This year I’ve been looking for mentors. Mostly that means cyber-stalking authors I admire, sifting through their interviews and essays for nuggets of incite about their processes. Note that this isn’t writing “advice” it’s reporting by authors about their everyday process. Wake up, walk the dog, write. The sort of thing. Things I can try out to see whether they’ll work for me.
I started doing this about a year ago, and the results have been very good, in the quality of the work I produce (I like it), the speed with which I produce it (two novels, a handful of essays and short stories, monthly newsletters, and good progress on other projects), and the diminishing of the negative side-effects of writing (burnout, existential crises, etc.).
If you’re looking for advice, you might just as well do the above and not bother reading the rest of this post, but for those of you who are curious, here’s what’s been most basic and useful to me.
Lois McMaster Bujold:
“I’ve described my usual writing process as scrambling from peak to peak on inspiration through foggy valleys of despised logic. Inspiration is better — when you can get it.”
-from Young Miles (1997) in the “Author’s Afterword,” but Bujold goes into more detail in Sidelines.
From this I learned that I should fit my process to my inspiration, because the opposite is impossible. Write down that idea that strikes you in the bus. Then wrap a plot around it. Since then, I’ve gotten better at cultivating my ability to find and grow inspiration.
“Each book has two stories; the story Terry wanted to tell and what he called a scaffolding story which kept you entertained while Terry was telling the other story.”
– from a Quora page, but Pratchett talked about it himself in A Slip of The Keyboard.
This was a huge breakthrough for me. A way to tame those Bujoldian peaks of inspiration. Sit down every morning, meditate, and then write what comes to you. Don’t worry about whether it makes sense. Just write the scaffolding story. Then go back and string those scenes together with logic. My scaffolding stories tend to take between one and three months, and range between a fifth and half the length of the finished novel.
“Science fiction is wasted when it’s used simply to crank out metaphors for familiar things; that’s like mistaking a microscope for a paperweight. ”
From Greg Egan (Modern Masters of Science Fiction) by Karen Burnham.
This helped me clarify what I can’t stand in fiction. On a more practical level, Egan talks about using textbooks to teach himself the physics he illustrates in his fiction. That’s exactly what I want to do.
“It’s okay: there are limitless more words in you, where those came from. ”
-from “Write Like a Programmer“
That essay also has some excellent things to say about writing with a purpose. Understanding my writing’s purpose and its source, turned me from a teacher with an expensive hobby to a writer.
Next up, I’m going to see if I can dig up some essays or interviews with R. Scott Bakker, William Gibson, and David Wong, who I’m enjoying at the moment. Do you have recommendations for other authors I should hunt down? Let me know. And happy new year’s. May we make some awesome.
“Don’t write. Revise”
I think this one was from the TV show Modern Family? It’s good advice! I’m sure some famous Hollywood personage said it originally.