Saturday, September 10, 2016

So how does Anne do it?

I'm often asked, how do I do it? Well, I usually start late morning. I have to be awake to write. I break for lunch and write all afternoon, and when things are rolling, I write into the evening, and maybe even late into the night. I like long uninterrupted stretches of time.

Whether or not I have those unbroken stretches, I focus on completing an episode or a chapter. I don't like to break with half a scene written. If forced to break, I start over the next day, or read over in detail, reliving before I continue.

But over the years I've had to be flexible. What has never worked for me is early morning. What has often worked is writing all night. Negotiating a compromise with the demands of the world, not just family but work demands, is key. Whenever I write, I'm living and breathing in the work as if I were inside a movie. I murmur aloud as I write. I hear each word. The rhythm of a sentence, the sound of individual syllables, all this is key. It all has to flow for me, like living water. Style is as important as any other element.

But there are no rules for all writers. I had a friend once who told me that she never started to write until she had the material thought out in her mind. Not me. I often go right along discovering as I'm writing. I never plan dialogue, ever. It has to be "happening" with me as recording secretary. "Make it happen," that could be my motto. Just reflecting on all this makes me so happy and grateful for this vocation or profession.

I'll be 75 in October; I'm sitting here now in a tiny room in a small family home, at a big beautiful Mac computer; and I'm wearing the nightgown I slept in; and I'm ready to work. Ah, it's wonderful.

Friday, September 9, 2016

More on technique

Anne with more on technique, or how I do it.

11) Never underestimate the power of the two line break. You may not want a new chapter but you want to cut away from the scene. Make the two line break.

12) Never get trapped into thinking that if you have a character open a door, he necessarily has to close it later on. You are creating a visual impression of a scene, and you don't need to spotlight every gesture. And you can cut away from a scene in progress.

13) Paragraphs again: they are the way you engineer the page for the reader. That's why I say never hesitate to make one line paragraphs and short paragraphs. You're punching action or an emotional moment when you set it off in a paragraph. And you want to make things easy for the reader. Long paragraphs always impose something of a burden. The eye longs for a break. 

14) Multiple point-of-view can be very energizing for a reader. The switch in point of view can be exciting. And multiple point-of-view gives you a chance to reveal the world in a way that single point of view cannot. Favorite multiple point-of-view novels for me are War and Peace and The Godfather.

15) A single point-of-view throughout is the best opportunity a writer has to get a reader to fall in love with a hero or heroine. The limitations are obvious; you can't go to "another part of the forest" to find out what's happening. But you have immense power in single point-of-view to get into the thoughts and feelings of your champion.

16) First Person single point-of-view can take the reader not only into deep love but deep antipathy. Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Lolita are shining examples.

17) If you find yourself becoming bored, then do what you must do to make the novel exciting again for you. Never keep building a scene because you feel you must. Think of some other way to solve the problem that is goading you to write what you don't enjoy.

18) When you feel yourself getting tired, stop and read something that is energizing. The opening pages of Stephen King's Firestarter always refresh me and send me back to the keyboard. So does reading any part of Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song." So does reading The Godfather. So does reading a Hemingway short story. 

19) Keep going. Remember that you must finish the novel for it to have a chance in this world. You absolutely must complete it. And of course as soon as I do I think of new things. I go back, refining, adding a little. And when I stop feeling the urge to do that, well, I know it's really finished.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Writing technique

Anne on writing technique or how I do it.

1) Rely heavily on concrete nouns and action verbs. Nothing conveys immediacy and excitement like the concrete noun and the action verb.

2) Rely heavily on short sentences and even fragments. Long complex sentences, especially when filled with abstract nouns slow the reader and even confuse him or her. Break up these sentences. Or balance them with short ones.

3) Don't hesitate to write one sentence paragraphs and short paragraphs in general. Never, never bury a key revelation or surprise or important physical gesture by a character at the end of an existing paragraph. Move this to a new paragraph.

4) Go easy on conjunctions such as "but," "and," "yet," and "however." The prose may feel fluid to you when you use these; but if you go back and simply remove them the prose may be even more fluid.

5) Repeat a character's name often in dialogue and in straight narrative. Don't slip into "he" or "she" for long stretches because if you do many fast readers will find themselves having to go back to determine who is speaking or feeling or viewing the action. Punch the proper names.

6)Be generous and loving with adjectives and adverbs. These words give specificity to the narrative; they make it vibrant.

7)When you repeat yourself in a novel, acknowledge it, as in "Again, he found himself thinking, as he had so often before..."

8) If the plot takes a highly improbable turn, acknowledge that through having the characters acknowledge it.

9) In writing intense action scenes, avoid slipping into "-ing" words. It may feel "immediate" to use these words, say in a sword fight, a physical brawl, or an intense confrontation, but if you stick with simple past tense, you will actually heighten the action. 

10) Remember that in writing a novel, you are crafting something that must be fully understood and experienced in one reading, yet stand up to innumerable readings in the future. 

If these "rules" or suggestions don't work for you, by all means disregard them completely! You're the boss when it comes to your writing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Point of view

Anne on writing. You can write from the point of view of anybody: a man, a woman, a gay man, a gay woman, a person of color, a native American, an ancient Egyptian, King Solomon, anyone. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you cannot do this.

