Many of you loyal Story Spot readers find yourselves working collaboratively as a matter of course. Whether with other writers or with directors, producers, or even literary agents, working together to create one story can be strange, wonderful, maddening, and challenging. One thing is for certain, when you’re writing collaboratively, there is rarely a dull moment.
What can we do to make it the best possible experience AND ensure that the project is the best that it can be? Here are five suggestions. Read on …
Take it from a guy who oughta know: sitting your squirrely butt at that keyboard or notebook for 20 minutes every day (yes, weekends too) is one true tip for finishing your writing projects. Cory Doctorow, Canadian writer extraordinaire lays it out in his feature for LOCUS Magazine for you who are convinced that there just isn’t enough time in a day to complete that insurmountable project (yes, he’s talking to me too, at times.) And you know what? He’s absolutely right.
‘Tis the season for tips lists, n’est pas? At the heart of what story consultants do are the abilities to take in, distill, and communicate. Here are five tasty treats to feed your hungry consultant’s (and writer’s!) brain during the coming year.
Hone Your Story Consulting Skills in 2009:
Create a short checklist of the items you notice first when reading a new draft. This will require honest attention to your own process as you sit with a new piece. Each person’s talent walks a slightly different path so listen for yourself then write down your findings. Chances are good that you habitually pick up on similar types of items in a similar order from project to project (e.g., noticing how the writer establishes settings, then how they introduce characters, followed by the elements of their voice).
Keep your personal checklist posted prominently in your workspace to remind yourself of your own strengths of observation. Soon, you may find other hidden talents developing to steal the limelight.
Allow yourself to read a draft lightly and completely once through without making notes. Taking in the mood and intent of the piece as an audience member takes an amount of restraint that many of us find challenging, to say the least. It takes extra time to read through this way but your writer/partner and the project will be better for it. …Alright, typos are exempt and marking them may even take the edge off the urge to edit during that first pass.
Formulate your logline for the project. Regardless of what information accompanies the project, after you turn that final page, take a few minutes to create a logline. This will allow you to unearth your experience of the story as read, revealing truths, gaps, and opportunities as you work. It is also handy to compare your own logline with that of your writer/partner’s or with the production company’s. Sometimes what’s on the page does not match their intent or desire; creating your own logline may provide a platform for discussion and the start of productive working sessions.
Consider your communication style from all perspectives. A great story consultant is not only adept at ferreting out a writer’s goals and the areas in which their story can shine but also is skilled at creating a place of shared understanding. Without clear and kind communication, trust cannot be established and creativity cannot flourish between writer and coach. Take time to consider how you routinely formulate and express your thoughts, how you receive the input of your writing partners, as well as how your input is generally received. Compare your observations to your ideal working scenario then take baby steps to match the two.
Hopefully these five tips will spur your creativity and contribute to shaping your ideal working environment in the new year. Why not add your own ideas, process, and helpful hints to these five by leaving a comment below?
My advice is [that] you have to sit in the chair and you have to read other people’s stuff and you have to do it all the time. If you can do those two things, you’re well on your way. – Donald Ray Pollock
Donald Ray Pollock is a newly published writer who was recently interviewed on Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm. The quote above is taken from that interview.
Incidentally, authors are not usually invited to the show having published a single book. Pollack started writing in his forties, left his long-term occupation in his small town to pursue his MFA, and talks of how his life has changed as a result of his leap into the creative great beyond.
While many of you loyal STORY SPOT readers are seasoned vets in the glorious trenches of story-making, some of you are just dipping your trembling toes into this murky, but enticing, sea. These tips (and a few Davids) may prove valuable to all regardless of where you are in your writing life.
10 Tips for Diving Into A Fresh Story
Follow your instincts.
There are no rules. If you’re a planner by nature, go ahead and make that story outline. It may help your confidence when it comes to the writing if you’ve taken the time to work out details in advance. But remember that outlines can be tossed; their value is often not what’s on the page but the work you did to get there. If outlines give you hives, don’t make one.
Trust your voice. Sure David Sedaris is a laugh-riot and sells a ton of books but unless you’re David Sedaris, you’re not David Sedaris. You’re you. Sound like you. Write like you. You are interesting. It’s true.
Accept the process. Even Joyce Carol Oates, one of the most prolific (could she be hypergraphic?) authors of our time probably loathes her prose every now and again. It’s in the writer’s nature to produce the lump of clay before shaping it. Still don’t believe? Anne Lamott will set you straight.
Ditch the perfectionism. No story is perfect, even the best of them, because each person who reads, hears, or watches it internalizes it in their own completely different way. David Mamet once wrote: “True art is as deep and convoluted and various as the minds and souls of the human beings who create it.” And he was right. So stop trying.
Check your premise.
Does your big idea have you up at night? Fantastic. Now dig a little deeper. Is it interesting beyond first blush? Will it captivate you as you tease out the details? Is there enough beneath the surface to grow a good, satisfying story? You may not know the answers but you probably have an inkling.
Find your location. Some writers enjoy an elaborate desk in a dedicated writing room. Other take a notebook and head to the woods. Others still need to keep a constant change of place. Standing up or lying down, loud or still, find what the setting you need that will put your writer’s mind at the forefront and keep those wordscoming.
Find your character.
The single best thing you can do for your fledgling project is to figure out who your protagonist is. Sounds simple? Not so. They may not be who you think they are. Sometimes the characters that draw us to our stories are not the ones with the most to lose. Introduce yourself then sit down and listen.
Dance around the subject. Writing happens when you least expect it. Once your character and general storyline are floating in your creative soup, take a walk, ride a bike, or go dancing. Engage yourself and free your concentration from the narrative so that your subconscious may take over. This isn’t a license to call procrastination “writing” but it is encouragement to breathe.
Don’t Think. Write. There comes a point where all the plotting and forethought in the world can’t help you. Why? Because the magic of writing partially comes from your beyond-your-control, non-rational self. Just ask David Lynch. Put the pen to paper and see what happens. Refer to Tip #4. Repeat.
Be fearless. Be afraid.
Be whatever you need to be just write.
What are your habits when you start a new writing project? Post them here so we can all remember that we’re in this solitude together.