’m any good at all, about my novels, my stories and whether anyone will even be interested in them. And whether I should give it up with the odds stacked against me making a living from being a novelist. And I keep thinking that if I complete another two more novels then I’ll have something to show for it and perhaps then I’ll be a real writer.

Heck, I already know what my fourth novel is going to be about. I’ll let you know when I’ve figured it out how to stop doubting myself.

Nom de plume versus my real name

One of my tutors said that ‘writing is like taking your knickers off in public’. And it’s exactly that. I think it’s scary, really scary trying to be a writer and even scarier showing others your work.

When I started this blog, I had a decision to make and figured that my own name was a bit hard for people to read, spell, or even pronounce. After all, how would my real name look on a book cover? Would people remember how to spell it or even guess how to say it?

I suppose that’s probably because both my first name and surname are regularly misspelled even when I meticulously print them out on forms. For example, an online application produced a name tag for a conference with my name misspelled. How is that even possible? Perhaps someone thought I didn’t spell my own name correctly and decided to ‘correct’ it for me.

My first name is sometimes spelled, or said, as Cecelia or Celia or Cecile or Celine or Cecily or Sheila or…

My surname goes under some of the following: Carelese, Careless, Carlisle, Carlson.

If I’m dictating my name over the phone or in person, I make a point of saying Cecilia – spelt ‘C-e-c-i’ and Carelse – spelt as two words ‘car’ and ‘else’.

Pronouncing my surname depends on where you’re from, with the most accurate pronunciations probably by South Africans or by those familiar with Dutch surnames. Even within my immediate family we seem to pronounce the surname differently from each other.

So I picked Lia Carel (from Ceci-Lia Carel-se) as a pen name, a nom de plume, from within my own name and started this blog as part of myself and my struggle to write.

But I’ve started to think that it’s not really how I want to be known, if I’m not using my real name.

So why can’t I use my unique, ridiculously difficult to spell, or say, real name? I know it’s a tough sell but I think it needs to be done. I could keep an anglicized version of my name but then I have the task of telling people who know me that anything I publish is not under my own name.

OK, I’ll just check what I need to ask myself to ensure I’m making the right decision (made up using Wikipedia’s page on ‘Pen name’):

1. Is my real name likely to be confused with that of another author or notable individual?

2. Do I need a pen name to avoid overexposure?

3. Do I believe that my name does not suit the genre I am writing in?

4. Do I need a pen name to avoid harming my reputation or am insufficiently established in my writing career to publish under my real name or need to save my real name for more literary works versus ordinary novels?

5. Do I need a pen name using the name of the lead character, to suggest to the reader that the book is a (fictional) autobiography?

6. As a female author, do I feel that I need a pen name to ensure my works are accepted by publishers and/or the public?

7. Do I write exposé books about espionage or crime and need to conceal my identity?

I’ve answered No to every question. Note: Question 3 – I’m currently writing science fiction novels. I also write short stories and poetry. I don’t think it matters either way.

The final question is: Do I really want to use a different name for my own work?

And the answer is: No.

OK, so now what? So now, this is the day I own who I am and my writing.

I’m Cecilia Carelse and I’m a writer. How’s it goin’?

Did you think about using a pen name or your real name when you started writing?

The positives of procrastination

The byline of this blog is simple ‘Writing and the art of procrastination’ and yet I’m loath to admit that I get more productive after I’ve procrastinated a bit. After all, we’re supposed to be productive all the time, you know, bang out the 5000 plus words of our target before lunch. Every day. Simples. Not.

This blog post from Positive Writer says it all brilliantly about embracing procrastination, labelling procrastination as taking a break or slowing down but without the guilt trip because a break refreshs you for the next writing session, slowing down reduces stress, gives your mind time to mull over the next scene, action, word.

Here it is: Creative Flow: 8 Reasons Why Procrastinating is Better than Working

 

Our whole creative lives

We are creators. Everything we do in life is a process of creating something, as writers, artists, dancers but in every other job in life there are always creative elements. Indeed, this extends to our lives as a whole and our very existence as humans. We survive best with our creativity utilised, we need to.

An example of a job with creating in it is engineering. This is creating with skills and information, acquired in college or university or through a trade course. If you want to design a new machine, your basic design or prototype is a way of creatively using your engineering skills, using what you know to make the best possible model of your idea.

