Friday, April 21, 2017

Writing during the apocalypse, part six

I have just started reading Dan Chaon's Ill Will. I am existentially obligated to read this, because it is a darkly humorous horror story set in CLEVELAND. (Yes, all stories set in Cleveland are darkly humorous horror stories.)

Then I read this very interesting interview with Chaon, which suggested a writing method I've used in the past and think I will try again. Chaon mentioned writing the book as a series of chapters, and trying to complete one every night. In the completed book, many of the chapters are quite short, and the narrative is somewhat fragmentary, jumping from one point of view to another, and from one time period to another. 

This was more or less how I wrote my first novel, although I didn't have that much intention about it. I simply wrote short pieces I was interested in, with the hope or faith that because I was interested in them, eventually they would all fit together. Writing the connective tissue (i.e., the plot) can come later, but it may not be completely necessary in all cases. Sometimes the theme is strong enough to connect otherwise disparate sections.

In the past I've made the case for working from a pre-existing plot and allowing it to evolve as you go. Now I'm arguing that the opposite can also be effective. Just writing scenes or chapters that seem somehow related to you--or don't seem related as yet, but still intrigue you--can help you build up a deeply resonant narrative over time.

This can also work well with the 20-minute plan, which helps prevent excessive rumination and lends itself to the compact but still potentially fertile fragment.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Writing during the apocalypse -- part five-ish

Obviously it's not easy. That my previous post was in late January speaks volumes. The last few months have felt like years, and doing any work voluntarily, as opposed to under strict instructions or deadlines, has seemed close to impossible.

Nevertheless, here I am.

In the last few weeks I've tweeted rather proudly that I've started writing for 20 minutes a day. Rather than focusing on word- or even page-counts, the only thing that matters here is the time spent. You can just open your file and stare at it for 20 minutes and close it again. But if you're like me, you'll at least start seeing sentences you'll want to change, and from there get a few ideas on how to proceed.

So far, my new--yes, dystopian--novel is eight pages long and has the meandering format of a mostly un-outlined freewriting exercise. But so what? At this point the process is as much about note-taking and idea-generating as actually writing a story. And I find I have ideas in the hours I'm not at the computer, which means there's a there there, and that's reassuring.

The closest thing I can relate the T___p era to is watching a close family member slowly, inexorably, painfully die. It's hard not to feel helpless and sad and frustrated and angry, and to suspect that one's little acts--political, artistic, social, professional--make no difference whatsoever. But my greater fear is of allowing myself to give up, and of looking back on myself in a few years--if we're all still alive--and realizing I rolled over. And wasted the time that still belonged to me.