Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Write It Baby!

I have never suffered from Writer's Block...I'm sure some people wish I would. The opposite actually; I always overwrite and give in the urge to diverge. That's why I was looking forward to a sharpening day-long novel writing class on Saturday at an old Spanish home draped with vines - lunch and wine included (see I didn't need to include any of those four last things...)

The teacher  Ellen Sussman, is a New York Times bestselling author, not someone I've read, but I found her fun, fabulous and efficient with her advice.

The other 11 students had written a novel or were well on the way...their novels ranged from memoirs of sad childhoods, baseball adventures and a varied sexual life in San Francisco including group sex (which I didn't know they had anymore). I long ago realised I will never write a novel - I can describe the character but I can't get him across the street - but I thought this would help my journalism.

Ellen Sussman's living room

One of my challenges during the day was to stop myself blurting. After 10 years of being a stay-at-home-Mum I have the attention span and impulse control of a knat. One woman described a scene where the main character throws wine at another woman. I wanted to blurt: "But that's a famous Real Housewives scene! It's even been parodied by Tina Fey in 30 Rock! Don't include that!"

This is what I got from the class:

  • Be cocky. Why on earth would anyone want to read what you write? says the devil on your shoulder. Don't listen. (How often have I finished a blog post and wanted to push the delete button?)
  • Start each chapter in the middle, then hurry out quickly at the end.
  • Never begin a novel with a person waking up or landing in a plane. (See my last post which started with me waking up.)
  • Be wary of flashbacks - make sure they're essential.
  • Be prepared to kill your darlings - brutal editing is everything. (See my last post which should have been solely on Kate Moss, but I added in my new sweater and that our puppy Teddy has a girlfriend, which I later edited out.  Truthfully, I thought the Teddy romance was the most interesting part of it.)
  • Go big or go home.  Publishers have no appetite these days for "quiet novels."  You have to be dramatic.  Is Teddy's romance dramatic enough do you feel?

A different kind of Writers' Block for me: an early morning start and an hour and half drive to get to the class followed by sitting for a long time... by lunchtime my stomach had swelled to six month's pregnancy size. Lunch was quiche and the combination of eggs, cream and pastry served to extend my stomach further with stabbing pains. (I knew this would happen - the quiche just looked so good.)

Essential flashback - traveling in Europe (white bread is the ultimate evil) all my Kiwi friends found the only way to relieve oneself of Block, the non-artistic kind, is to make a long-distance call home. So once I got home from the writing class it was: "Hello Mum?"

Don't worry....I'll hurry out quickly before the end. Have you ever thought about writing a novel?


  1. Too fun! I will be reviewing a book about a gallery owner and writer soon!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Giveaway from Scalamandre!

  2. That sounds like a really interesting class. I also am constantly editing myself on my blog, or I tend to drift and ramble and go with tangents.
    I have thought about writing a novel, but not really seriously.

  3. This is great Jody and I'm so similar to you.. actually I think I'm a little ADDHD. I have a hard to focusing because my mind runs on high. Being a mom makes you a little nutty because we {not intentionally} become kinda like our kids {no filters and just blurting things out}, coupled with never being allowed to complete a task. When my kids were little, my husband came home and said .. why does the vaccuum always have to be out.. I said .. because I never finish what I'm doing, so there it sits! Good for you for taking the class and I like summation of what you got out of it.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


    1. Leslie, I hear you - bright shiny objects...oooh let me look! Now what was I saying?Just tripped over the dog's "other" girlfriend.

  4. Sounds like a fun class! I try to avoid eating white bread for the same reasons!! Have a lovely Thanksgiving:)

  5. Of course.....everybody has haven't they? and one day I will........there you go, that was me being positive (unreal but positive). You are already part way there Jody via your journalism and great blog writing...chin up and keep going.
    ps as for that sort of block? me?....never (too much info? sorry).

