Saturday, September 23, 2006


The prompt for Sunday Scribblings this week is "Instructions," so I decided to give MYSELF the how-to reminder I most need right now:


1. Daydream. A lot. (required)

2. Get a notebook that’s just right, with good paper that won’t curl and that you can’t see the ink through, but that isn’t so precious you’ll be afraid to “mess it up.” This is for ideas.

3. Think up stories until you’ve got an idea you love, that sets your mind on fire with possibilities.

4. Take that idea and cross-examine the crap out of it. In your notebook, ask it EVERYTHING. WHY and WHO and HOW and WHEN and REALLY, ARE YOU SURE? And again HOW and WHY and HOW and WHY. Think and think and think. Think way past the borders of your idea, so that the world you dream up is like a big huge trampoline you won’t fall off the edge of if you jump too high.

5. Do some research on things that come up in your brainstorming. You’ll find out marvelous marvelous things that will make your story richer, and that can give you a missing puzzle piece that pulls everything together.

6. Write.
7. Write.
8. Write.

9. Learn what you need as a writer and develop your own rhythm and routine. Routine is good. Like a just-right notebook, find a just-right place to write. A haven.

10. Write.
11. Write.
12. Write.

13. When you get to a place where the story halts like a stubborn mule and just won’t go anywhere, resort to daydreaming mode. But not some wishy-washy namby-pamby brainstorming: ferocious, knife-strapped-to-your-thigh brainstorming! List every possible damn thing that might happen, even if it means carrying that mule over your shoulder back several scenes and taking a different turn in the labyrinth. Open your mind. Write down everything, even if it seems stupid, and keep thinking, keep asking yourself questions. Sometimes drastic measures are called for, like erasing a character who isn’t really pulling his weight, and replacing him with somebody who will give your mule just the kick in the ass it needs. Don’t be timid.

14. Keep writing until you’ve got a first draft, then celebrate your deep genius and tell everyone you’ve written a book! Gloat!

15. Wait a while. A few weeks, perhaps. Then read your draft as if it was something you’d picked up at the bookstore. Figure out what you love and what you don’t. Be absolutely honest with yourself about the boring parts, and about the parts where the author is clearly forcing the characters to do things, where motivations don’t ring true, where it rambles. Think how to fix it.

16. Rewrite.
17. Rewrite.
18. Rewrite.

19. Gloat even more with the completion of the second draft. Get people to read it and give your compliments and pour champagne over your head.

20. Repeat steps 15 - 18, as many times as needed.

Yes, I know it’s steps 6 - 8 and 10 - 12 that are the hard part, but the thing is, there’s really nothing else for it but to just do it, even if it’s hard and even if you’re sure it’s horrible as you’re doing it. This is a place where reading how-to books can’t really help you, so don’t take a break from steps 6 - 8 and 10 - 12 to read Bird by Bird AGAIN and drink wine. It’s like with weight loss: whatever advertising might tell you to get you to buy a product, there’s really only one thing that works -- healthy eating and exercise. With writing a book it’s -- sitting down and writing. Keep in mind that people all over the world have been managing to do it for ages. People do it every day, and there’s no reason why you can’t, too!

(Update -- you must read these instructions for writing a novel -- HILARIOUS!)


Alexandra S said...

Again, this is another to submit to a writing magazine. Wonderful!

message from the muse said...

I always revel a bit when it comes to your writing. You could probably have a go at tax law writing and get me to take a peek. Can't wait to read your novel. And yes, whether or not you need my permission, it's time to gloat.

anahata katkin said...

Hmmmm...Sounds totally delicious. I am not much of a writer. But this process sounds fun and you've inspired me to at least write down my creative ideas in a way that might actually ake sense to another person. I love your post today. Gracias.

paris parfait said...

Excellent advice, poetically presented - including encouragement for those still writing that book! What's not to like??!!

Patry Francis said...

The best advice ever--especially #s 16-18.

b/sistersshoes said...

I loved this!!!

And...just what I needed to hear today, right now, this very moment!

Thank YOU :)

lovin U,

Anonymous said...

I needed this more than words can say, in fact, I was sending you messages from the ether so that you would write exactly this.

Thank you.


Kim G. said...

I agree with Alexandra - send this one in so more people can be inspired!

(I'm hanging my head as I've thought often of our conversation about just "getting to the writing" on the night we met and I haven't put more than just a few lines in my journal. I think I might need to find that character of your that is an expert in ass-kicking and invite him/her to dinner!)

Verity said...

Oh man, intense and true!Thanks for the reminder, I needed it too!

Autrice DelDrago said...

Steps 15-18... yep, repeat as needed, until it is just right!

swampgrrl said...


January said...

Have you thought about NaNoWriMo? You can do all the same steps compressed into one month's time.

Cool take on the prompt.

Left-handed Trees... said...

I always get a lot out of reading about another writer's process and this was no exception! Thanks for these beautiful insights--though, some of us get a little too hung up on 16-18--#21 might have to be know when enough is enough and don't re-write the baby to death b/c you're too afraid of the next steps. (of course, this could just be me!)

Michelle said...

This is advice I will certainly take to heart! I admire those who have actually done it while my own novel languishes. Could there be a connection between the extra pounds and the uncompleted YA novel? Hmm.

TI said...

Great post, especially #13.

kelly rae said...

You, myfriend, could write a Bird by Bird.
i always love how you share information and encourage everybody to just go for it.

Amber said...

I am going to PRINT THIS OUT. You should send this off somewhere. Why not?! I think many would be writers would enjoy it.


dorinny said...

Awe, this makes me want to write again. I started writing a novel when I was just 15 and after 2 years it still wasn't finished.. anyway, that's in the past, but this really made me feel a flutter of inspiration.. thanks!

tinker said...

Words of wisdom from someone who's been there, done that. That's EXACTLY what I need right now. Thank you!!!

deirdre said...

This is good. Good advice from someone who knows and isn't afraid to say. I like it.

Susannah said...

I love this!!

and sending kisses to your canine-baby xx

Bethany said...

Ahhh, the glamorous life of a writer!

HoBess said...

I'll be revisiting these posts ... often! Thanks.

la vie en rose said...

i love it!

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