You might not write well every day,
but you can always edit a bad page.
You can’t edit a blank page.
— Jodi Picoult
It’s almost the end of May already! And I still haven’t gotten very far with this year’s resolution to work more on my novel… But I do have a plan, and it relates to Jodi Picoult‘s quote above. The author of twenty-four novels including the New York Times bestseller Small Great Things and the upcoming A Spark of Light, I’d say she has some great advice.
Since last week was my short post, I decided to ‘work on my craft’ in my extra time by checking out Write Time: Guide to the Creative Process from Vision through Revision – and Beyond, by acclaimed author and writing guru Kenneth Atchity. (It’s the 2014 update to his original 1995 book A Writer’s Time).
I picked up this (digital) book because I finally wanted to dig into this concept of ‘writing in islands’ that he’s credited with creating. I’d never looked into it before because I was certain I’d be able to write my novel from start to finish in linear order. I consider myself a plotter, not a pantser! That’s why I have an outline of book one already, and a plan for books two and three!
But on the other hand… Finding Dragons been stalled for a while now, and my Neeka Story project last year was an interesting departure from my usual writing style, as I came up with something on the fly each week from a writing prompt…
Of course we need dragons too, so I’ll be sharing some lovely artwork by Italian deviantartist LeoDragonsWorks. This first one, of a dragon at a writing desk called Calm Studio, was a “commission for a friend, [of] his Original Character in his studio on a calm day.” I wish I could shut myself up in a room like this and just write sometimes! But honestly, I find I do my best writing out somewhere with lots of background noise.
Getting back to Write Time and writing in islands… According to Mary Carroll Moore, author of her own acclaimed writing book Your Book Starts Here, Atchity’s guidance helped her to write her own memoir in under two months, despite being stuck at the beginning of the process. Moore describes Atchity’s method on her blog this way:
[It’s] the process writing “islands” before forming them into “continents.” Write random islands, he suggested. Let yourself go anywhere. Start with an idea for chapter 5, instead of trying to figure out chapter 1 first. …
[To write my memoir,] I got twelve file folders [one for each chapter] and on the cover of each, brainstormed islands (scenes, ideas, descriptions, events, people) that might be in each. …
I promised myself I could write islands from any chapter (file folder) on any day — I didn’t have to stick with one chapter until it was done. Just accumulate the three hundred pages of islands that would form my manuscript. …
There’s nothing quite so joyous for a book writer as seeing that stack of printed pages on the desk. Yes, [after forty-five days] it was a shitty first draft (as writer Anne Lamott calls our first efforts), but it was a draft. Much more than I had in hand when I began.
I know how many chapters I should end up with, and have plenty of half-formed scenes, ideas, descriptions, events, and people in my head, like stars scattered about when I close my eyes and think about Finding Dragons… So speaking of stars, here’s another piece called Golden Stars Dragon:
Moore’s description was how I had always thought Atchity’s ‘islands’ theory went, but after reading part of the book, he further explains that “the creative mind works through negation, one part of the mind denying another in an ongoing dialogue.” Atchity refers to the “rational mind” as the continent, and the “areas of intuitive consciousness” as the islands, and the two parts will eventually work together to facilitate your best writing.
In one exercise, he counsels the writer to just make a decision on what you’re going to write tomorrow — and then go to bed. In his view, since your rational mind has made a (possibly dumb) decision of what to write with little impulsive creativity involved, suddenly your ‘islands’ will get to work on the ‘problem’ of what you’ve decided.
Then, by your appointed writing time the next day, either the islands will have come up with something better than your original idea (and then you write that instead), or you just write what you originally decided to write — and either way, you’ve written something that day, making progress toward your goal.
This next one is called Shooting Star Sky Hatchling, and this adorable guy was adopted by another deviantartist and then named Felinar, a perfect name for this handsome dragon. I love that artist LeoDragonsWorks includes what the dragonet’s egg looks like too!
So as for Write Time, as one reviewer put it, Atchity’s language and metaphors can “get in the way sometimes,” and I have found the focus on time management rather than writing itself annoying when I intended to read a writing book. But still, I am taking some of his advice to heart and incorporating it into my plan.
Since I’ve been working on Finding Dragons for so long, and I have my outline, and I know my characters, and I’ve explained the important concepts and themes to my husband and to various writing groups many times over the years, I think I have a fairly established ‘continent’ of content looming in my ‘rational mind.’
But now it’s time to forget about linear storytelling and just write some islands — I need to get this story out of my head, and onto the page!
I can’t edit a blank page, and I can’t move this process any further without first creating a shitty first draft.
My page-a-day calendar this year is from Atlas Obscura, and it seems like every other day I’m reading about something amazing that sparks an idea I could use in my story. Horsetail Fall, or Møns Klint, or the Ganvie Lake Village — any of these places could be a setting for a scene! The Festival of Exploding Hammers sounds like something I could work in somewhere! Who knows what’s lurking in my historical/fantasy world?
And after posting so much dragon artwork over the last few years, it’s about time I get to writing not only about the people in my novel, but about the different types of dragons as well! And if I get some details wrong the first time around, I can fix it in the rewrite. Perhaps I’ll discover dragons like this cute Water Dragon somewhere later in the story? Or perhaps I’ll write them in, and then have to write them out later — that would be sad, but it would at least be progress!
Since Atchity (and most other how-to writers) say to keep your goals manageable lest you get burned out with negative reinforcement when you fall short of too-high expectations, I’m planning to write at least two pages on any random scene every other week, as well as craft my short dragon post.
It doesn’t sound like a lot, but if I can keep it up, I’ll have thirteen more scenes and twenty-six more pages written in my book than I’ve managed to write in all of the first five months of this year and most of last year, so I’ll take it.
Another of Atchity’s suggestions is to tell yourself “it’s just two pages.” (He actually suggests you start at “it’s just one sentence,” but also recommends not setting expectations too low, either, so I’m saying ‘half a page each of my four writing days’ and one day for the short post, for now.) Then, as long as you write that little bit, you’re good. But if, once you get started, you find you can continue writing more than that, then by all means, do it! So perhaps I’ll wind up with more than twenty-six pages at the end of the year — here’s hoping!
If you’d like to see more awesome dragon artwork, be sure to check out LeoDragonsWorks‘ gallery, or follow her on Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. I’m sure I’ll be featuring her lovely artwork again soon, since she has lots more dragons as well as animals, Pokemon, and comics to discover.
I’ll let you know next month how this new writing idea pans out! And it turns out that next week is a random bonus week if I want to keep my second week Birthstones / fourth week Writing Thoughts schedule — and it just happens to be my birthday week as well! So you can expect a short post next week, my gift to you all, while I try to write the first island scene, my gift to myself!
Thank you so much for reading, and as always, take care, and stay creative!
Jodi Picoult quote image found on Pintrest
All dragon artwork in this post is by LeoDragonsWorks:
Commission – Calm Studio, ACEO – Adopt a stars Dragon, Shootinhg Star Sky Hatchling, and ACEO Trade – Water Dragon