June 10, 2011

Return of Ask Robin


In honour of the fact that PEG II has not been kicking me in the head for about a week now*, which is to say for a change, I thought I’d revert (briefly) to admitting that I am, in fact, a writer, and not only a hurtler of hellhounds, a multi-piercings veteran of life with roses**, a maker of strange noises that might under careful laboratory conditions be counted (dubiously) as musical, a wrangler of bells*** (various), and a reader of other people’s books.  No, it’s true, I write books.  Sometimes I even answer questions about the process.

            So I thought I’d give you an Ask Robin. 

            The whole rattling-on-about-myself thing is tricky to negotiate even when I’m yacketing about stuff that has only just happened:  how many times can even a daily-blog audience be expected to bear the news that the hellhounds aren’t eating again?  Or that they’re keeping me home suddenly and inconveniently . . . the way they usually (suddenly and inconveniently) keep me home?  But at least by declaring it (almost) a DAILY BLOG it’s both warning and guideline.  Writer stuff is much harder—at least for me.  Writing is about going somewhere else.  The best I can explain it is by saying, read the book I wrote about/from that somewhere else.  That’s the best I can tell you.  Why would I want to tell you the less-best?

            But, because people do keep asking, and keep asking even when I’ve been over this writer-ground before, here are a few of today’s thoughts about some of the standard writer-type questions from someone who clearly has too much time on her hands.

What do you consider your writing strengths?  Weaknesses?

If I stopped to think in those terms I’d cripple myself.  I’m one of your less secure and self-valuing writers, you know?  The stuff that’s good is good because Story took me over more rather than less.  The stuff that isn’t good isn’t good either because Story had an absent-minded moment and loosened its grip or because it hit one of the places in the McKinley Channelling System so squashy that it fell over, like a Lamborghini hitting the Honey Island Swamp. 

Have you ever written a scene and thought, “By gods, this is utter crap!”?  What do you do then? (ie, tear it out, crumple it into a ball . . . only to rescue it hours later and smooth it out, reread it, and think, “Well, it’s not THAT bad.” …..)

I try to stay out of it as much as possible.  I write whatever it is I am given to write the best I can and keep going.  If I stop for value judgements . . . see previous answer.  Keep going, keep going, keep going!  When I hit a spot I know is swampy on the next draft I try to pay as little attention as possible to the dreck on the page, and as much attention as possible to the STORY which will tell me what I need to do if I can only hear it clearly enough.  This is also why I am a nightmare to edit.  Stop confusing me!  I’m trying to listen to the Story! 

How often do you edit your own work in progress?  Do you start from a basic outline and go from there, or just have a general idea of a plot, plop it down onto paper, and then let it take shape?  When do you reread your own stuff… in the middle, when it’s ready to go to the editor, or constantly?

I mostly slog through it draft by draft from the beginning to the end and then over again till I can feel it coming together . . . in spite of me.  See previous answers.  I cannot afford to get bogged down in my own shortcomings.  It’s not about me, it’s about THE STORY.  My responsibility is wholly and totally to THE STORY.  Wasting time calling myself names is just . . . wasting time.  And I know my own tendency to think that I am The Worst Person Who Ever Did X.  I am the worst bell ringer in the history of bell ringing!  I am about to become the worst choir member the Muddlehamptons have ever imagined!  And I am DEFINITELY the worst knitter who ever lived!!!  My great gift is, I finally realised, embarrassingly not all that long ago, obstinacy.  I’ve talked about this before.  Obstinacy keeps you going.  Nurture it.  Appreciate it.  Granted I may need it more than some.  But when my head is full of voices shrieking invective, I turn my metaphorical coat collar up against the really nasty weather, and trudge on.

Where do you keep your notes (if you have any)?

When I still wrote first drafts on yellow legal pads I used to write in the margins.  I now mostly write notes when I think of them in the body of the manuscript on the computer screen—in another colour.  Usually pink, if you’re asking.  Ahem.  If they have to do with what is going on right now, in that scene, I just write them and keep going.  If they are about some other part of the story I’ll leave blank spaces on either side of the (pink) note.  What I do not do is try to find where they do go.  I’ll pick that up on the next draft. 

What does your writing space (if you have one) look like?

I’m a nest-builder.  I dare say I was born like this, but it was definitely aggravated by being a military brat and moving on every year or two when I was a kid.  The perhaps somewhat peculiar result of this is that while I always have an official writing space I’m conscious that I can write anywhere.  At present while my licensed (not to say authoritative) office is at the cottage, and it’s full of favourite books and journals and pictures and bristling bulletin boards and little noodgy things and bits of paper with quotations on them taped to what wall space is left (not very much) . . . I can and do write anywhere.  It’s all about Story, you know?  The rest is just vanity—or part of my life as a human being rather than a channeller of Story.  Because of the weird business of Peter and me living in different houses, at the moment I do a lot of my writing on Peter’s kitchen table.  I almost always write the blog here.  I’m here/there now.  Finishing a glass of (fake) champagne, and preparing to go back to the cottage for a nice hot bath and the reading of someone else’s book.   

* * *

* Although I’m not necessarily enjoying the tenor of its blandishments either, but that’s another blog for another day.

** It’s like this if you’re going to cohabit with alien species.  There are inevitably scars.  Now ask me about bats.

*** Indeed tonight’s expansive attitude is also in honour of the fact that in the absence of the treacherous Niall^ I was in charge of bell practise tonight^^, and no lives were lost.  There were maybe a few nicks in some auras, mainly mine, but hey.  Peter made mayonnaise to comfort me.  Life is good.^^^ 

^ Ringing masters aren’t allowed to go on holidays.  Didn’t he read the by-laws? 


^^^ Especially because I am getting out of the next tower reps’ meeting.  Tower secretaries are automatically tower representatives too, unless they tell off some other poor flunkey to do it.  That would be me at New Arcadia.  I went last winter, I had thought I’d put myself on the email list for future meetings, and assumed (grimly) that I was now permanently for it.  I knew there was supposed to be another meeting around here some time soon so I finally asked the district secretary.  No, he said, Vicky is still tower rep of record, and I understand that Roger is her representative.  —I blinked once or twice because Vicky is usually the rather terrifying model of organisation, and it was funny she hadn’t said anything to me.  But she’s had one or two other traumas going on recently so I guessed this had just slipped into the shadows.  No big.  But tonight at practise I was puzzled by the note on the board in Vicky’s handwriting asking if I was going to the meeting.  So when Vicky looked in briefly on her way from trauma one to trauma two, I said, Aglovale says that Roger is going to the tower reps’ meeting for you?

            He is? said Vicky, looking nonplussed.

            Roger, pulling on a bell rope at the time, faltered, and said, I’m what?

            Going to the tower reps’ meeting, I said, helpfully.

            I am? said Roger.

            You are, I said.  The district secretary says so. 

             Mwa ha ha ha ha ha.


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