  6. Sounds an interesting class. Mind you, blogs are for rambling, I say. If you can't ramble on your own blog then where can you ramble? Journalism is different of course.

    I have actually written a novel. Never tried to get it published though. Not sure I'll ever try either. It's half way through its fifth edit and likely to stay that way. :)

  7. Yes... I think about it a lot. I have ideas. Mostly I'm too scared to try.

  8. I can't imagine myself writing a novel - I certainly don't feel the urge to get a story out there. But I do like writing and I suppose that's why I love my blog. If I were to create a book it would be a collection of my travel stories - Mum's gone to Iceland and other adventures??

    I agree with Sarah, a blog post can wander off wherever it chooses and that's the fun of it. Your previous post about Kate Moss wouldn't have been the same without a bit of Teddy-humping!

  9. So that's my problem! I've only once thought I'd write a novel, it started with the character waking up. You couldn't get your character across the street I couldn't get my character out of bed.

    Don't listen to them, I want to know about Teddy's girlfriend.

  10. I've started to write a novel, then thought who the Hell in their right mind would want to read this crap? I have a hard enough time making the time to blog. I have no stamina whatsoever. But tell me more about the adorable Teddy's budding romance! My pup is still secretly humping his favourite toys.

  11. This sounds like a lot of fun!! I hope you continue to enjoy it. I sometimes get writer's block, I usually just go to a museum or read a book and then in the middle of the night stuff flies in my head and I have to get up and write it all down :) I've never really wanted to write a novel...no idea what I'd write about, though I'm sure I could come up with something. I did create my own Super Hero, a women one, she's quite awesome. I'd like it turned into a movie :)))) That would be cool or comics :)) Hope you have a sweet day xx

  12. I tried writing a novel ... like you, I could describe the characters no problem. However, when it came to making them do something, it turned into utter drivel. Rubbish writing! Anyhow - you stick to what you're good (actually brilliant) at. When I see a new post from you, I make myself a cup of tea and settle down with great satisfaction knowing that I'll be laughing in a few mins. Love your blog. Helen

    1. Helen you just made my day! (with the din of Elf the movie playing for the tenth time this week, - the kids are home for Thanksgiving - and all the grocery shopping to do)

  13. Great post, I think the class would have been right up my alley. My friends say I should write a novel, but most of what I've written (blog posts and otherwise) are a mish-mash of different things. It's hard for me to focus on just one topic. I think I would be over-descriptive when describing anything. My novel would definitely require multiple, multiple edits!

    1. Ellen gave some great advice as there were some there who said they'd spent nearly 10 years honing their first chapter. She said just write it without any descriptions or worrying about the language at all and just get to the end. Just get it down. Then go back and start the finessing. Descriptions should be on the final final draft.

  14. i'm constantly urged to write my autobiography/family story....best written as a screenplay.....i think it's more of a horror story, and not that interesting....but others seem to think it's fascinating.

  15. Katie - Thankgiving will be a great scene for that - or you could do one day as a whole play. Need to hear more about your fam!

  16. Jody, love it that you went for a writer's day. Sounds like you could write a full blog post/first chapter about the attendees. I live writing but I reckon I'd be shit at writing a novel. And group sex in San Fransisco.

  17. Sounds like you're having a darned interesting time. Way to go!

    Nothing novel here. Something very traditional: hibernation (the winter wont of Bears).

    Blessings and Bear hugs til spring.

  18. I'd probably be better at writing a text book!

  19. You're so witty that you make the most mundane things interesting and funny. I would most likely bore everyone including myself if I ever attempt to write a novel. So I think it's best to save the torture for someone I truly dislike.

  20. I wrote a book once. It was total shite and unsurprisingly never got published. Yours would be much better!

  21. fabulous top tips....... just what I needed!!

  22. How fun! I love writing about mundane events and my thoughts on this and that, but I do not have characters or stories swirling in my head. Wish I did. I enjoy writing, but lack the creative gene!

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