Michelle (msagara) wrote,
Michelle
msagara

Tone and writing speed

I think about process the way some people think about media fandom. It's one of my minor obsessions. I find writing process -- or perhaps creativity processes -- fascinating because we're all so different; I find them fascinating because even if I can't approach or think about my work the way other writers think about theirs, some glimmer of commonality can make me recast what I do see in my own work.

So what I've been thinking about recently, thanks to desperance, is tone, and the way tone affects (my) writing speed. Tone also affects everything else: Character, viewpoint, pacing. But, today, speed.

Some story-moods are delicate and indirect, and I find those the hardest, word-for-word, to write; they're elusive and the language of story there is harder to navigate; nothing that is said is frontal, or direct; it's almost as if you're catching the resonant echoes of older things, hidden and secret histories. I have to listen very carefully to catch the words, and hold them.

Some are the opposite. They're contemporary in tone and feel, and I run at them, run with them; it's impossible to miss what's there because if I do, it smacks me across the head. And, you know, rifles my pockets. Although I sometimes struggle with this tone, the word-for-word drive is simpler. If I write these too slowly, I end up with too many words that are tonally off.

I'm not a big metric poster, but I find it helpful, when writing, to set daily goals for myself -- it's too easy for me to get swamped by life or the Weekend in Hell (this particular weekend was my youngest son's tenth birthday party, which was twenty children large at LaserQuest, coupled with an F&SF review column deadline, and topped by the Author's Approval manuscript for Cast in Fury,the latter of which is obviously not done yet), and without a solid goal, the writing is often put off because I'm tired.

The goals are, by LJ standard, quite modest: 1,000 words a day as a base minimum. If I write more, that's great; I don't write less.

But ... sometimes it will take me more than six hours to write 1,000 words. Sometimes it will take less than an hour. I will keep on writing, in the latter case; in the former it's often 4:00 a.m., and I will crawl upstairs to bed. I will rarely write over 2,000 words on a given book regardless, because I also find that -- for me -- the book as-written will hurtle past the book as-subconscious-process if I push for more words (and to give you some idea, I had a total of three days in the month of April in which I hit 2k words; it doesn't happen often). The book, even in process, needs simmering time throughout the length of its writing.

I have started -- for the first time -- to work on two projects simultaneously. I tried this once before, in the 90's, and it was not entirely successful; I think in hindsight it was because tonally the two projects were similar, and the two I'm working on now are not. I'm not sure if that's all that's changed, but it's been interesting.

What I've discovered, doing this, is that I can spend those six hours (on four hundred words, moving, adding, or deleting a single word here or there), and then switch over to the second project and suddenly write 1,500 in an hour and a half. It is almost always because of the tonal differences in those particular scenes in either book.

I used to think, when the writing was a slog, that it was because I'd hit a writing wall, and I was going to have to climb. Now, I realize it's often the scene, or the mini-arc itself that causes the slow-down, and I'm coming to accept that this is not actually a bad thing; the words that come easily to me and the words that come with effort are all part of the book (any book) and they all have to be written regardless, because without tonal shifts within a book itself, the book has no structural texture; it's all flat planes, at one elevation or another.

This means that there's no uniform fast that I can realistically hope for, and at least for me, it's made the slow days -- the six hour bare-minimum days -- feel less full of fail. Today. The next time I spend six hours on four hundred words, I will probably forget this.
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