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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ted Neill: Ink Well--Want to write something good? Then take time NOT writing.

Want to write something good? Then take time NOT writing.

One of the most confusing but important things one of my writing mentors once said to me was: The time you spend NOT writing is just as important as the time you actually spend writing. Said another way, every work of writing is a combination of the time spent writing and the time spent thinking about the writing, whether consciously or not (often not).

So here are my ten steps to writing a complete work, be it a novella, novel, short story, poem, screenplay, or whatever. . .

1. Write—Randomly. On scraps of paper, envelopes, increasingly I find myself taking notes on my phone. These come at the WORST times. I find there is an inverse relationship between the ease of writing in the moment and the quality of the idea. For example, while merging into traffic, standing in the shower, or when I am about to fall to sleep at night. . .BAM I get walloped with a winner and the gearshift, bar of soap, or my Teddy Bear (don’t judge) are lousing writing instruments.

2. Take Time—To Live your Life. Go and do the thing you were doing in the first place, driving to your destination, running to work, or getting a good night’s sleep. Go gather the experience that feeds your writer’s soul in the first place. You’ll thank yourself later.

3. Write—Freely. I’m a person who likes structure so this part is REALLY hard for me. But I’ve learned that I need to take time to do character sketches, jot down scenes. They might be out of order, they might just be background experiences of characters that never make it into a single draft, but this is still an exploratory stage. Throw things at the wall and see what sticks. Don’t get in your own way. Let yourself enjoy the fun of it. Don’t stress if you don’t have a word or page count (yet) to look at, at the end of the day. This step isn’t something measured that way.

4. Take Time—For your unconscious to work. This is also a hard part for me because I’m also a person who likes control. But I’ve found that this is where the most mysterious part of the process begins for me. Having sketched out scenes, and characters in step 3, I move on. I work on other things (See Step 2). I go for a hike, I read other books, watch movies, gently feeding images, experiences, and other’s art into my brain where it (somehow) seeps into some weird place in my unconscious where the ideas germinate.

5. Write—An Outline. I remember a business major roommate of mine in college asking me if I wrote my papers using an outline. I responded, “You mean you don’t?!” But I was an English major so I took the writing process a little more seriously. Here is where I (FINALLY) start adding some structure to the story, with scenes, character arcs, maybe even initial chapter headings. Sometimes I even write summaries of the chapters on 3X5 cards and lay them out of the floor, trying different sequences is possible. Throughout the process, even up to the final stages, be open to surprises your characters might throw at you or side plots that might pop up. I still do this all in long hand.

6. Take Time—For your idea to gestate. Congratulations, you are officially pregnant at this point (or at least that is what I think of it as). Once the outline is out, for me, the story is THERE. It’s a thing and its growing. But again, I find I can never force it. Just have to let it ripen at its own pace (although I wish I could force it, when I do, it’s ALWAYS a disaster). Often, I find listening to music, reading other authors I like, watching movies, and hiking and being in nature help, not to mention getting enough sleep—some of my best ideas have also come from REM sleep (See Step 2 again). Sometimes, being a writer is like having a ghost as a business partner, you’re never quite sure when he or she is going to show up to actually do the damn work, but when they do, and the story feels ready, you know intuitively, like the hairs on your arm or the vibrations in your chest, it’s inspiration and you can’t not start writing.

7. Write—The First Draft. I write mine in longhand on college rule loose leaf. It’s slower, but it makes me think through my sentences more carefully. It also allows me to be messy. I still liken this stage to being a bit like sketching as opposed to the pressure I feel to have something more polished on a computer screen.

8. Take Time—To Walk Away! Yes, walk away! Unlike REAL babies, this one may benefit from a bit of neglect. I take a few days between completing that first draft and typing things up. Treat yourself!

9. Write—On a Keyboard. Finally, this is when I actually start typing. Note: there have been a whole lot of steps and time leading up to this. When non-writers picture you “working” this is what they picture. But that’s a disservice. The preceding steps, especially the even numbered ones, might not look like writing but they ARE. They are just as critical an ingredient and it’s important to give yourself permission, space, and time for them.

10. Take Time—To Edit. Another writing mentor once told me that “There are no good writers. Just good rewriters.” So true. So get some distance from your work while someone you trust edits it and provides you some honest feedback. I ca never edit my own stuff adequately. Good writers need good editors.

Then repeat steps 9 and 10 until ready to publish!

Jamhuri, Njambi & Fighting Zombies
by Ted Neill
February 25, 2018
200 pages
A Delight for Young Readers and the Young at Heart. A princess trapped in a high tree and a brash young man determined to “rescue” her; a devoted daughter searching for a magical spring to save her ailing father; a teenage girl who is forced to replace her mobile phone with a machete to protect her family from zombies—all their stories interweave in a stirring alchemy set in a rich African backdrop. Ted Neill moves readers from folktale to action, comedy to cosmology, rural to urban, material to spiritual, with the ease of a master storyteller, crafting an adventure along the way that will appeal to the head, the heart, and the soul.

About the Author:
Globetrotter and fiction writer Ted Neill has worked on five continents as an educator, health professional, and journalist. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post and he has published a number of novels exploring issues related to science, religion, class, and social justice. He wrote his most recent young adult novel Jamhuri, Njambi & Fighting Zombies after living and working at an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS in Kenya. The children he met there requested stories featuring people and places that reflected their own culture and their own world. Jamhuri, Njambi & Fighting Zombies was written for them and anyone else who might enjoy, fun, adventure, and zombies.

1 comment:

  1. The longhand first draft is great - I read a piece where the brain processes writing longhand and writing by typing differently. They suggested the longhand work was somehow [and I cannot exactly recall] better, more creative, or something along those lines. Nice advice piece.