Writing inspirations – the 1930s as we would wish them to be

Today’s writing inspiration is another of my art deco pictures – a style of which I am a huge fan.

A photo I took in 2014, not 1930 despite the appearences...

A photo I took in 2014, not 1935 despite the appearances…

I took this during the 2014 Art Deco weekend in Napier, New Zealand – a celebration not just of the styles of a bygone age, but of the magic of the day; of the 1930s not as they were, but as we would wish them to be. An inspiring thought.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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Writing inspirations – Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney

Today’s writing inspiration is a photo I took of the Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney.

Hyde Park barracks, Sydney - now a museum and a World Heritage site.

Hyde Park barracks, Sydney – now a museum and a World Heritage site.

These barracks were designed by convict architect Francis Greenaway in 1818-19, originally as a place to house convicts. Since then they have also been a receiving depot for immigrants, an asylum, and law courts. And by imagining the lives of the people who used this building over nearly two centuries, we can be inspired with ideas and new thoughts.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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Essential writing skills: how ‘pantsing’ can lead you adrift. Beware.

I posted a while back on the way to approach novel-writing as a blend of both planning and seat-of-the-pants free-flow.  You plan the skeleton of the story ahead of time, then ‘pants’ your way through the details.

Yes, this IS my typewriter. What's it doing on the Wellington Writers Walk? Er - introductions...

Yes, this IS my typewriter. What’s it doing on the Wellington Writers Walk? Er – introductions…

The trick throughout is to stick to that plan. Or, if it does seem to be failing on the back of too many new and good ideas, the trick is to recognise WHEN it’s in trouble, stop, and re-cast it accordingly. If you don’t, you lose the benefit of the plan and end up with your pantsing in a tangle.

OK, that was an awful image, but you get what I mean.

I can’t stress that point enough. If you ‘pants’ your way off into the creative blue yonder, I guarantee you’ll end up writing your characters into a position where they have to do something uncharacteristic – or where something unlikely happens. For instance, they’re on one side of the continent but the volcano into which they have to drop the magic dingus is on the other, and they have only five minutes to get there. Or you get to the point where they have to do something that the internal consistency of the setting prevents.

There’s no faster way to break the suspension of disbelief than to have to create a sudden deus ex machina to get your characters out of that sort of tangle.

The best way to avoid this sort of problem is not to get into it in the first place, because it WILL involve re-writing. Danger signs include too much time pantsing and not enough checking back against the structure and characters. But if you do end up tangled – what then?

There is, alas, only one answer. Re-writing the first draft. The only question is the scale of the re-work. If you find yourself, for instance, having to introduce an unlikely device to get your characters out of trouble, you may be able to get around it by re-working a much earlier part of the story where the device is first introduced. That way it becomes part of the plot and doesn’t look like an add-on.

But quite often the only actual answer is to scrap significant tracts of the material and start again. Which is fine – all writing is good writing, to the extent that everything adds to experience. But if you’re up against a deadline, either for a publisher or to meet the word-count of NaNoWriMo, having to re-write risks disaster. And if you’re writing to earn an income, time is money – meaning that the re-write time, effectively, reduces your rate of return.

That’s why it’s better not to go adrift in the first place, and keep an eye on that plan while you’re ‘pantsing’.

Copyright ©Matthew Wright 2014

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Essential writing skills: plugging on, even when it’s boring

One of the biggest challenges in writing is producing even when the well’s apparently run dry. As anybody who’s worked in a newsroom will attest, deadlines don’t wait for the muse.

Wright_Typewriter2That’s true of book writing too. Some authors perhaps enjoy the sounds of deadlines whistling past, but that’s not likely to please publishers.

Publishing is a business, you see – a serious one, with low profit margins. Production is dovetailed, and if a book misses its slot, that’s actually significant.

This is where contests like National November Novel Writing Month come in – apart from a challenge to write to length, they’re also a challenge to write to time. On average, 1667 words a day – though, in reality, some days would doubtless be more productive, others less. Remembering always that word count is a tool, not a target.

So how do you keep going when the muse has left you and gone to Mars? How about trying one or more of these?

