Today I am writing a review of the second book in Kate Johnston’s wonderful series, Writer Interrupted, A Handbook for the Emerging Writer.
In Book One, Kate led us through the decisions one must make in deciding to become a writer. Now in Book Two, she leads you through a strategy you can use in implementing that decision. I know, learning “strategy” sounds dull. But, Kate leads us through it in her usual light hearted and informative way.
Kate starts out by reminding us the over riding reward we all gain from writing is pure, unadulterated, joy. Writing is hard work…period. Yet, we soldier on for the pure joy we derive in the doing. And again, in her Mini-Journals, she outlines easy steps we can take to make sure we obtain the joy we deserve for traveling this road.
Writing is a skill. Like any skill, learning it takes discipline. Kate explains why setting goals is the most important thing you can do to build your skill as a writer. But…just setting goals is not enough. In describing her own journey of failing to set goals and the consequences that arose, she tells you the kinds of goals you should set and why. Perhaps the most important point here is to note the only function goals have is to help you keep your quest on track. The goal is not the quest, just as the map is not the territory.
Finding Your Groove
Next up is finding your groove. That mystical place, where the words just seem to flow. This is a highly personal task, which may need considerable effort. The thrust of this is to help you determine what set of actions will allow you to show up and write every day. I know, writing every day sounds like drudgery. But there are things you can do that brings joy to each session. Recording voice memos on your smart phone, keeping a small pad with you to write down ideas, scribble notes on paper napkins at lunch. All writing counts. It doesn’t have to be confined to one time or place.
Maybe for you the best thing is to have more than one project going at the same time. I know this is what works for me. That way if you stall on one thing, you can take a break and work on something else. But, beware. Managing multiple projects does take organization and the ability to shift attention.
What’s Your Strategy?
What’s your strategy? Kate asks the question because you need one. If you just sit down and write it’s called “pantsing”. Writing by the seat of your pants. Many famous writers such as Lee Child and Harlan Coben write this way. Other writers like J.K. Rowling create highly detailed outlines before ever writing a line of dialogue. This is what I do.
I wrote a book using the pantsing method. It wound up in the trash heap (where it belonged). Now I outline down to the smallest detail. For me, once I get the outline done, dialogue is almost like filling in the blanks.
If you don’t have a writing strategy yet, Kate suggests you try both ways and pick the one that works for you.
Kate says she has invented a new system called “Plontsing”. But, we’ll have to wait for Book 4 in the series to learn about it.
And now… a word about word count (pun intended). Kate points out the necessity of writers paying attention to word count. First, as writers, we should be aiming for a goal of X number of words written per day. Depending on how you write, you may want to tinker with the way the goal is structured. It could be an average of X words per day, or X words per week, etc. You get the idea.
Then you need to be aware of the general word counts expected for scenes, chapters, and books for the genre you are writing in. Kate cautions though, not to let word count get in the way of a good story.
Next, Kate tackles three ways to do research. Before, during, or after you write. Determining when to do research depends on how you write. If you have a fresh idea, you may be able to list the stuff you need to research before you start. As a plotter, I find most of my research needs are discovered during the plotting stage. If you’re a pantser, items you need to research will turn up as you write the rough draft. Then the actual research can be done between drafts. Kate recommends not doing research as you write as it tends to disrupt the story flow.
There is an exception to this, however. It occurs when the dreaded writer’s block strikes you. The existence of writer’s block is hotly debated in the writing community. Simply put, writer’s block just means you’re stuck. There are several ways to overcome this. Kate suggests just putting the project down and walking away for a while. This gives your mind a chance to relax and allows your subconscious to come up with solutions. And, here is where more research can turn up new ideas to get you unstuck.
As usual for Kate, she gives you plenty of ideas to try in her Mini-Journals at the end of each chapter. These exercises will help you find the way to your groove. That magic place where the words just flow. Every day. I highly recommend this book to everyone who ever even thought about becoming a writer.