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Posts Tagged ‘my writing process’

Voyeur or Body Thief?

From the archives

One of the most intriguing parts of story for me has always been the way in which the reader interacts with it, more specifically the way in which the reader interacts with the characters in a story. I find that interaction especially intriguing in erotica and erotic romance.

 

To me, the power of story is that it’s many faceted and it’s never static. And, no matter how old the story is, it’s never finished as long as there’s someone new to read it and to bring their experience into it. Like most writers of fiction, I’m forever trying to analyse how a powerful story is internalised, and why what moves one reader deeply, what can be a life-changing experience for one may be nothing more exciting than window-shopping for another.

 

In my own experience as a reader, there are two extremes. I can approach a story as a voyeur, on the outside looking in from a safe distance, or I can be a body thief at the other end of the spectrum and replace the main character in the story with myself.

 

One extreme allows the reader to watch without engaging and the other allows the reader to create sort of a sing-along-Sound of Music- ish experience for themselves. As a reader, I’ve done both and had decent experiences of novels doing both. As a writer, however, I don’t wish to create a story that allows my reader to be a voyeur or a body thief.

 

As a writer I want to create a story that’s a full-on, in-the-body, stay-present experience from beginning to end. I want characters that readers can identify with and are drawn to but don’t necessarily want to be. I want a plot that feels more like abseiling with a questionable rope than watching the world go by from the window of a car. I want to create that tight-rope walk in the middle. I want to create that place in story where the imagination of the reader is fully engaged with the story the writer created. That place is the place where the story is a different experience for each reader. That’s the place where the story is a living thing that matters more than the words of which it’s made up. It matters more because the reader has connected with it, engaged with it, been changed by it, and the story continues to affect them long after they’ve finished reading it. In that place, the story and the reader are in relationship. Neither can embody the other, neither can watch from a distance. The end result may be a HEA, the end result may be disturbing and unsettling, but at the end of a really good read, the journey to get there is at least as important as the end result, and the result is on-going beyond the final words.

 

Erotica and erotic romance are by their nature a visceral experience. Though I think that’s probably true of any good story. I don’t think good erotica can be watched from a distance any more than it can be the tale of the body thief. While either will get you there, there’s no guarantee that the journey will be a quality one. And I want a quality journey. I want to come to the end of a good read wishing I hadn’t gotten there so quickly, wishing I’d had the will power to slow down and savour the experience just a little longer. I want to come to the end wondering just what layers, what subtleties, what nuances I missed because I got caught up in the runaway train ride and couldn’t quite take it all in.

 

A good read is the gift that keeps on giving. Long after I’ve finished the story, the experience lingers, and little tidbits that I raced through during the read bubble up from my unconscious to surprise me, intrigue me, make me think about the story on still other levels, from still other angles. When I can’t get it out of my head, when I find myself, long after I’ve come to the end, thinking about the journey, thinking about the characters, thinking about the plot twists and turns, then I know the story has gotten inside me and burrowed deep. There was no pane of glass in between; there was no body for me to inhabit because all bodies were fully occupied by characters with their own minds and their own agendas. The experience extends itself to something that stays with me long after the read is finished and makes me try all the harder to create that multi-layered experience in my own writing.

 

Writing Badly? Permission Granted!

img_0082Being deep in the throes of NaNoWriMo right now, it’s not unusual that I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of writing and what makes it work. Why is it that sometimes the words flow and other times they just don’t? The first time I realised I might be able to exert some control over that flow, that I might be able to do more than sit in front of a keyboard and hope the Muse would take pity on me, was when I read Natalie Goldberg’s classic book, Writing Down the Bones. There I discovered the timed writing. It’s simple really. You write non-stop for a given amount of time. You write against the clock, and you don’t stop writing until time runs out. No matter what! You write whatever comes without fretting over whether it’ll be good. And when you’re done, some of the end result – even a good bit of the end result – might be crap. But mixed in with that crap might just be the seeds of something wonderful.

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At the time I felt like I’d been asked to write with my left hand. Even writing for five minutes seemed like a daunting
task when I made my first attempts. But Natalie Goldberg knew what she was talking about. I was amazed at what came out of the abyss between my ears! It was only after I read Writing Down the Bones that I began to write real stories, and I think about that process of writing, just writing, no matter what comes out so often when I do NaNoWriMo because writing a novel in a month is never going to be pretty. But out of it, something truly wonderful can come. I know this because I’ve had two published novels from NaNoWriMo, and I’ve tackled both of those month-long races to the end as though they were a series of thirty gigantic, drawn out, timed writings.

