Those Duvet Moments

16 Jan

In the last three months of 2012 I pulled together the plot for the Ferret Files, working it out end to end, including Bios for all the main characters, their drivers and story arcs. I patted myself on the back for a job well done and then sat down to write the damn thing.

Let me tell you, ‘sit down and write’ is not as easy as it sounds.

coffeeI didn’t know it was going to be so difficult when I started. Having followed #amwriting and #amediting on Tw@tter for some months now, I’m certainly not alone in my aspirations and frustrations. Some days I just need to stay under the duvet; even the smell of freshly brewed coffee on the stove, wafting up the stairs can’t drag me to the keyboard.

I started out full of it, word count was everything. The higher, the better. Then I decided I’d rather write 1,000 good words than 10,000 bad ones and slowed down. What’s a good word? Shedopsycodelaphia is a good word (I made that one up, BTW). However, if I write it 1,000 times, it doesn’t make my work any better. Eventually I concluded that a good word is a word in the right place, which looks right, feels rights and sounds right when you read your work aloud, in character. Similarly, bad words abound when nothing reads right, feels right or sounds right when you read your work out. If you, the author become bored and start looking out the window, counting sheep, before you get to the end, it’s time for some serious editing.

How do you start?

Those are where my duvet moments come in. The first time I refused to get up to the sweet smell of brewing Bourbon (my blend of the moment) the missus thought I was stricken with the lurgy. The truth is, I was buried beneath the duvet, deconstructing the work of others, to figure out how they’d done something smart with their plot or revealed a certain character trait.

I started out life as a programmer, back in the days when 4K was a lot of memory. In order to become better at my job, I spent weeks hacking away at other people’s code, deconstructing what they’d done, in order to sharpen my own skills. I found I work best this way. Having someone tell me what to do, then repeating the exercise doesn’t make stuff stick in my brain, not in the same way that taking something to pieces and then putting it back together does.

DSC00347Those duvet moments are important to me. I don’t tend to read books anew, I choose something I’ve read before and I like. Then I put my analysis head on and read it in a different way, almost as an observer rather than a reader. How did they disguise that twist? How did they first make me dislike that character? When the plot took a turn of speed, how did they stop it from flying off the road?

I find that when I’m reading in this manner, my unconscious mind starts to shift my work around. This bit belongs here; that bit goes there. It’s like a gigantic mental jigsaw puzzle, as the pieces rearrange themselves in my head. It’s enjoyable, it’s work, but it doesn’t necessarily look like it to an outside observer.

There are many ways of getting better and this is one of mine. Once you’ve done the best job you can, then comes the really scary bit: showing your work to others. That’s a whole new blog entry.


2 Responses to “Those Duvet Moments”

  1. misslynn2 January 16, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    I’ve just started re-reading books for this very purpose: to analyse how they did it, and see if I can imitate that. Which means I had to stop reading brain candy books and get back to the authors I admire, so my writing echoes their influence and I don’t inadvertently write a chick lit book. (Not that there’s anything wrong with chick lit! Every genre has its place and purpose.)

    So, if we have both figured this out, in isolation from each other, we must have come up with a good idea that works. 😉


  2. plebcentral January 16, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    I’ve been writing since my mother first entered me into a short story competition at the Daily Telegraph at the tender age of 8. In her wisdom, the dear woman decided that I should write The History of a Dining Table (from tree to dining room). I nearly died of boredom … it was the worse thing I ever had to write and rewrite and rerewrite over and over again ….while hearing my friends playing out in the garden, day after day .. I will never get those summer days back. But it got me in to good shape to be able to write unmitigated crap for other people that would pay for it… hence, I became a journalist. Eventually, I gave all that up and went to India to ‘find myself’. Since then, I’ve just been writing for myself. Now, I don’t write a word unless it’s insisting on being written ~ demanding to express itself. It’s my Golden Rule. Unfortunately, I have become a sort of force of Nature and words are insisting expressing themselves at all and every hour of the day.Hence Bag Lady Shouts At The Traffic. But just a final word of advice: I once was struggling over writing a a story when I was on the Express. The editor came over to see how I was getting on. I said: “This story is really hard to write.” He replied: “If you’re finding it hard to write, think about how it will be for the poor bloody reader! They won’t get further than the first sentence.” The moral of the story? Only write when you need to, when you have to, when the words are charging out of your fingers which are dancing across the keyboard and land on the page like quicksilver. Let your words express themselves. Words are living beings, just like humans and everything else in Nature are living beings. They have a life of their own. Don’t try to express them when they’re not ready, because it will be like trying to pass stools when you’re constipated. Hard bloody going!


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