When I was writing The Feast of All Saints, a good friend told me in essence I had no right to write about people of color. Shortly after, I went to Haiti to do research for this novel, and in a hotel bar in Port-au-Prince, I ran into an American black man, and I asked him about this very question. I told him about my book. "Write it," he said. He became extremely intense. "Write it." He felt it was of the utmost importance that I give birth to the novel I was envisioning. 

Later, back home in America, I asked the same question of a famous black author at a book signing. He said the same thing. Write the story. That was good enough for me.

The bottom line is, you go where the intensity is for you as a writer; you give birth to characters for deep, complex reasons. And this should never be politicized by anyone. Your challenge is to do a fine and honest and effective job. Don't ever let anyone insist you give up without even trying.

Two of the greatest novels about women that I've ever read, Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary were written by men. One of the finest novels about men that I've ever read, The Last of the Wine, was written by a woman. That was Mary Renault. And her novel, The Persian Boy, about a Persian eunuch is a classic.

The vital literature we possess today was created by men and women of immense imagination, personal courage and personal drive. Ignore all attempts to politicize or police your imagination and your literary ambition.

Read The Feast of All Saints now.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

More on outlining

Anne with more on outlining. Outlining a novel can never for me be the complete story. I want to discover as I write. I am too much of an instinctive writer to ever trust a complete outline in advance of any novel.

What I want more than anything is a road map to get going, a sense of destination, a guide as I plunge into the messy process of discovery. So I suppose I will always be balancing the need to outline with the respect I have for the organic growth of any plot or character. Outlines have helped me most with the opening chapters, or with the concluding chapters. 

But most of the time, when I begin a novel I simply don't know enough to outline all of it. My characters have to be interacting, experiencing, talking, for me to know what really works. So my novels are never neat, never clean. They're always sloppy, and filled with twists and turns, with off the cuff observations, and trips into sensual experience. I like it that way. I like that when I read too. Much as I am thrilled by the abstract minimalist and disciplined prose of Flaubert or Hemingway, I am far more thrilled with the great sloppy genius of Dostoevsky or D. H. Lawrence.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Must we outline?

Anne on writing: I limit outlining and note taking because I don't really want to experience cathartic scenes until I write them. I don't want to drain away the intensity with note taking and dreaming about them. I want the heat to go right into the writing. So rather than describe my intentions in my hand written diaries, I often jot down the scene itself, dialogue, movement, what's happening. I don't write well from a distance. I have to be in it, feeling it, suffering it. And I'm confident that one scene has to flow from another. Overthinking can kill intensity, at least for me. The deeper philosophical or psychological meaning emerges as I write.

But again, there are no rules for all writers. A lot of ideas, scenes, developments spring into my mind while I'm reading other people's books. I have to stop, and reach for my diary. Indeed, if ideas and scenes don't come to me while I'm reading, well, I don't usually keep reading the book. Spy novels, thrillers, deeply inspire me because they always feel metaphorical to me.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Be stubborn

Anne here whether writing can be taught. Who is qualified to teach people how to be writers? Well, nobody really. And everybody.

Being a writer is highly individual, mysterious and personal. No one can make you into a writer but yourself. HOWEVER, you can be taught many things ABOUT writing. A professor of literature can bring alive an obscure classic for you, open your eyes as to how it works for the reader, and this may inspire you to experiment in your own writing in ways you haven't attempted before. 

An attentive reader can share with you what she finds interesting in your manuscript — what she finds thrilling, boring or confusing, or just plain unconvincing — and that may teach you a great deal. 

Other writers may offer advice and share personal experience; and that might help and then again it might not. What works for Stephen King or Elmore Leonard, for instance, really does not work for me. 

And whenever your risk your work in the hands of a teacher, critic, beta reader, etc. BE SURE to seek more than one opinion, many more perhaps — especially if the criticism simply doesn't ring true. Be prepared to ignore the most heartfelt rejection.

Bottom line? We make ourselves into the writers of our dreams through faith in what we love, skepticism about criticism that doesn't help, and by ignoring advice which is not productive. It gets down to individual will, doesn't it? Trust in oneself. 

I took the manuscript of Interview with the Vampire to a writers group early on. I had been invited to come. A person read aloud the first thirty pages. I then heard the members of the group weigh in. If I had taken to heart the responses of that group, I might have thrown the manuscript away. I didn't. I didn't hear anything there that helped. The thing I remember most was an utter lack of enthusiasm for the premise of the novel. "How far can she take this?" they asked. I thanked the group and I moved on. You have to do this. You cannot be at the mercy of all those who "don't get it."

When New York editors send back the work with faint praise or damning comments on genre, just ignore this and keep going. Keep seeking the editor who will "get" what you're attempting to do. Or publish on your own. 

Remember there are no "pass or fail" grades for a novel. It's an individual creative act. And it is entirely possible to encounter people who hate what you do, tell you you have no talent, people who sincerely suggest you give up on writing because you have no natural gift for it —  and to go right on past those people to become a successful internationally known writer. I know this, because I did.