Friday, January 22, 2016

The Meat on the Bones

My Christmas tree is still up.

I confess to this only to reassure you that if you are waiting for a book from me, it's coming. I mean a printed book, not the one I'm writing, but that one is coming too. And because that one is coming too, I'm a bit behind on things like answering emails, mailing parcels, packing up the tattered remains of Christmas. I'm in what I consider to be the "manic" stage of writing.

I thought that writing at a more moderate (it feels luxurious, to be honest) pace might eliminate this phase, but no. Once a project reaches a certain stage, the project takes over and there just isn't room for anything else. In fact, it's maybe even worse this time than usual because I've had so much space to sink into the story--and not just this story but the other two books in the trilogy.

There has also been a lot of time to think about my own writing process, which is something I haven't considered for years. Once you achieve a certain mastery of your craft, it becomes instinctive. And frankly, thinking about it too much is potentially detrimental, in the same way that thinking about how to ride a bicycle results in you falling over. Or maybe that's just me lying there in a tangle of barbed wire a few feet from my slightly crumpled bike. (That's a true story -- and I've only just realized how potentially disastrous that crash nearly was...I COULDN'T FIGURE OUT THE BRAKES!)

Anyway. Writing, writing, writing and I wake up every morning with my brain buzzing and the tendency to shriek all Edgar Allan Poe-like at every disruption.  NEVERMORE!

Actually, even if you never achieve a certain mastery of your craft, the work becomes instinctive. In the same way that pulling the lever on a chute does.

I joke a lot, but I do take craft very seriously. Partly because it took me so long to get published (or so it felt to my sixteen-year-old self) at a time when getting published was no easy matter. I have a library of books on craft--and I've actually read them all. Numerous times. They were enormously helpful. But the biggest help was working with editors. Even the editors who rejected me. Partly because back then editors occasionally took the time to spell out what was wrong with the work (possibly they recognized how really young I was). If you don't know what you're doing wrong, it's hard to fix it.

It's not hard to get criticism these days, but it is very hard to get informed and knowledgeable criticism. It just is. It's the new paradigm. You've got a lot of people at the same stage of development advising each other. That's the blind leading the blind. Which can be helpful, I hasten to say, because we're all readers as well as writers. But it's not the same thing as having the opportunity to work with someone who has a lot more experience. Someone who is a lot more successful.

Ah. Yes. THAT. If I'm going to take advice that goes against my own instinct, it's going to be from someone who is more experienced or more successful than me.

Which is how I came to take the James Patterson writing course.

Yes, I know. Now you're giggling.

Maybe you're thinking That's funny, I never knew Josh was such a fan of James Patterson. And...the truth is I've never read a James Patterson book (although I probably will now) but I was looking for an online writing course and this one kept popping up. So I signed up.

And I am LOVING it. Patterson always struck me as a smart and affable guy, and it turns out he's also full of good advice. Or maybe I think he's so brilliant because he confirms so much of what I already think and do (though not with the staggering success as Mr. Patterson). But that doesn't matter because what's happening is there's a lot of commonsense reassurance there--and a lot of reminding me of things I'd forgotten. It's just incredibly relaxing listening to him talk in those little podcasts.

And of course, he knows what the hell he's talking about -- which makes ALL the difference.

I was so pleased with the Patterson experience, that I popped over to Audible to see what else I could find that I could listen to while falling asleep, but aside from the wonderful Anne Lamott, there really wasn't anything -- particularly anything for mystery and suspense. Meaning, there was nothing by anyone I'd ever heard of, and part of the problem with taking writing advice from people who are not successful writers in their own write--er, right--is that it's all theory with them. And theory is great as far as it goes, but...

Anyway, one of the things Patterson talks about is using a writing outline. His rough draft is essentially a detailed outline--and that's what I do as well. But for some reason I had started feeling guilty about writing this way. I'm not sure why--like I was being lazy writing that first draft? I don't know. I know intellectually that there is no "wrong" way to write--so long as you get the work onto paper, it's all good. And yet... it felt like cheating to jump ahead and write all the bits I already knew. But holy moly it's a relaxing way to produce words.

