Friday, August 21, 2009

The Method to My Madness

I was going to call this blog entry "Grace Under Pressure" because it is the follow up to my blog entry on Tuesday called Under Pressure, but I don't know if I've achieved a state of grace yet or if I ever will.... I do however have a method to my madness.... sort of.

I've said it before and I'll say it again over and over, with every book I write, I learn to write over again. My process for writing I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone was completely different from my process for Ballads of Suburbia. IWBYJR took a lot longer, but I had the time to write it leisurely because it was my grad school thesis. I wrote it completely out of order, tackling the scenes as they took my attention. Then I put them together and filled in the blanks. It wasn't a very efficient process, but it worked. Ballads I wrote linearly for the most part and it went a lot faster. I don't know what will work for my next project(s), but here are a few things that are tried and true.

The Story Workshop Method
This is the method I learned while I was at Columbia College Chicago. You can read all about it here. In a nutshell, it uses word games to trigger seeing a story unfold in your mind's eye. You then tell that story aloud, exploring it further before you write it. I have a writer's group that meets once a week with fellow Columbia alum. We cook dinner, catch up a little bit and then we sit down seriously and go around for about 15 minutes, each saying a word. It sounds silly and you'd probably have to actually see it and participate to get how it works. But the point is that one of my CPs might say a word like "nightmare" and I might get a whole story idea or at least a snippet of image that I nurture as the word game continues. It's worked for me. A lot. Especially as I'm still discovering my story. One of my writing group mates is away on this retreat with me and no doubt we are playing these games a lot to get going.

Yeah, not so good when it comes to eating, but this is just the method that works for me when it comes to writing. It's a habit that formed in college. I went to school for 6 years (undergrad and grad) and juggled school with at least one, usually two, and sometimes as many as three jobs. Usually I'd end up with one day a week off and that is when I would write. I'd just sit there and do it from 8 to 14 hours. I'd journal and jot stuff down throughout the rest of the week, but that was the majority of when I got my work done. It's just the way my brain works. I need an hour or two to warm up and then it starts to flow. When it's really flowing, I even forget to eat.

Retreats were born out of my binge-writing tendencies. Post-college, I've been finding it hard to schedule in a weekly binge day (though I'm definitely trying it when I get back from this retreat!). This started when I was still in college though and I had a deadline to get a draft of IWBYJR into my agent by the end of one summer. So me and a few friends spent a few days here:

It was a cabin in Mineral Point, WI. Perfect for IWBYJR because it's kinda in the area where the book is set.

Two years later, when I was trying to finish a draft of Ballads and the opportunity for me a friend to go to a house in Canada for a week to write. I took it. It was winter on an ocean-front town. I'd wake up in the morning, take a shower, do some pilates, and walk down to look at the water:

Then I'd head back to the little house:

Pure peace. Pure bliss. No internet and limited phone usage. That's what all these places had in common and have in common with the place I'm currently retreating at. I need to be cut off from the outside world to really focus, especially now with all the promo stuff I feel responsible for doing. Hopefully I will be back to report next week how well this worked because it was sooooo good in the past. Especially in Canada, I was writing 10 to 14 hours a day.

Routine & Deadlines
This is the hardest thing for me to achieve, but I was so productive when I did it. I came up with a routine when I was finishing that first draft of IWBYJR for my agent. I had a schedule and little deadlines of when each chapter would be "due." And, before my book sold and I got all involved in the "other work" of writing, I had a pretty good routine of coming home from work, eating dinner and writing for 3 hours a night. I'm also pretty damn good with finding a routine when I'm on deadline. But I have totally *sucked* at this since I turned in Ballads revisions. I'm hoping however that I will come back from my retreat totally motivated and zen and ready to find a routine. I know said routine will consist of starting out my mornings with writing, no checking of email or anything until I've written for an hour and a half (unless its something totally urgent from my agent or editor). I also know I'm going to try to blog late at night and schedule my posts. And I'm hoping to find a binge day (likely Saturdays) at least twice a month if not every week.

I'll keep you posted on how all of this works out for me. And I'll be back early next week (Monday or Tuesday depending on how crazy my weekend is) to tell you all about my trip and any new stuff I learned.


BrittLit said...

Good luck and have fun.

Rae said...

Ahh, retreating sounds heavenly right now. I was just thinking about it earlier this week. I need to get away so I can completely focuse on my writing (both my work-in-progress & my dissertation). *sigh* That would be so lovely...

Clevelandpoet said...

I know how the binge writing goes....I have more of a writing everyday flow now (thankfully) going away to write wife likes to make fun of me when I say I want to do this but I really should write some more today