Monday, 7 November 2011

Weightwatching for Writers: Penny Dolan

If you haven’t come across it yet, you will: the problem of weight.

I don’t mean the thickening of the person known as Writer’s Bum. “New” writers can often be identified by their sylph-like figures and some “older” writers are rangy, athletic type because they intersperse their writing with gym sessions or six-mile runs. However, well-worn-in writers are usually distinguished by a certain roundness of physique, plus a space on their desks reserved for chocolate and drink.



No, the weight problem I am talking about is to do with writing, to do with keeping the manuscript moving in the right sort of shape. For example, my current Work in Progress has developed an over-weighty beginning that currently eases off into a very tiny tail. Structure wise, the WIP is like one of those big blobby tadpoles that will somehow vanish from the jar or a cartoon whale.

This may well be to do with the computer as tool. How can this be the fault of a bit of machinery?

Simple. Seeing something on screen is not the same process as flicking though the pages and carrying on from where you last put down your inky brass nib. Whenever I get the current WIP up on screen, the opening appears in all its sudden dreadfulness before my eyes.

Even if I resist and skim on swiftly for a few pages, it’s not long I spot something that urgently needs my attention. Yes, a word or phrase is shouting out at me from a chapter I’ve already done. Heavens, this plot of mine thickens but it does not blooming well lengthen. Well not hwere it should.

Of course, I could and I do print the manuscript out, even though I can’t help feeling that “printing it out” is a kind of honour granted when I feel the pages are good enough. When. More usually I print the WIP out whenever I get totally desperate about the structure so I can make notes and do the analysis and the breakdown – and go back to the beginning again.

I honestly do know I should move on, on, on. I should work on the section at the end where there are slight traces of the intended story, such as “Chapter 29: Something Really Interesting happens to Marmaduke & Leticia in Grizewold Alley. Or Does It????”

Those later chapters are the places that should be my destination Those thin ghostly apparitions are where I should be adding weight. The misty unidentifiable-as-yet regions are where I need to go with my word-grappling hook and my haversack of Dolan’s Essential Word Supply and Super-Bonding Glue.

So come on, people. Why don’t I? Why do I think "Better see to this little bit first"? It is a mystery.

Off to make myself some hot buttered toast and honey. At least that will go towards building a weightier end.


Penny’s current novel for older juniors, A BOY CALLED M.O.U.S.E has been praised for its excellent finale..

www.pennydolan.com

12 comments:

Sue Purkiss said...

Brilliant. I think you're absolutely right - a lot of it's to do with the computer. Oh, those first few pages... they get so much tlc they must be absolutely sick of it. 'Leave us alone,' I hear them cry, 'Give us some space!'

Keren David said...

f you've got a kindle then you can download your book onto it, to get that book-reading experience. I did that this summer, read the 40,000 words I'd managed so far and immediately saw the structural flaw that had eluded me for months.

Penny Dolan said...

What a brilliant brilliant tip, Keren! (Only one problem . . . Hmmm.)

I have sometimes read new novels where I've been inpressed at the start and then found the ending much weaker and thinner than I expected, so I don't think it's just my problem.

Emma Barnes said...

Penny - you must crack on with that chapter 29, it sounds so exciting.

I think that polishing and tinkering is so much more appealing sometimes than striding into new territory. I kid myself I'm just doing it to "warm up" and then find I still haven't got past chapter one...

Cindy Jefferies said...

You've hit quite a nerve here Penny! I'm at the very very beginning of something, and the desire to tinker with the first few paragraphs rather than get stuck in is almost overwhelming. Somehow it feels rather like trying to open a door against a huge heap of gravel! Your idea of buttered toast an honey sounds good. Maybe that will help...

Lynda Waterhouse said...

And I am at that point where I have to go back to the beginning and peform liposuction on all those 'fat' bits and clever sentences I like tinkering with so much at the beginning. Double toast and honey!

Abi Burlingham said...

I loved this post, Penny. I find myself doing exactly the same thing. I know what it is with me - it's avoidance. There are some parts that I know need so much concentration and revision that I stick my head in the sand and do the fun bits that aren't so scary. Eventually, of course, I have to face up to them (but not without chocolate!)

Jaxbee said...

Excuse me for a moment while I just put down my digestive. Ok, thanks Penny, that made me chortle. Yes, I'm a tinkerer as well, even though I love nothing more than those days when your story's appearing on the page as fast as you can type. I do have to stop myself even looking at earlier pages if I'm going to have a chance of going forward. One trick I have is to make a note of the last phrase I've been working on when I finish for the day, then I launch into a search for that phrase when I next start. It means that any pesky little niggles can't reveal themselves as I scroll to my starting point. However, danger lurks when I have to check something in an earlier passage... Great blog, thanks!

Leslie Wilson said...

I print out, can't edit effectively on screen. Too old, probably. But I often back-track to something I've thought of overnight. However, editing, for me, is a process of cutting as much as anything else, and I cut with delight. Love it!
I also find that I do a lot of rewriting at the beginning, but that's stopped bothering me; it's part of 'writing myself into' the novel, the characters, the tone. It doesn't stop me ruthlessly excising pages and paragraphs later on.
However, I find that the more ruthlessly I slim down my text, the more I need a square of chocolate to fuel the proseedcake...

Savita Kalhan said...

Great post, Penny. I print out each chapter and read and hand-edit, then edit on the computer before continuing to the next chapter. When I've got to the end of the book, after gallons of tea and several hundred apples, I re-read the whole thing. I've just got the the end of a WIP and have also just got a kindle, so I downloaded it and read - and, like Keren, found it a very useful tool. It highlighted the double-humped camel, which has now, hopefully, been corrected. Writing, re-writing, cutting and editing is the name of the game I suppose...

Lynne Benton said...

Lovely post, Penny. I know that feeling only too well (not to mention the space on my desk for cup of tea and chocolate!) However, I do occasionally remind myself of something I read somewhere, with regard to writing, which is: First build your house; you can move the furniture about afterwards. A very wise saying, though it's so hard to do when you see something that needs editing, but know you really ought to get on with the rest of the book.
Your post has reminded me that I must ignore the bits that need changing at the start until I've finished the book, then go back and start "moving the furniture".
Thanks for reminding me!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Great Post Penny. I missed it on Monday because I was trying to pin that last chapter down! This time around with my WIP I built my house first as Lynn put it. What a relief to have an entire place to live in instead of the usual 'glorious' front room! Looking forward to furnishing. It's a whole new process this way of working. And took discipline but I'm hoping its paid off.