Or perhaps you’re re-designing the layout of a manufacturing process, same thing, you have the limits of each stage of the process and the product in mind and then you ‘brainstorm’ or ‘think outside the box’ i.e. use your creative juices to break the mould of what has been done before, to come up with a unique way of getting that product made. For example, combining stages, eliminating a stage, look at the start and end of each stage for small changes that can be made, look at the process as a whole to see if stages can be moved around, cut out waste in the process, etc…

As writers, without a doubt we create, and like an engineer, we learn and practice to hone our skills. Some of us do degrees and masters in the craft and some of us come up through the ranks with practice alone, or perhaps through the reading of books about writing or examples of fine writing in themselves.

And like any creative, there are days when we need to mull just that bit longer to solve a problem, for example in writing, we call it writer’s block. As an engineer, you don’t usually get unlimited time to be blocked, there is a deadline, a plan in place that has milestones to be adhered to, so most engineers brainstorm their way out of the block, come up with ideas to use, work the ideas, if stuck again, they brainstorm again and so on. Perhaps this is something that can help us push forward in writing. Brainstorm our way out of being stuck – what’s wrong, what’s not working and why?

We are creative in everything we tackle in our lives, even in the ways we avoid doing things, but like other aspects of our lives, we can use this knowledge to push through moments of struggle to help us put our writing in perspective as just another aspect of us creating something and use skills we may already have to keep our writing going.

The mind of a writer

Something popped into my mind the other day and I think I need to expand my idea of the mind of a writer because behind the skill of learning to be a writer I think that there are three aspects that get developed: our creative side, our ability to write and to edit the work.

The creative or imaginative side, of us is incredibly powerful but it is only a small part of writing, we have to write those ideas down and then be able to edit them to produce work that will generate something close to what we imagined in the first place for the minds of our readers. We learn the skill of:

1. Creating the story, from our dreams, from our imagination, usually using one of two ways or a combination of both.

We can write with the inner critic switched off and then figure out what the story is about through an analysis of the chapter and scene intentions (see use of a beat sheet described in ‘Nail your novel’ by Roz Morris)

Or decide on the story we want to write first, what will happen and the backgrounds of characters, write a synopsis or plan, and then write it.

2. Learning the craft of writing, the ability to find and place the right words down to produce the illusion for our readers.

3. Editing the story, analysing the plot and subplots by scenes and chapters, and beginning the re-write by moving into the writer/creator head again. Read and analyse the second draft. Re-write again. Analyse. Re-write. Back and forth.

 

I think we move between three minds as a writer and each mind can be learnt and developed:

The creative mind: free spirit, creates ideas, keeps the prose flowing, free-writing.

The writing mind: masters the craft of writing, finding the right words to place on the page.

The editing mind: critical thinker, analyser who can understand the overall imagined structure, the overall plot arc, the chapter arcs, the scene intentions, the layout of a scene, its paragraphs, sentences, specific detail, and the words that make the story come alive.

 

And then when we take our writer’s hat off, we become the person we are to the rest of the world.

Reading while you’re writing

When I first started writing, I noticed that whatever novel I was reading had a heavy influence on my own writing. I seemed to imitate the style of the author in my own prose which was a tad frustrating when I read my work back and noticed it – and then had to correct for it. I particularly remember reading ‘The Forgotten Waltz’ by Anne Enright, the narrator of the story has a really strong voice, and I began to write in a similar writing voice in a couple of chapters of my first novel (the practice novel).

So I came to the conclusion that I had to avoid reading fiction when I was writing my own novels, actually whenever I was writing anything because it seemed to affect even short bits of writing as well, and I decided to only read non-fiction books instead e.g. on aspects of the craft of writing. Bizarrely, when I made that decision, I did most of my fiction reading during periods of writer’s block, like cramming the goodies in when my own writing was driving me demented.

Over the last couple of months, I started reading novels and short story collections again, despite writing on the same days, and, low and behold, I’ve just realised, my writing has not being affected by what I’m reading, which is such a relief after two and bit years of worrying about it. I wonder if the initial problem was because I was only starting out and absorbing different author styles as I learnt, or perhaps it’s because through all the writing I’ve done over the last two years, my own writing style has settled down and I’m naturally moving into it – after writing 4×80,000 drafts, numerous short stories, pads of pads of notes, pads of writing at writing workshops and writing group meetings – it all must have helped cement my own writing voice.

Whatever the reason, it’s a welcome shift and a relief. I can read without being affected!

So finally, at long last, my reading has the desired effect. It stimulates my learning of the craft of novel writing and helps me generate ideas for short stories and other novels, adding to but without infecting my own style.

At last.