Monday, December 3, 2007

Breaking Our Own Myths

Maven Carrie RyanA while back, I wrote about the myths we create about how we write. I just can't remember where to link to it :) Those of you who have read my blog before will get used to the fact that I'm sometimes repetitious either because the same thoughts are on my mind and I feel like expelling them or just because I can't remember that I've already blogged about this topic. Either way, this is what's on my mind so I'm going to blog about it again :)

What I mean by myths are things like "I can't write without X," and X being ANYTHING. Like plotting, purple post-its, music, quiet, hot tea, a computer, etc etc etc. Go ahead, think about it and fill in the following blank: I can't write without _____________.

For me it would be "I can't write without *the* first line." I don't mean any first line, I don't mean a first line that's okay, I mean *the* first line. It's like a shot at the beginning of a race: the first line enters my head and I'm outta here. Here are some of my former first lines:

From Pledged to a Stranger, my first completed romance novel:
"I won't do it, mother."

From Game, Set, Match (hate that title), my second completed-ish romance novel:
"It all began when Katie dropped William Peterson's liver on the white-tiled floor. 'Oh, damn,' she said against her surgeon's mask as she glared at her male assistant, Rodney, who was making no effort to quell his laughter."

From Dead Bodies and Debutantes, my incomplete chick lit YA:
"Truth be told, I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be."

From The Forest of Hands and Teeth, "My mother used to tell me about the ocean. She said there was a place where there was nothing but water as far as you could see and that it was always moving, rushing towards you and then away."

What's funny is that the only one of those books I didn't ever finish (mostly) is Dead Bodies, and that's the only book where I changed the first line (I lopped off a few chapters). Coincidence? I can remember when each of those first lines entered my head. I remember the rush, the "this is it!" feeling I had, and how the words just tumbled out after this first line.

There's a part of me that loves this little foible of mine. But there's another part of me that thinks it's stupid, useless, unhelpful, and a myth that should be broken. Here I am, wrapping up edits for The Forest of Hands and Teeth and about to start on Untitled Book 2. I have the world, I have the characters, I have some idea of the thrust. But I don't have the first line. And I'm letting that stop me from writing.

And really, do we writers need another thing to keep up from writing? I think it is *so* easy to convince ourselves that there are certain things we need when we write. That we can only write in cafes or at night, etc. I think some of these things are grounded in reality (maybe you need to go to a cafe to get away from the kids, maybe you need silence because otherwise you can't hear the characters in your head). But sometimes we allow these things to become excuses. It becomes too easy to say "I need at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time if I'm going to write and since I only have 20, I won't spend that time writing," or "I have to warm up with my book's music playlist to get in the mood and since I don't have the songs on this computer, I can't write."

I know that I HATE writing by hand because I can't keep up with the words in my head. But then I remember when I was writing Game, Set, Match and how at night, when I was falling asleep I'd have these epiphanies and I'd scribble them down on pieces of paper. Maybe hand writing is not my preferred method, but I can still do it.

So I challenge all of us to break our myths, if only to prove that we can. To try writing that first scene even if the perfect first line hasn't arrived. To hand write or write with music or in a cafe or without that perfect name for our characters. I'm not saying we have to change forever, but just step outside our own comfort zone once in a while. Because as soon as we allow those myths to take charge, we start losing control of our own freedom to write. And eventually one of us is going to end up like a pro football player wearing the same unwashed mis-matched socks every time she writes because they bring her luck.

We make our own luck! So this week I'm on vacation in Belize and promise to write some on Untitled Book 2 even though I don't have the first line. And just in case that first line magically appears, then I'll write by hand a bit just so that I remember how! Happy writing everyone!


Erica Ridley said...

Oh, man, this is so me! Not the part about being in Belize all week. (I wish that was me. *g) The part about having all these myths about what I need to write.

I need a good night's sleep, a few hours of uninterrupted time, my work/email caught up, no to-do list stressors breathing down my neck, my computer, an internet connection, a full stomach, a cup of coffee...

Hmmm. I'm beginning to see the point.

I'm super-impressed with Maven Darcy who, unlike me, does not put such constraints on herself and managed to write an entire novel in 5 minute snatches between kids and everything else, with her laptop on her kitchen island. Amazing!!!

Celeste said...

This is a great post :) I feel like the longer I write, the more of these little rules I seem to make. And you're absolutely right - I do feel boxed in by them. Like today. My kids are home, and I do prefer quiet when I write. But strangely enough, I wrote my first two books with my kids crying, fighting, asking for snacks and dry diapers and potty trips. It certainly wasn't quiet, and I DID manage to get the books finished!

I like having the perfect first line, too, though ;)

Have fun vacationing!

feywriter said...

I tell myself that I can't write in the morning because my brain isn't functioning up to par, I'm too tired, etc, but those rare mornings when I wake up with an idea I end up writing before I even eat breakfast. So I know it can be done. Great reminder. I'm going to make a list of my own writing myths so I can begin to challenge them.

Bill Clark said...

We make our own luck!

I agree. One of Sir Philip Sidney's sonnets portrays him dithering and unable to get started; the last line is:

Fool! said my muse to me - look in thy heart and write.

I've always found that to be helpful advice.

It also helps to really enjoy writing. I think I've compared it to breathing and even sex in these pages; it's something that should come as naturally as the leaves to the tree, or it had better not come at all, to paraphrase Keats.

Somehow Samuel Johnson managed to compile his prodigious Dictionary despite everything else that was going on in his life. He could have made a thousand excuses to let it lapse by the wayside. But no, he just did it. (Just like in the Nike ads.) :-)

Anyhow, those are some of the thoughts in the great mudpuddle of my mind that were stirred to the surface by your blog. Thanks, Carrie!

Vicki said...

Vicki, raising her hand as one who can't write in the morning. Or at least I thought I could not. This past weekend I learned quite a bit about I can do.

My goal was to write 'The End' this week. I wrote all day and way into the night Saturday. On Sunday I had a cup of coffee and started in at 7:00 AM. Now, I am a morning person but when it comes to writing.

I also took my pad and pen with me outside when I needed a break from the computer. There I would write long hand and then type it in when I came back in.

Yep, I finished yesterday around 4:00. The amount of words I wrote this weekend is crazy but I did it.

What I learned is I can change my writing up to meet the conditions that are happening in my life. :)

lacey kaye said...

Soooooo true! I'm one of those people who wants a large block of time. I also want to not be hungry, not be tired, and have all my other to dos done. Which is completely unreasonable, since I make them up as I go along half the time.

I might have to post about this, too...

Jackie Barbosa said...

Great post, Carrie.

I have to admit to having the same "issue" with first lines. I didn't used to--there was a time when I could just write my way into a scene and not worry about the perfect, hooky first line or paragraph. No longer, alas.

OTOH, having kids around while you're writing tends to explode a lot of your myths about needing the perfect conditions to write. I've written plenty a love scene between many less-than-ideal parenting moments.

Darcy Burke said...

Wow. This is me too. In the interest of full disclosure, I should clarify that I didn't write all of Glorious in five minute snippets, but a decent portion and pretty much the entire first third. I've been proud of that for a long time and you want to know a dirty little secret? I'm not sure I can do it anymore. The reason? Not precisely sure, but I've suspicion I'm perpetrating a nasty myth...

Darn you Carrie for your brilliance and for being in Belize while we've had record wind and rain!!! Great post.

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