If you have been following my journey in the past three blogs, you will know that I used a daily meditation practice to help me to manage the emotional highs and lows of the path to publication. Lots of other things were going on in my life, but I have used this one example to […]
Blue boat photograph with kind permission of Edana Minghella In The Meditation Challenge part two, I told you how the wise words of Tara Brach helped me to gain a perspective on the outcome of submitting my novel to publishing editors, and how meditation helped me to be more creative (I will dedicate a future […]
Learning to be patient In The Meditation Challenge part one, I told you how mindfulness meditation helped to still my mind so that I could stop fretting about the approval of a literary agent and instead focus on writing my best work. If you are having a go at meditation to help you manage similar […]
Interesting blog on meditation with useful tips. Enjoy!
Pressure is a funny thing. Some people thrive under pressure, others crumble. Pressure can concentrate minds to get a task done – hands up who used to do their homework on the eve of going back to school – yep, me too! I needed that pressure of a deadline to finally knuckle down and get the work done. Friends of mine planned their time and got all their homework done on the first couple of days of the holiday. No sick feeling in the pits of their stomachs as the end of the school holidays approached but they also did not get to enjoy the first few days of the holiday like I did.
Diamonds are formed under pressure but too much pressure can crush the life out of anything.
Stress is a different beast to pressure. However much we may want to limit the stress in our lives it will always be there. How we handle it is the key. Overreaction to anything is never good. Trying to keep things in perspective is the best approach but also the hardest.
We are more interconnected thanks to the internet and social media than we have ever been before and yet loneliness is on the rise. Thousands of likes and followers is a nice thing to have but when the walls are closing in at three in the morning your social media status can be of cold comfort.
When the pressure of modern life gets too much we all need someone to talk to: a spouse, a friend, a relative. A go to person. Oftentimes, it can, however, be hard to talk to the people closest to us. Sometimes a friend or acquaintance will be better able to assist because they have the advantage of distance. Someone closer may be invested in the situation and whether consciously or unconsciously their bias may end up colouring their advice.
Chances are you will go to different people at different times of your life. Most of us probably will. Most of us.
It’s the people who suffer in silence that are more at risk. It’s the people who are copers. The people other people turn to. The people who think that to admit they need help is somehow a sign of weakness and so they soldier on until the burden becomes intolerable and the only way out is to do the unthinkable.
A friend of a colleague committed suicide this week. He was in his thirties, a family man, in good health with his own business. Those around him are crushed by grief and weighed down by questions that can never now be answered.
Shaking their heads in bewilderment they say ‘But he had so much to live for’. ‘How could this have happened?’ ‘He didn’t seem the type.’
High achieving, perfectionist, type A personalities cannot do everything by themselves. No one can. And it’s to life’s copers this post is aimed. Gold star for being a coper most of the time but no one expects you to cope ALL of the time. Reaching out to someone else for support when the going gets tough is natural, its HUMAN. I am quite happy to champion individualism but we are pack animals at the end of the day. We need each other.
There is an old adage: ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’.
Don’t suffer in silence.
I am a proud pantser. I have friends who are master plotters. They have methods that they swear by – some with wonderful names like snowflake. (I have absolutely no idea what it does or how you use it but I love the name!). They cannot begin their story until they have worked out their overarching theme, all the various plot points and the highs and lows. Some even take it down to granular level by mapping out their stories scene by scene.
I stick my fingers in my ears and shut my eyes when they talk of such things. If every part of your story from the characters, to the plot, to the very scenes the book is made up of, are planned out like a shopping list before your eyes, doesn’t it deaden the writing? Where is the room for an idea to grow and take hold and shake the very foundations of your story? How can a minor character fill the space to become a major character? How can the magic happen?
If every detail is planned out surely the ideas that do not conform to the original idea are stymied, the minor characters forever denied the chance to grow, the magic confined to the narrow space of the mapped out plot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you would end up with a good story at the end of it but would it ever sprout wings and fly?