 

So why did one book make such a difference? I finally had something I lacked in the past, something very important. I had permission to write badly. Every writer needs permission to write badly. Later Julia Cameron, in her book, The Artist Way, called those off-the-cuff, devil-may-care writings morning pages, and she prescribed three morning pages every day – written without forethought, written in haste. From a fiction writer’s perspective, she didn’t give them the weight that Natalie Goldberg did. They were only a part of a plan to open the reader to the artist within. To her, they were more about venting, sort of a daily house-cleaning for the brain. In addition to morning pages, Cameron insisted that every creative person should give themselves what she called an artist date once a week. An artist date was a date with oneself away from writing.

 

the-artist-wayI can’t count the number of times I stood myself up for my artist dates. I would have broken up with me long ago if I were actually dating me. But then I realised that an artist date didn’t have to be dinner and dancing or shopping or even visiting a museum. An artist date was a change of pace. It could even be ironing or weeding the garden. In fact the whole point of the artist date was to create space in which I could disengage the internal editor, engage the wild, creative part of my brain, the part full of ‘what ifs,’ and then, to give myself permission to write badly.

 

So many of us are under the impression that every word we write must be precious and worth its weight in gold. What I’ve learned since I discovered the pleasure of writing badly is that on the first draft, every word is most definitely not precious. On the first draft, every word is a crazy frivolous experiment. Every word is a chance to test the waters, to play in the mud, to let my hair loose and run dancing and screaming through the literary streets. Every word is a game and an adventure. Every word is eating ice cream with sprinkles for the main course. By the same token, every word is shit, every word is compost, and every word is the ground out of which the next draft will grow. I never know what’ll work crest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76until I try it. I never know what my unconscious will come up with while I’m writing like a wild crazy person, grabbing words and cramming them in and rushing on to the next ones – just after I’ve done a basket full of ironing. Without that bold and daring first draft, without opening the floodgates and letting the words spill onto the page, there’s nothing to work with when the next draft comes. And when the next draft comes, the words do get precious. Every single one becomes weighty and irritable and reluctant to fit anywhere but the place it belongs, the place where I feel it just below my sternum like the point of an accusing finger.

 

But by the time I get to the second draft, by the time I get to that place where every word has to be perfect, I’m up for it. I’m ready to slow down and feel what every word means. I’m ready to find all the nuance and all the cracks and crevices of meaning in between the words. I’m ready for it because I’ve only just been playing up until now, and I’ve been allowing the words to play. And now … recess is over.

 

The longer I write, the more I realise what else, besides Natalie Goldberg’s timed writings and Julia Cameron’s reluctant artist dates, gets me there. And what gets me there is often totally being somewhere else, somewhere other than writing. Sometimes it’s playing the piano badly, or sweating at the gym, or weeding the veg patch. Sometimes it’s walking through the woodland not thinking about anything. Sometimes it’s reading something frivolous. Sometimes it’s writing-pen-and-birds-1_xl_20156020reading something profound. All the space that taking time not to write opens up inside me makes room for that wild
ride of the first draft. And when that first draft is finished, I have what I need to pick and choose, to sort through and sift, to change and rearrange until I find the best way to tell my tale. But up until then, it’s child’s play. It’s dancing naked. It’s shameless abandon and multiple verbal orgasms.

 

To all my lovely writing friends valiantly struggling through NaNoWriMo this year – in fact to anyone who has a story to write, let me just say this.

 

Writing badly? Permission most definitely granted!

 

Final Draft Tunnel-Vision

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After a week of being totally tunnel-visioned, I’m stepping away from putting the final touches on the final draft of a novel long enough to whip together a quick blog post with one hand while I shovel food into my mouth with the other. I can’t focus well enough to pull something out of the archives to be shared again, so the best I can hope for is some ramblings that may or may not be too navel-gazey and hopefully will be coherent enough that it won’t leave you lot scratching your heads.

 

The thing about a novel as opposed to a short story is that I’ve invested a lot of life into it. In this particular novel, I’ve invested more than usual, and it feels very close to my heart. What that means is I’ve lived a long time with my characters, with the love and the conflict and the problems and the pleasures of the world they live in. They’ve revealed their secrets to me, and I’m at home with them. I’ve watched them run around the kitchen in their underwear and seen them toss and turn in their sleep. I’ve even peeked inside their heads and seen their dreams. I know what they love and what they hate. I know what pushes their buttons. I know their fears and their hopes. I’m comfortable with them, but I’m not so comfortable with the fact that I’ll have to leave them very soon. That’s the purpose of a final draft, after all. It’s the end that makes room for new beginnings.