  1. Sit down with your story plan – er, you DID plan it, didn’t you? – and look through what you’ve done, then what you have to do. Find another part of the story, yet to be written; write that and then back-fill.
  2. Re-read what you’ve written so far. Even revise it. Does this inspire enthusiasm? Some authors – and I think Roald Dahl was one of them – do this routinely as a way to get their mind back into the track of their work.
  3. Brute force also works. Sit down, start writing a sentence. Then another. Then another. Yes, it’ll likely be dull plod prose, but that’s what word processors are for.
  4. Do something even more boring, like cleaning up the kitchen or vacuuming. Don’t think about what you’re writing. Not for too long – maybe 15-20 minutes. Let’s say just long enough to earn domestic brownie points. Then get back to the writing.
  5. Run a contest with yourself – can I write the next sentence? How quickly?

The fact is that writing’s hard work. But even the dull patches can also be made fun, if you let it.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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Essential writing skills: the importance of styling

I’ve always argued that to write quickly and well means getting the fundamentals right first – the structure – and worrying about the style later. It’s a technique that’s really only come into its own with the advent of word processors – though, and without any sense of paradox, I also believe it’s important to at least plan using pen and paper, because of the way that different thought processes emerge.

Wright_Typewriter2Once you’ve got that draft, of course, the issue is that styling – and, in its own way, that’s as critical a part of the whole process as the structure. So what do I mean by styling? This is the front end of the writing; the way in which an author adds meaning, nuance and their characteristic ‘voice’. It can change the way the work is received – can drive readers off, or pull them in, depending on how it’s handled. It is, in short, a very powerful tool.

Styling involves getting the right words, the right phrasing, the right vocabulary and the right tone to the sentences. The word ‘right’, in this sense, is relative; it’s a value judgement. Different authors have different preferences – and so they should. If we all styled the same way, life would be boring. That said, a consistent style is often used by commercial magazines as a part of their branding. Take Time or National Geographic, for instance, where different contributions are re-styled in editorial to be consistent with the corporate ‘brand’.

In these and other magazines – including some I’ve written for – the author’s contribution is re-worked to meet a style without changing the meaning or content. And that principle also applies to your own novel – where the end point isn’t necessarily a ‘corporate’ style, but where you are trying to get it into a consistent shape that reflects your desired ‘voice’.

Some writers look on it as ‘re-writing’, but it isn’t – using the approach I recommend, it’s integral to the process. The time and effort required to get the styling right is often at least equal to the time and effort required to develop the structure and prepare an initial draft. The art of styling is also the art of preservation – keeping tight to the structure and themes you’d originally worked into the book.

If the book has been structured correctly – in the case of a novel, around the character arc with the narrative events and setting acting as backdrop – there should be no problems with extraneous scenes or extra characters, or padding, or any of the other irrelevancies that detract from the function of the character arc as the key device for capturing and holding readers.

Sometimes, of course, issues crop up structurally along the way as you review the work – meaning some re-work. But ideally, not too much.

So how does ‘styling’ work in the specific? More soon.

Copyright ©Matthew Wright 2014

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Writing inspirations – a city street seller in Sydney

Today’s writing inspiration – for NaNoWriMo entrants and for writers of all persuasions – is a photo I took of a fruiterer in Sydney.

Fruit stand at the seaward end of Hyde Park, Sydney.

Fruit stand at the seaward end of Hyde Park, Sydney.

You can find these stands all over the city – places to buy fresh fruit and a raft of other things. The proprietor is chatting with a customer. What stories do they hear, I wonder? What do they see of city life? Do they see its underside? Its business? All of it? Pause to think – to wonder – to be inspired.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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Writing inspirations – another golden age Deco moment

Today’s writing inspiration – for NaNoWriMo entrants and for writers of all persuasions – is another photo I took in Napier, New Zealand. The city was rebuilt in ‘art deco’ styles after a devastating 1931 earthquake. This is the ‘Dome’, formerly the ‘T&G’ building, of 1936.

Close-up of the former T&G Building (1936).

Close-up of the former T&G Building (1936).

Wellington architects Adkin and Mitchell produced something that harked forward to streamline themes – with those implicit undertones of the refined lifestyles and golden age Hollywood world of 1930s deco. Something to ponder; something to inspire.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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