Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Writing out of the box -- literally

I'm still working on today's 2000 words, so I'm not going to be here very long. But in between writing, I have been reading (still) Twyla Tharp's book The Creative Habit. And almost every page is worth reading five or ten times.

She says she writes all over the books she reads, annotating them, underlining, drawing lines from here to there. And she suggests we do the same. I'm tempted. Trouble is, it's a library book. And they probably wouldn't approve. But I may get my own because it's definitely worth doing exactly that.

In chapter five, before you think out of the box, you have to start with a box, she talks about gathering material for whatever piece she is choreographing. She puts everything she comes up with in a file box ( a big cardboard file box, not a 4"x6" card file box).

Her boxes help her in a variety of ways -- they connect her to the project, making it tangible; they represent a commitment; they are a way to keep things so she won't forget them. And they work as a stimulus to creativity because at any given time she can mine them for material. They would, in a way, act like a sort of 3 dimensional collage. Going through the box would be an even more tangible way of delving into the world she is creating in her piece. And without a box, there isn't much to build with.

It's the same with my books.

Back in November (yes, that long ago) when I decided on November 1st that I would join Anne Gracie, Bronwyn Jameson, Trish Morey and Marion Lennox in an attempt to write a draft of the book in a month (our own private NaNoWriMo), I didn't have a box. I had the characters because I'd written about them as secondary characters in an earlier book. But they didn't have their own box. They didn't have a tangible history. They didn't have a world that I could look at, take out, touch, feel, hear and see.

And so I got stuck.

Years ago, when we were at college, there was a priest in our local church who used to talk about the difference between God and humans in terms of creation. He always said, "you can't create a cigar box out of nothing. God can."

I understand all too well now exactly what he meant.

I couldn't create a story for Flynn and Sara out of nothing -- or next to nothing -- and back in November that's exactly what I had. The past five months -- the trip to Ireland, hours spent making the collage, clipping articles, writing back story, knowing everything that was going on for the last six years in their lives allowed me to fill their box.

And now, when I get stuck I go straight to my box. I find bits and pieces of their lives there that give me ideas for their lives now. I know what mattered then and I know what matters now. I don't have to make their world and their story out of nothing anymore. And I can't tell you what a relief it is.

Already I'm starting to collect material for my next book. I don't have a box yet, but I've got a hanging folder. I'm dropping stuff in it, collecting bits and pieces of the lives of my next two characters. I don't want to be stuck like I was with Flynn and Sara. I'd forgotten, busy as I was with Spence and Sadie, that Sara and Flynn needed a world of their own before I could write.

This time I'm thinking ahead.

And while I'm doing so, I'm showing up every morning before my eyes are open. I'm mining my Flynn and Sara box.

And it's working.


Blogger Michelle Styles said...

It sounds like a marvellous book.
And what a simple but true statement -- before you can think out of the box, you must first have a box.

Fingers crossed that you are getting your 2k done. I am so looking forward to this story.

05 April, 2007  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Yes, it's a wonderful book, Michelle. There is so much in it that rings true. You would really enjoy it, I think.

The book is moving. Not quite 2000 yesterday, but I had more than 2000 the day before, so it's sort of evening out. And I'm hoping that today will be a good one. Fingers crossed (except when typing).

05 April, 2007  
Blogger Anne Gracie said...

I do this too, Anne -- collect scraps of info, jotted notes and scraps of dialogue, and ideas for scenes, and pics for the collage in a box.

When I'm writing a book, especially towards the end, I start to get ideas for the next book, so I scribble them down -- usually in a large notebook, so I don't lose them but sometimes it will happen in odd places, so I write on whatever's to hand and toss them in the "next" box.

Then, when I come to start a new book, feeling daunted by that immensity, I go through my notebook and the box and feel energised and inspired.

05 April, 2007  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Yes, Anne. I like the "NEXT" box idea. I have one with a few things in it now. It's an interesting source of inspiration. And I find that sometimes it even jars things loose on the current manuscript.

05 April, 2007  

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