 

It’s been hard work. The final draft is always intense and focused at the expense of almost everything else – including regular meals. When it comes time for that final rewrite, I’m gone. I’m seldom on social media, I barely manage my emails, and I disconnect from the outside world as much as possible. That’s especially true when a final draft coincides with my husband being away on business, as it does this time. A final draft is a part of the writing experience like no other. It’s not the runaway train excitement, watching the story unfold of the first draft. It’s a journey deeper into the caves and crevasse of the plot and into the dark inner workings of the characters and the story. It’s the deepening, the broadening, the true KNOWING of the novel and the characters that I wrote at break-neck pace in their first draft Writing pen and birds 1_xl_20156020incarnation. The final draft is total obsession, and when it’s done, that means there’s serious withdrawal. While I’m anticipating the finished draft, I’m also dreading it. There’s always a period of bereavement that follows, and the empty nest that must be dealt with before it can be made ready to refill with a new beginning. But the letting go is hard.

 

In the meantime, I’m tired and I’m strung out, and I’m too much in the world I’ve created to be of much use to anyone outside it. Dinner’s finished. Drinks are refilled, and I’m back at it! I’ll see you with a new Shameless Selfie on Sunday.

 

Inspiration On the Hoof

The best walks, like the best writing, happen when I end up in places I never really expected to be places I didn’t even know were there. That’s exactly what happened this past Saturday. With plans to spend the afternoon in the British Museum, I tagged along with Raymond to Regent’s Park, where he does martial arts training every Saturday until early afternoon. We planned to grab a sandwich then catch the Sicily exhibit before it ended. I figured I might as well get some walking in, and Regent’s Park in July is a great place for a walk.

 

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I sometimes forget how amazing London parks can be for long walks, addicted to the countryside as I am, but that means that when I go back to London, when I just follow my nose and let my feet take me there, I find myself totally enthralled.

There were babies everywhere, and mums showing them off. I got some really up close and personal shots of a lovely mallard family:

 

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And a crèche of coots.

 

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I couldn’t really tell family groups, and coots and moorhens, like humans, have asynchronous hatchings, so the chicks vary in size.

 

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And of course there were plenty of human fledglings there as well. One delightful little girl, who looked to be maybe three or four, was prancing around the rose garden with her mum and dad sniffing roses as she went and actually commenting on the different scents or lack thereof. I didn’t take a piccie of her. Thought her parents might not appreciate that.

 

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Besides the fledglings, there were also some gorgeous grown-ups there as well. I only got shots of the feathered kind though. Didn’t want to be stalky. 🙂

 

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There were lovely little hide- holes and romantic waterfalls and lots of places to be inspired, as I let my feet take me deeper into the park

 

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As often is the case, I ended up thinking about nothing at all really, just inhabiting the space and moving through it at an observer’s pace. I’ve long believed that you never really get to know the soul of a place unless you explore it with your soles. For every little place I did explore, there were at least a dozen I had to pass up. Next time! … and the time after that …

 

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After awhile, I found that the hard exploring had left me in need of caffeine, so I got coffee with an extra shot (to keep me going) and thought I’d find a quiet place on the grass to sit and read. Didn’t happen. My coffee and I discovered the Regent’s Canal and the Jubilee Greenway! The canal is 13.8 kilometres long and is connected to the Grand Union Canal on one end and the River Thames on the other. I’m already envisioning more fabulous walks in my future.

 

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Apparently every summer when the weather heats up, there’s a bloom of green water plants. Couldn’t help but wonder if that’s why they called it the Greenway. But it did lend a very different ambience to the canal.

 

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BTW, that house there opposite the Tui, that’s my dream London writer’s retreat. Also I think it just might be the inspiration for a place Magda Gardener might have in London. The woman has cottages and flats everywhere, you know.

 

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I discovered the Regents Canal is an art gallery of sorts, with Dr. Manhattan looking rather thoughtful while enjoying a soft drink.

 

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I headed toward Camden Locks reminding myself that my time was limited. But promising myself I’d be back.

 

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Sadly I was a bit late for the market. Next time! The place was fascinating, but a bit to crowded for this introvert — especially when she’s trying to walk, so I turned back toward the park.

 

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Along the way I found this reminder that at one time the canal was for more than just fun, and it certainly was no fun for the horses!

 

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The best part of the canal on the Camden side of the park is there’s a wonderful mix of urban decay and pure romance. What more could a novelist ask of a good walk?

 

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I reached the point where the canal turns under a bridge and leads back past the zoo. The Chinese restaurant was tempting, if for nothing else its fabulous location!

 

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The canal meanders past the aviary of the zoo and while this isn’t my best photo, imagine my delight when I was greeted by a tree full of ibises … er ibi???

