Thursday, 9 February 2012

Being a Flexible Writer

I like doing Sudoku, the harder the better. The trick is that when one part of the puzzle appears impossible, stop struggling and move on to another section. Be flexible.

Flexibility is a useful tool for novelists too. When you get stuck in one particular section, move on to another which looks more promising. When I was writing A Single to Rome it was ages before I knew what Natalie, the main character, did for a living. So I skipped through the work scenes and came back to them when I'd decided - more than half way through. Similarly the characters Teresa and Olivia were originally one person. And Bob kept changing sex throughout the book before I realised he really had to be a man.

For me, the really satisfying moments in writing are the ones where the difficult piece that didn't seem to fit anywhere at all suddenly slots in and the whole picture becomes clearer. So, once I knew what Natalie's job was, a lot of other scenes fitted into place, and a lot of future scenes became clearer. It takes faith, of course, to believe that if you leave a scene half written or sketched in it will resolve itself later. Apparently, when Mike Myers is gets stuck he simply writes 'And then something amazing happens', and carries on.

I think you have to be flexible and trust to the magic of writing that something amazing will happen. Because it will, it really will.


Philip C James said...

Waking up on these cold, gray mornings there's nothing better to motivate one for the tussle with a Gordian plot tangle than the dawn Twitter chorus and another inspiring blog post by Sarah Duncan! Something amazing invariably turns up.

Liz Fielding said...

I'm in that struggle place at the moment. I'll try the Mike Myers solution and see if that works. :)

Phillipa said...

Thanks for this tip, Sarah - but mostly for letting me know that it happens to other writers - even very experienced ones! I often berate myself for not knowing everything about the characters at the start of the book so it's good to know you can still have a lot to discover about them.

Rachael Thomas said...

It's a horrible feeling, not knowing what should happen next. You begin to question your own abilities as a writer, so it's nice to know that published writers encounter this problem too!
Mike Myers solution sounds a good idea and I will no doubt use it very soon. I hope it works for you Liz.

Diane Fordham said...

Thanks for the post Sarah. It took years for me to learn to be flexible. I was always getting frustrated and over-thinking. I drove myself nuts! I love the way you said, 'I think you have to be flexible and trust to the magic of writing that something amazing will happen.' Excellent! :-)

Sarah Duncan said...

When I started writing I did draft after draft. Now I do 3 or 4, and my first drafts are all over the place - but I"m relaxed about it cos I now know you can fix anything.