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Writing Continuity

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by skip.knox, Dec 7, 2016.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    This goes out to all of you who struggle with interruptions, large and small. To those of you who do not get interrupted, I hate you.

    It's the large interruptions that are the worst. It goes beyond interruption, call it a break or even a hiatus. The common one is that annoying thing called sleep. I'm writing, in the flow (or at least I can see it from here), and the day ends, or I have to go to work (except I'm retired). When I did work, I'd write at lunch, but then I'd have that work interruption again. Around this time of year, it's holidays. Or a cold. What they all have in common is that hours and even days pass between writing sessions.

    I don't know about you, but when that happens, it's really tough to recapture what I was feeling. Oh, I know where the plot was going, but getting back to the precise mood and insight feels like trying to get back to where a dream left off. I grasp at phantoms, the echo of emotions.

    Lately I've been doing two things. They're obvious things, and you are welcome to snort at their plain attire when I introduce them, but the fellow next to you may find them helpful. First, I read before I go to sleep. Not other people's work, *my* work. The last scene I wrote, however many pages that is. Then I turn out the light and refuse to look at phone or tablet. The last thing my brain gets to see is those words.

    The other technique I borrow from Hemingway. Before writing each morning, he would read the previous chapter. I don't go that far, but I'll back up a scene or two. It takes me maybe five minutes, maybe fifteen minutes. It's the closest I can get to finding the re-entry point of my emotional state, my perspective when last I left off. For shorter interruptions, I do the same, but I don't back up as far.

    I am doing this after years of not doing it (how's that for obvious?). Each time I returned to the writing, I was parachuting in from a different point, and I think my prose suffered for it. There are places where you can practically hear the gears shifting. Even more, I simply couldn't connect with what was already there, I can to the page with a different emotional timbre, and I would simply start afresh, or even write the same scene differently--trying to play the same song but with a different instrument.

    So, there you go. Your mileage and all that, but I do believe it's helping me. Time to return to the dream.
    chaosattractor and TheKillerBs like this.
  2. chaosattractor

    chaosattractor Acolyte

    I also struggle with interruptions, but for me it's the opposite.

    Whenever I read over my work I immediately succumb to the urge to edit it, which inevitably ends in a rewrite. I know it's a discipline issue, but so far it's been more efficient to just blindly crash through my first draft, then work on a more cohesive tone in a single comprehensive rewrite.

    Of course this means that I absolutely cannot stop writing in the middle of a scene. If I'm pulled away by life I have to take it from the top when I get back to writing.
  3. Jackarandajam

    Jackarandajam Troubadour

    I struggle with losing my ability to read my work as a reader if I go over it too much. I get so comfortable with it that it's hard to edit.
    Reading before bed is an awesome idea. I've been on this huge outline kick, so I think I'm going to utilize this idea with a twist; read over my outline for the next portion of writing before bed, while what I wrote that day is still fresh. That way, what I wrote and what I have to write are both rolling around in the imagination, theoretically getting all aquainted and seamless. Theoretically.

    It is hard to maintain tone for me. I'm an avid reader, and I feel like my writing style fluctuates slightly with the style of book I'm into; Harry Potter is trying to make my writing more British and whimsical, Hemingway tried to chop all of my sentences in half, etc. probably a fledgling writer problem that will correct itself when I'm more comfortable with my own style, and less impressionable.
    it seems like the only way to keep this from happening is to do a brief reread before starting, just like you said.
    Thanks for the tips!
  4. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I do those same things, Skip. I read my work before bed and only do minor word tampering, no real editing, then I read again before starting, to get a run-up, a bit of momentum.

    I just took a four-month hiatus and it was really hard because when I came back to the story, I was really lost. I have a horrible rough draft, but i want it to be clean and awesome. Super discouraging. When you feel this way, Anne Lamott (in her book Bird by Bird) has the idea of "short assignments" that she works with. Break down today's writing into a scene, or if that's too big, do it paragraph by paragraph or line by line (or bird by bird) ha!

