Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Trick for Entering The Writing Zone


For me, the hardest part of writing has never been coming up with ideas or following story structure. The hardest part for me is taking the scene that’s playing itself out in my head and putting it down on paper in a way that makes a reader want to keep reading. My descriptions are flat, my pacing poor, my dialogue too “on-the-nose,” etc, etc. Basically I struggle with making the reader feel as though they’re experiencing the story instead of just reading about it. No matter how many books on craft I read, no matter how many words I've written, I often feel like a color blind person attempting to paint with colors. I just don’t have a good feel for the words.

One of the tricks I’ve developed to help me overcome this deficiency is to read books by other authors. Granted, all writers should read as much as they can, but my trick is to read a chapter or two from someone else’s book just before I sit down to work on mine. I don’t know if this is a left-brain/right-brain kind of thing, but after reading someone’s else’s words, I seem to develop more of an intuitive feel for the way words should work, and if I jump right into editing one of my chapters, I find my scenes flow much better. At least until the effect wears off. :(

Although this trick works with any well written book, I’ve found some books resonate so well with me that I can go back to them again and again. As a result, I’ve built up a stable of books I often turn to before every editing session. The trick is to find a scene or chapter that most closely mimics the scene or chapter I’m writing at the moment. Whenever I’m working on my Hogwarts story, for example, I naturally grab one of the Harry Potter books and read a chapter or two before I open my manuscript. For my urban fantasy, I pull out Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law, or The Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson (a.k.a. David Coe), since the style and tone of those books are similar to the style and tone I want for my story.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to copy their words or imitate their style. But when I read their words, my mind enters a kind of zone, a mental state that I find quite useful when I'm writing my stories. You’ll never confuse my wordsmithing skills with those of Sanderson, but my stories are definitely better when I use this trick.

Question of the Day: Do you have a favorite author whose books you read over and over again in order to improve your writing?

ChemistKen

18 comments:

  1. I get what you mean. A lot of times when I'm reading something I'll find myself drifting off to think about my own writing. And I do find that reading a particular genre will make me want to work on my own piece from the same genre. What I really need to do is to then put down the book and actually start writing!

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    1. I know what you mean, Sarah. It's easier to just keep reading rather than getting up to do your own writing. But sometimes, I'm so inspired by what I read my brain starts yelling at me, asking me why can't I write like this, and that's when I get up and begin writing.

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  2. I've never thought of doing this but I want to give it a try now. Sometimes it feels impossible to get the scenes in my head down on paper. In fact now is one of those times! I'm glad this works for you. Thanks for sharing the tip!

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    1. You never know what will work for you until you try it. Good luck, Julie!

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  3. I have books that I read over and over, but I think it's more that I'm drawn to the plotting and characters and themes -- which I often then mimic in my own writing. Do I want to plan out a twisty gothic mystery? It's back to Mary Roberts Rinehart. Do I want to create complex characters? I read Lois McMaster Bujold. How about playing with space-time reality? Roger Zelazny or William Sleator.

    When it's a problem with the words not coming out smoothly (or at all), I back up in my own manuscript to a spot where I was pleased with the writing and read forward from there until I'm back in the flow of my own characters' narrative.

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    1. Sometimes I have to back up pretty far to find a spot where I'm pleased with my writing. :) But that is a good idea. Thanks for the tip.

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  5. That's an interesting trick. Never would've thought to try it, but now I will.

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    1. It really helps me out. Without it, I can stare at the screen for hours and not have the slightest clue whether or not my sentences work or not.

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  6. What a neat idea to get into the writing zone! I don't re-read as much as I'd like, but there are certain authors I buy and read their work as quickly as possible.

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    1. It's makes it harder to get into the zone when I'm not at home, but since I have the Kindle reader on my phone, I can now get into the zone from anywhere.

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  7. That's a great trick. Thanks for sharing it.

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  8. I love this idea. It's a great one - and you're not copying. Just getting inspired :)

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    1. It's not copying, but sometimes I still feel a little guilty.

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  9. I've done this before and sometimes I just drift into thinking about my own stories while reading certain novels. It really can help, I think. :)

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    1. I admit there are times when I'm reading someone else's book and all of a sudden realize that this is what I need to do in my story. So I put the book down and start taking notes.

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  10. Agree with all of it, Ken. I do a lousy first draft and get inspired by other writers. I have to stop myself from adopting their voice--just want their love of writing.

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