Thursday, June 14, 2012

Don't be literary when you write - Tips from The Tops Thursday

As I am in the heat of writing a first draft I thought I would travel back in time to the first writing book I ever purchased - Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. My copy is well-thumbed and just to pick it up brings me a frisson of excitement. I am a writer speaking to another it whispers to me.
I open it at random because I believe in serendipity and the first thing that comes to my eyes is :

Tip: Don't be Literary - Goldberg is talking about metaphors in this chapter but she doesn't want us to think about them in a heavy-handed way. Oh gosh, this piece needs more metaphors, I think I'll sprinkle some in. Hmmm...this piece is like a sturdy meal and I should put the fun little chocolates of metaphors about. See what I mean? Ugh!  What Goldberg suggests is that we get out of our own way - that our mind will leap and be fruitful if we let it, that it can't in fact not be. If we just let it go, let our hand follow the path of our mind it won't be artificial or contrived. This is the Zen way - first thought, best thought - and to my mind is crucial in first drafts.

Top: Nathalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones

How it works in my writing life: Right now it is working well. I'm twenty thousand words into what seems to be a YA novel. Having decided a few days ago that it is YA I have felt even more freedom than usual to just play. I've never written YA before but I live with teenagers and spend much of my professional life counselling them. This is my second batch of them as children. And I read it by the bucketful so... All that to say that the language of young adults is in my brain, their rhythm and diction AND it is great stuff for first drafts because, if you like, they are first drafts - young adults I mean. They tend to hyperbole and drama and run on sentences and clumsy metaphors so...I can let myself go in a fabulous fat fashion. There. Now I must get to it, for my dear readers, having started this BuNoWriMo with the intention of just doing 25 thou instead of the regular 50 thou I do have a rather larger daily quota. I'm on top of it but not ahead of it as I was yesterday...
And why did I change my mind? Well, as the wonderful teacher Choygam Trungpa once said when asked why he'd changed his mind about something "I have a mind to change." Yes.
How does finding your authentic voice work for you? Any tips for a newbie YA author?


Margot Kinberg said...

Jan - Thanks as always for sharing your wisdom. I love the reminder that we should write the stories we have to tell and not hide them behind words we think "should" be there or a path we "must" follow. Rather, we should let the stories evolve.

Words A Day said...

l love that book, just hearing you talk about it maked me want to write! Or to get back to the place that book brought me too. thanks for this post, needing a push towards a new first draft:) YOur sounds like its pouring out of you, once the voice comes it just flows doesnt it?

Hart Johnson said...

I find the teen voice really liberating, too, though largely because teens are young and being impulsive can be attributable to age, hormones and lack of foresight, rather than stupidity or assholishness. You are so right, though, on the hyperbole and drama!

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

I try writing a free flow diary entry and imagine I am the charcter. I find it hard at first but then it just flows from me. And that's as authentic as I can get it!

cleemckenzie said...

You remind me that I should take that book out again. It bears a review by this writer.

I really feel that good writers can write in all categories, if they're interested, so I have every confidence that you'll find the voice to appeal to the YA audience. Besides you're never too old for YA I'm told.

Thank you for your post. Now I need to "get out of my own way" and write this book.

Miriam Forster said...

Yay YA!

Mostly I'd just say read widely and well to get a feel for all the different ways YA is done. And be prepared to revise and tighten A LOT. :)