And then when the time comes to do the second draft, yes, it's pretty much as hard as ever, but it's like riding your bike up a hill. Pump, pump, pump. Ah! Then you hit one of those prewritten bits and you skim for several pages. It's like flying.

Plus it's fascinating how much does not change. The bones almost never change. Some of the connective tissue gets altered, but the bones remain.


  1. This is such an interesting post. Thank you!

    I find that the best thing to listen to while falling asleep is a book which I already know really well, so it stops my mind wandering but doesn't engage me enough to keep me awake. I find Georgette Heyer ideal for this!

    1. Yes, that's probably a better idea. I have a bad habit of listening to or reading stuff that gets me worked up and rarin to go. Which is not conducive to a good nights' rest. :-D

  2. It's always fun witnessing your manic writing flow stage. :-) And cool that you're enjoying so much the Patterson writing course. Do you think it's also because you've been the one giving advice for so long, and it's also simply a pleasure being a 'student' for a change?

    In any case, I'm a big fan of adult studying — that's when you can perfectly reflect all the things you learn/hear/see straight to practice. Especially when the practice is something you're experienced in already.

    1. It's probably more fun to witness than to live with.

      The SO tells me he was receiving texts from my family yesterday: IS SHE STILL ALIVE????


  3. My Christmas tree is still up also. But I've moved the boxes into the house so as soon as I can put down my Kindle, I'll. Start to pack it up. I'm glad you are enjoying your podcasts. It's always good to be reminded of things we already know. There is just so much stuff to keep track of.

    1. And I think we all have a tendency to streamline... Or maybe it's just me feeling rushed, like I am running for my life all the time. So it's too easy to pare down to the essentials. I am enjoying the reminders that I could also do this or that.

      I am truly a writing geek.

  4. One of my favorite book commercials was James Patterson saying "Buy my next book or I will be forced to kill off Alex Cross." And I was all, "I like this guy"
    Sounds like a great class and even better is the fact you are enjoying it!
    Now, about books to go to sleep with, I listen to Harry Potter. I love Jim Dale's voice. It puts me in such a wonderful place. :-)

    1. I just downloaded that! It sounded perfect for relaxing bedtime listening. :-)

  5. It's always good to leave your routine and try to learn new things. In meetings and seminars I listen very closely and try to imagine those advises in my workplaces. Often I combine more than one thing or I reduce it to it's bones.
    Many people are in love with a wonderful theory and shipwreck then through the very hard reality.

    When I am restless I hear Fair Game or Stranger On The Shore or Strange Fortune...
    But that will probably not be the same for you!

  6. I don't take many tango classes anymore, and that's not because I'm anywhere near having "perfected my craft" in a mere eighteen years. : ) It's that I don't have the stamina and find it more difficult to make the time. Also, I'm more selective. But when I do take a workshop class, the moments that are most meaningful are those when what I already know is vindicated, reinforced, or presented in a new-to-me way. Knowing doesn't mean expertise, but it means I'm probably on a positive course. There's a reason that the most renowned dancers of social tango are often in their 70s, 80s, or beyond. Miles on the floor, exercising their craft, expressing their art.

  7. I am required to take continuing education courses for my work. Usually it's only a couple of days a year but I look forward to them. Ironically, I find that I get more out of them the more I already know about a subject. Especially in my field, I think you have to have a solid base of knowledge to absorb the nuances that they are trying to teach. So while I'm tempted to say that you don't need a writing course because your writing is perfect the way it is, I can understand why you think this course is beneficial and exciting.

    I listen to Adrien English or the Dangerous Ground series when I can't sleep. But I also recommend Waiting for Winter, L.B. Gregg, which is a very soothing audiobook.

    1. I had three people message me to ask why are YOU taking a writing class?! But I love to study, love to talk about writing and creativity, love to hear someone else's take. Plus, I don't care who you are or in what field, we can all use a refresher course now and then.

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