In fact, just this week I read some sample chapters from a newbie writer, and I was impressed with the technical excellence. Nice dialogue, perfect POVs, showing not telling... But the story itself involved a hackneyed plot, a totally uninteresting protagonist, and major predictability. It felt like it was written by a computer program, and it made me sad. I want to teach writers to not only learn the craft, but to also write from their heart. Write with authenticity, write from the depths of personal experience. Read more
Interestingly, this is echoed by author Kathleen Duey (I just read her book Skin Hunger ... oola la, what a fabulous read!) in an interview on the CWIM blog --This past week I attended a residential writing course with authors Malorie Blackman and Melvin Burgess. M&M put us through three or four (THREE OR FOUR!) timed writing exercises everyday - at first giving us five minutes to write but eventually cutting back to just three minutes.
Competent novels are harder and harder to sell, in large part because of SCBWI’s wonderful resources, more and more people can write pretty well. But I think too many of us learn the rules—which are far more “teachable”—and lose the spark—which is more “discoverable”. Read more
They wanted us to shoot from the hip - no time to think, no time to compose, no time to even contemplate failure. Just write with your guts.
I didn't think I could do it the first time they announced how it was going to be. But I was pleasantly surprised at how it seemed to shock the rust out of my writing gears. Boy, how we wrote! It really helped that Malorie could not resist calling out "one more minute!" just seconds into an exercise.
The exercises all had to do with character, plot, dialogue - approaching each item from every angle you can think of.
I can't share everything I wrote because the thing about not having time to think is you put down stuff that is personal at the very least and at its most dangerous, probably libellous. So rather than get sued by my close friends and relatives here arethree of my least offensive attempts:
Describe navy blue to someone who cannot see ...
You know navy blue, you know it. It sort of swishes underneath everything, dark and wet but warm. It makes other colours look better. Yellow, yellower. Red, redder. It’s not shy but it doesn’t try to step forward either. It’s like an old husband, there, in the background, outside the lamplight, and yet a perfect fit.
Describe rock music to someone who cannot hear ...
It gets behindyour eyeballs, rock music. Like one of those headaches that start at the base of your skull, throbbing behind your eyes. Except that it’s pleasurable. Most of the time anyway. It seizes you by the heart and squeezes, squeezes and it’s like your blood is pumping harder and harder and your brain is going to explode. It’s so hot and yet its so cool.
... And this next one probably set up a few of us for a life-time of therapy, when we were finished, we were all emotionally exhausted from exploring our regrets:
Write up an argument between yourself today and your younger self ...
(In which Now me blames Young me for wasting so much time)
Now me: Why didn’t you start earlier? Why didn’t you do the writing courses, read the books, actually WRITE for goodness sake? Why is it down to me to play catch up, to spend sleepless nights studying and reading and writing – being rejected, suffering the slings and arrows ---
Young me: You don’t remember do you? You don’t remember how hard it was?
Now me: You could have done some writing. There was time. It’s not as if you had to get that A in trigonometry. I can inform you now that I have never had to do cosines and sines and those equations of never letting go ... not once in my lifetime.
Young me: I didn’t have time. Remember M? She needed me ...
Now me: She didn’t. Look at how she’s turned out. She was always going to need you. She was never going to be satisfied all those if only you could do this for me, and if only you could do that for me. She never had any intention of making anything happen. Is she happy now?
Young me: Are you saying it didn’t matter? Looking after the boys, cooking and cleaning and spending al that time at home helping out . None of it mattered? I should have just let all that go and started writing?
Now me: Well, you could have given me a bit of a headstart.
Young me: I did. What are you writing about now? Are you writing about how you started writing earlier? No, all this stuff about belonging ... about loving ... about ... that’s all me. It’s not about YOU. It’s about ME.
Having said that, one of the most memorable lines from this exercise came from my colleague who was just 17 in which her Now Self chided her Young self: "You're just a child!" To which her Young Self replied: "So are you!"