Saturday, April 21, 2012
The Art of Writing No. 19
There is a much discussed cliché concerning writing. This relates to the difference between a hard day’s slog and a seemingly purple day’s outpouring. The received wisdom is that the dufference is too minimal to make a case for inspiration providing greater quality than perspiration. A good friend and well known writer once said to me that writing prose was like pulling teeth. It was painful, hard and sometimes he only wrote a half page in a day. He won the Whitbread prize for best novel of that year. I tend to agree with the overall drift of the argument. Purple patches are wonderful for the writer but the reader may never discern which bits of a novel have been created in this way. When I edit my work I have no recall over what came like a dream and what was a struggle though I have had experience of quickly written pieces being more like colanders than sturdy vessels that hold sense properly. Of course poets like Coleridge stimulated their imagination with drugs to ensure the purple patch effect!
The upshot of all this is to write write write. Develop a ritualistic behaviour which ensures a discipline. I tell myself that if I write three hours or so every day, I can finish a book in six months to a year. A book a year seems a reasonable return. In the 40s writers like Edgar Wallace were spent up and drunk every Sunday, wrote a crime novel between Monday and Friday and started the process of obliteration all over again at the weekend. But writing so quickly has its drawbacks. Usually these relate to fissures in the plot.
Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep had a major discrepancy in the plot, not discovered by readers but by film makers when they came to put it on the screen: a telegram was sent to Raymond Chandler asking him “who killed the chauffeur?” Chandler replied, “Damned if I know.” I suppose a little anxiety I suffer from concerns such an obvious flaw line in the narrative. While writing The Strange Attractor meant that I could revisit and cross check easily, it being just over 200 pages, Azimuth is 920 pages with innumerable characters and full of ‘seeding’ of alternate plot lines, as described in previous blogs. Hence the author’s alerts list I regard as a necessity.
If every writing day is like the last, your desk is left exactly how you last used it, you also abandoned your prose for the day knowing exactly what your next sentence and paragraph is going to be, then the discipline of writing is being properly supported. Some days will be much slower than others but when the smell of ink has dried and the reader take up your book, none of this will be apparent.
The Strange Attractor by Eric le Sange Kindle books, Amazon
www.azimuthtrilogy.com for a complete guide to Azimuth by Jack Sanger
Tags: Writing. Purple prose. Discipline.