Once you’ve got something on the page, y0u have something to work on. Anything that prevents you getting those first words on the page has to be avoided. High expectations and thinking about the finished product rather than the task at hand can have a paralysing effect on those first words. Kate Grenville, The Writing Book (1990)
In our 30 Days To Better Writing Habits we’re settling into the routine of writing a novel and writing every day. That means learning to trust in the writing process. Sitting out in the rain last night, I started taking notes – playing with what I was going to write about today in my novel. I had spent about three hours in the air-conditioning getting words on the page and I had no idea where it was going to go next – but I was happy with what I had achieved. I was ready to knock off for the day and go and watch the rain.
Today, I know what I’m going to write because overnight my subconscious did the hard work for me. I’d forgotten that’s how the writing process works. We have to trust that things are going to happen that we actually can’t plan for. We can’t predict and we can’t organize. We can’t control.
The voices in your head aren’t going to want you to to trust in that process. We’ve been taught to know what we’re doing; we’ve been taught to plan. Even those of us who find out as we go are still aware that we have to know where we’re going.
Trusting the process allows us to dive more deeply into our stories. Our characters start to take on a life of their own – they know what they want to do, they know where they’re going to go, and they’re asking, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen?’ They’re not going to take no for an answer. They’re not going to listen to you as the author. They’re not going to allow you to corral them and control them, so they fight back. If you don’t listen to your characters and to your inner voice, you’re going to find yourself in trouble. Your words will be stilted and your story will crash and burn. That’s not what we want to happen.
It’s the whole process of trust that I want to focus on today. I hope you’ve experienced it the same as I have as we near the end of our 30 days and finish off with some new ideas about the craft.
I wanted to share with you a writing Bible that I used from many many years, Kate Grenville’s The Writing Book. I’m finding myself surrounding myself with writing books, and trawling through my writing magazines more and more as our month goes on. My life is now all about me and my writing which is quite self-indulgent but it’s doing the job because I have committed to this process. I have committed to to writing this novel and getting this draft down as quickly as I can and because there’s no other alternative that’s what’s happening. It’s what it takes. It has to be your priority.
Kate Greenville, Australian author of Secret River, discusses the process of writing Secret River in Searching For The Secret River and how you can’t force a book into shape and instead need to trust in the process. It took Grenville three years to come to terms with what that story was about because she thought it was going to be about something different. However, her subconscious had other ideas. In the end she gave up. She piled everything up and she listened to the voice inside her. Aren’t we glad that she did because Secret River is an amazing story and it wouldn’t have been the story that it was if she had not trusted in the process.
Grenville’s book, The Writing Book, is a writing Bible of mine. I don’t know if you can even get it nowadays but if you can get you hands on them it talks you through the whole process of writing your novel. Grenville gives examples from her own work she says, ‘My only advice to writers is this don’t listen to the voices’.
Grenville says writers have to unlearn a lot before we are free to write. We have to unlearn a lot of things that we’ve learned, such as ‘you must write without distractions’. We know that’s impossible. You’ve got to write with whatever you’ve got. She talks about the myth that if you can’t write great literature it’s not worth doing. Write about what you know? Forget that one. Wouldn’t that be boring if all we wrote about was what we knew? You have to be inspired to write? If we’ve learned anything in our 30 Days to Better Writing Habits, it not about being inspired, it’s about putting your bum on the chair and doing the hard yards. And finally, writers have to have an interesting style – we’re not even talking about style until we get to the end of our first draft. All of these things can derail our writing if we let them. I suggest we take Grenville’s advice and write anyway.
You can’t find out what you want to say until you start writing because it’s only then that your subconscious goes to work and works out what you want to say. It’s why the first draft is so important, because it won’t be till you get to the end of your first draft that you know what you want to say. So, please, keep on plugging through. Grenville finishes her chapter on getting started by saying, ‘Try not to ask the most paralysing question of all, what is this all about, because you’ll stop in your tracks’.
Trust in the process. Let your subconscious do its work and keep your story is moving forward. It’s what we’ve been talking about in 30 Days to Better Writing Habits. Don’t listen to the voices in your head. Put them away until the end of your first draft because they’re going to talk you out of doing doing the writing.
You can get a copy of The Voices in Your Head Writing Guidelines by subscribing to our newsletter here at Writer on the Road.
Clare Connelly, romance author, talks about what it takes to get the writing done in our podcast chat, titled Squeezing Your Writing Into The Gaps of Your Life, here.