Thursday, January 28, 2010

Art. Science. Craft.

Two issues I'm having today (yes, only two. It's a good day!) :
1. Sometimes my story seems so vast I have trouble steering though the excess to find the core. The true grit. The bits that move the plot forward.
2. Can you learn how to write a novel from a book about how to write a novel? Or should you relegate thoughts of how-to books to the desperado rubbish heap and just go with your gut?
I'd never bought a book on how to write a novel., today. But it had a lovely cover and the blurb spoke to me*. Not in an epiphanous [ethereal breathy voice] "if you build it, they will come" kind of way. More like a gentle nudge from a old friend saying "glad you found me, let's sit down and have a cuppa".
In her book Bird by Bird, some instructions on writing and life, Anne Lamott remembers being 10 years old and watching her brother struggle to write a school report on birds. He'd had three months to do it, had written nothing, it was due the next day. Their father, seeing the boy frozen by the enormity of the task ahead, sat down beside him, put his arm around his shoulder and said 'bird by bird, buddy. Take it bird by bird'.
I like it. 
To break down my vast ideas into bite size pieces, I'm trying an exercise Lamott calls writing what you can see through a one inch picture frame. Choose one single piece of your story and write about all that you can see of it through a one inch frame. 
"One small scene, one memory, one exchange... This is all we're going to do for now. Just take it bird by bird."
At the same time I'm navigating my course via my gut instinct. 
What's the best writing advice you've come across?

*The bird theme first piqued my interest. The synchronicity of discovering the author and I share a birthday (albeit a few decades apart) came later.

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