    I find that taking things in small chunks can help me make progress when I'm interrupted (I have four kids, so interruptions aren't occasional, they're constant). I think I do pretty well with being interrupted, because I never have more than a couple undisturbed hours ever, and even those aren't too frequent because I still have to maintain our home and all that mom stuff. Writing in small chunks with goals established in my head...that's how I get things flowing when I broke momentum down.
  5. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Lately, I'm struggling with my give a damn. Professor Skip, have you any remedy for that? :wavespin:

    Look, Maiden! Are our smilies are dancing together!
  6. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

    Uh oh. I'm the guy you hate. Sort of.

    My writing is never interrupted. It would be if I wrote during lunch, but that's one reason I don't do it then. I'm too easily distracted and have difficulty concentrating, so I can't work in what I consider 'the public'. I have no wife, kids, or significant other, so there's that. I write seven nights a week, except for those weeks I only get in five or six nights. When writing, I turn on white noise very, very loud--my way of controlling my environment.

    Also, I will stop in the middle of scenes sometimes. I find that this actually makes me antsy to get back to working on it the next night, a good way to keep me going.

    Seeing how little I get done despite these favorable circumstances, I'm constantly amazed at people who 'have a life' and still write more than I do (which is pretty much everyone here).
  7. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Hemmingway suggested stopping in the middle of scenes too Incanus! He like to stop while there was "still water in the well" so he knew what to come back to the next day. If he 'wrote the well dry' then he would be stuck on what to do next. I find that strategy works for me as well.

    I'm like Maiden, so many distractions. Mostly my kids who are #1 priority, and you all know my daughter has special needs and requires a lot of care, so some nights I'm literally asleep next to my son in his bed at 7:30 :(

    I find small projects, like Bird by Bird, works really well for me. "Ok, I'll just do this one scene, or paragraph, or I'll just focus on developing distinction for a single character in a single chapter." Those sorts of small goals eventually add up.
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Hemingway and I have something in common? Who knew!

    I did that stopping in mid stream for years, and still kind of do it, but not as much as I used to. I would also, when finishing a chapter, make sure I started the next. Another thing I've done is to write a single POV continuous without breaking, so there was literally no stops until the end, then I went back and broke them into chapters. I absolutely reread (and minor edit) stuff from the POV of the character I'm currently writing. I almost never jump into writing without reading, which works with the continuous flow technique. I will mark where I suspect a chapter breaks... but otherwise, plow on.

  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    To give a damn, you need to build up a reservoir of damns, with a damn dam. (sorry, couldn't help myself)

    Having a dim damn is a problem, but I think it can have multiple sources. With some stories, I just wanted to see if I could tell the story; it was almost technical exercise. With other stories, I had an idea or a character and I wanted to see where I might go with it, so it was more of an exploration. Those are tough because sometimes the territory explored turns out not to be very interesting, or the character didn't have as many dimensions as I'd thought, or I simply plotted myself into a corner. I have a few stories like that, which I've put in a place I refer to hopefully as the backburner. Purgatory is probably closer to the truth.

    Then there are stories that matter. Those are the ones where it's the theme that caught me--I actually had, or thought I had, something to say. Motivation has been trickiest there because at times I feel highly motivated while other times I feel terribly discouraged, and neither state seems explicable or predictable. Or manageable.

    There's another scenario, which is writing to a deadline. Your proposal has been accepted and your publisher has given you a date. Writing from avarice and fear. Motivation's not usually a problem with that one! I've tried tricking myself by inventing deadlines for myself but I see through the ruse every time, and have yet to be motivated by that.

    You may have noticed, if you are still reading, that I haven't given you any solutions. Clever reader! The best I can suggest is this: take a little time to decide why you are writing this particular story. If it's just exploration, or to find out if you can really do this writing thing, then you probably don't have sufficient reason to press on. You've hit the doldrums. You have no port to make for, you're just sailing around. You're going to have to find some better purpose.

    But if you were once inspired, but now all seems insipid, then you have probably lost your way. Try writing backstory stuff. Write a scene from a character's childhood, or love life, or anything not directly story-related. Try jumping forward in the story to some scene you do expect to be interesting.

    Or, try writing out of the neighborhood entirely. Start some other story. Put this one on the ol' back burner. The idea is to keep writing *something* even if it isn't *this* thing. It's hard to say what works. What doesn't work is to stop writing.

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