It is a fallacy to think that pantsers do no planning at all. Before I start, I always know who my main characters are. I understand what drives them and what will motivate and change them over the course of the story. I always know where the story starts and I always know where it finishes. The bit in the middle, however, is a wonderful mystery tour.
My plotting friends think I am mad. They gleefully point out that if I knew all my twists and turns before I started I would not need to do so many rewrites, many of which are necessary to incorporate ideas that happened along the way. I would respond by saying the ideas that happen along the way are often the best ones that may never have seen the light of day under the weight of their plots and plans.
For me rigidity kills creativity. They may be more economic with their words and their time but I would rather not have my writing route laid out before me like a map. I prefer to meander and see where my mind takes me.
I could not write like they do and that’s fine because they cannot write like me.
I look at them and shake my head. Sometimes, it seems to me the elaborate plotting and mapping is merely a distraction technique to keep them from having to sit down and write the thing. Often it strikes me as the comfort blanket they need to wrap themselves in before they can commit to the long haul of writing the book. Each to their own. Their comfort blanket would be my strait jacket.
When it comes to writing there isn’t a right way or a wrong way to do it. There are many different ways. What is important is that you find the way that works for you. Try all the different methods out for size but try writing at least one story by the seat of your pants. You may just find that’s all the method you need.
There are many analogies for writing a book. I always liken it to building a house.
A house needs strong foundations. For a writer our foundation is our plot. It has to be solid enough to support a story from the beginning to the end.
A building needs a well-built structure to stand on the foundations – the walls and the roof. This sustains the building, protecting it from the elements and hostile invaders. A book needs a carefully planned structure too. A writer needs to think about whether the book will be divided into various parts or whether it will rely solely on chapters, will there be a prologue and an epilogue, who will tell the story and will it be in the first person or third person.
The house builder needs to give careful thought to where the doors and windows are placed for maximum effect, the doors need to give easy access to and from the dwelling, the windows might focus on a wonderful view or concentrate on bringing lots of light into the rooms within. For writers, our doors and windows are the opening of a story, the highpoints that drive the narrative forward, the unexpected plot twists that surprise and delight readers and finally the ending.
To make a house a home, it needs subdividing into rooms that work individually but also as a whole with the rest of the house. In writing, our rooms are our scenes. Every scene should have a purpose, if possible more than one. If they don’t then they are merely padding and have no place in the finished book.
Once a builder has all the basics in place they can start to decorate by adding colour to the walls and coverings to the floors followed by the furniture.
For a writer they can only start to decorate and add the furniture once the plot is nailed down and the structure is complete. That’s when the editing starts. Imagine having to emulsion a mansion, room by room, day after day until the whole building is complete. That’s how editing a novel should be. At first it seems like a massive task, a never-ending task, but sure enough once you start working through the chapters, as a builder would work through the various rooms, you start to see progress.
And, just as with a building, once one edit is finished it is time to start the next. A builder would add skirting boards and cornices. We do another run through to make our words flow even better than they did before and then another and another.
Once a building is finished there is usually a long snagging list – little imperfections that have been overlooked. Writers need snagging lists too. A read through as a reader rather than as an editor can highlight these, a section where the pace sags, an inconsistency regarding names, a lack of tension. This is where our beta readers come into their own.
Once a building’s snagging list has been resolved it’s time for the builder to hand over the keys to the new owners who proudly move in and hang pictures on the walls and curtains at the windows.
Writers too can enjoy these moments. The final polishing of a manuscript is always immensely satisfying, the writing equivalent of plumping the cushions on the sofa.
Building a house is a long-term project as is writing a book.
So, the next time you embark on a new book picture yourself digging the foundations of your new story house. When the going gets tough, as it always does for home builders and writers alike, picture where you will be when the work has been completed.
Trust the process and trust yourself. In a year or maybe less you will be standing inside your beautiful creation, plumping the cushions ready to put your story house on the market for sale.