Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Fundamental Things Apply

In creative pursuits, I do this thing (that likely showcases the size of my ego, but the need for creators to have egregious egos is a post for another day): I know the rules but think they somehow don't apply to me. And not in a productive way, either.

I also don't mean the rules of grammar. Them ones, I have a passing familiarity with, and also too, I do believe in having a reason to break them there things. (Hat tip to Stephen King.)

I'm talking about "rules" in the sense of "how to solve this problem," or "strategies I have found useful," or "received wisdom that may or may not be true but works for me, the successful writer." Rules as in tools.

Which, of course, DO apply to me, regardless of my default position of "sounds great but it probably won't won't work for me." (It's my Eeyore nature with a splash of terminal uniqueness.)

Anyway, rules. (Or tools.) Like these.

1. Goals, such as minimum time spent writing or minimum word counts, are good to have. Yes, goals for your creative work, that work you can't exactly predict. And yet, when you write a minimum number of words per day, you can accumulate a novel over time. I have accumulated about a half novel so far, much of which I don't remember writing, because after that 500 to 1000 words, I went and did something else that day. And I could pay attention to those other projects in part because I had done the creative thing. (Goals! Hat tip to "Everybody.")

2. First drafts are allowed be bad, bad, bad. (That's three words toward my word limit!) I was always a "Mozart," whose first draft mostly resembles his finished work (because he did a lot of work in his head). (This generalization may not be true but I still like that scene in Amadeus where he dictates the Requiem note for note.) I still operate this way, mostly, in writing that's a job. In creative work, however, I find that I am a Beethoven, whose manuscripts reportedly were revised nearly beyond recognition. (Drafts! Hat tip to Anne Lamott, among others.)

3. Writing is like cheese: letting it age for awhile makes for a better final product. In fact, this has become a good "tell" for me: if I still like something after letting it "set" for awhile, it probably has something that others will like. Or it may not, but I at least have the interest in the work to revise it so that it does. (Revise! This is another "everybody.")

4. E.L. Doctorow is reported to have said of writing something like this: "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." I have found, in working on this novel, that I still can't map their journeys, but I know the general direction these characters are going, and I can take them (or they can take me) another couple of thousand words in that direction. Same thing the next day. And the next. (Just write!)

Here's a new one I've found that may also apply to me. A soundtrack is a useful path into a specific world. Screenwriter John August, as well as writers in other genres, like this Canadian example, creates a soundtrack for each writing project. (Read about his reasoning here.) As he writes, he listens to the soundtrack.

I have read about those who create soundtracks (and in Jennnifer Crusie's case, collages) for years. "Great idea for them," I thought, emphasis on the "them," for no reason other than assuming that for some reason it wouldn't work for me. (Plus my suspicion, also shared by Doctorow, that creating soundtracks is not the same as writing.) And then I read that John August finds soundtracks useful for switching among projects.

Of course! Songs like "Sunshine of Your Love" can take me back decades, to the outdoor swimming pool in the heat of the summer. Of course that power could help me move from a novel in the morning to the short story revisions in the afternoon. Dang, this rule could apply to me, too!

And by "dang," I mean "hooray!" (Though yes, it doesn't "count" as writing.) Here's hoping it will be as useful as the other rules/tools have been!