 

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Sadly I didn’t get as many photos on the zoo side of the canal because I was trying to cover as much distance as I could before it was time to meet Raymond. As much as I enjoyed the Sicily exhibit at the British Museum — and I do highly recommend it, from an inspirational point of view, at least for me, the walk was the best bit of my day. It was only a little niggle of a walk that demands more – lots more, but it left me feeling refreshed and open to the Muse and her big stick. Sometimes walking a story actually becomes just walking to open myself to what’s beyond the blinders I often wear as a writer focused on my work. Whether I’m walking the story or whether I’m walking to be renewed, from an author’s point of view, from a human point of view, a good walk never disappoints.

 

Faking My Way to a Story

I want to talk about faking it. NO! Not that kind of faking it! I want to talk about the writing kind of faking it. I’m prettyScribe-computer-keyboardMG_07771-225x300 sure every writer does it. I’ll admit I do a good bit of it. I’m faking it now, can you tell? Okay, I’ve never kept it a secret that I’m a neurotic’s neurotic, so since I’ve been struggling for the past two days to get the last episode of The Psychology of Dreams written and failing miserably, (oh the post is almost all written, but it’s the final episode and I feel it needs more work, more time) I decided to fake it. By the time the decision was made, it was obvious to me that I wasn’t going to get it finished for tomorrow, my brain was tired, my back hurt, I was suffering from eyestrain, and I was hungry. I quick-like-a-bunny made more coffee for courage, then I scrolled through all my old posts for inspiration. That usually helps. Not this time, though. I scrolled back through for something I could rewrite. Nothing worked! And then, as if the Writing Goddess herself had smiled down on me, I came across notes from a post I did for the Brit Babes Blog some time ago and it fit the occasion down to the ground. Yes! This situation definitely called for faking it.

 

Faking it, at least for me, always calls for an obscene amount of brainstorming and effort before I do something right off the wall and run with it in desperation. In this case, I thought about another garden porn post. I thought about another walking post. I gave some serious though to another BDSM at the gym post, especially after a hard kettle bell workout today. Nope! Nothing! Nada! Quick and dirty, that’s what it’s all about, I told myself. Pull it off, I told myself, buck it up! I told myself, you can do it! You’ve done it before. You have a history of doing it, so just do it again! Instead I shambled into the kitchen and made still more coffee, ignoring the ironing that I could do. Ironing sometimes inspires me, but it’s not a happy sort of inspiration … By this time I was twitching from too much caffeine, even as I gulped just one more cup of the good stuff while scrolling through more old posts and fragments. I checked Facebook and Twitter and my email. I checked them again and waited for something profound to flash before my eyes. Oh there were the usual videos of cute cats and piccies of what FB friends who are less culinarily challenged than I am have whipped up for lunch — no help there. I already shared the only two recipes I know on my blog a long time ago.

 

I switched from coffee to iced tea … more iced tea. Less caffeine, I told myself. I did a few stretches. I put another load of laundry in to wash. I scrolled some more. I went outside and fed the birds, then scrolled some more.

 

It hit me after I’d retitled my post four times and deleted multiple first paragraphs, that, more often that not, this is the real path to writing something amazing. A gazillion non-inspiring little things happen, distractions ebb and flow, multiple false starts happen and happen again. Everything feels jerky and restless, like it’s all disconnected and belongs to someone else.

 

Aaaaaand! Then it happens! It begins in such a ridiculous way that it’s almost laughable. In fact when it happens I’m Writing pen and birds 2_xl_24884256seldom actually expecting it to happen, and I’m certainly not expecting anything worthwhile to come of it. Maybe faking it isn’t quite the correct term for what happens when it happens. Maybe it’s just that I let go of my expectations and slip into ‘play’ mode. Words is words, after all, and what are they for if not to play with? And somewhere in the playing, cool things start happening, like building a Leggo fortress or a sandcastle. And there it is! I’m playing! And the words I’m playing with are leading me somewhere I never really expected to go, somewhere that’s a long way from faking it and miles from where I started.

 

That’s when those words satisfy! They leave me breathless, and flush-faced and panting as I hunch over the keyboard for more. I get stories that way. They often come to me when I’m faking it, and when I’m laughing at the absurdity of the process. And before I know it, I’m not faking it at all. The earth just moved and there might have even been fireworks. God, I love it when that happens!

 

But in the meantime, I have to remind myself, it’s okay to fake it. It’s okay to play with words and see what happens. It’s okay to have fun. At least for this moment I’m having a short break from taking myself too seriously. I’m sure I’ll get back to it tomorrow, and with a little more time and a little more faking it, the final chapter of The Psychology of Dreams will be something I never expected, something I’ll like even better for the little bit of faking it I did today.

 

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Don’t forget, tomorrow is day one of the Landscapes Blog Tour and Giveaway. Check the link for details on blogs and topics as well as the giveaway.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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