Question # 1: Let’s start with a fun question– Why do you write?
I went for many years without writing fiction, almost since leaving high school. A busy career in the military, a skew towards academics, then a family and kids all convinced me I either didn’t have time for creative writing or didn’t have the aptitude. Still, when I took parental leave following the birth of my second daughter, I realized something was missing in my life.
I’d had a story idea for a while but had never seemed to have time to explore it – classic excuse, right? With the gracious support of my wife, I decided to make an honest attempt at writing. At first, I thought the story would be a one-off, but a funny thing happened the more I wrote – I got more ideas. Almost as important, I discovered my voice.
Since then, writing has become an integral part of my routine. I feel better on days that I write and it helps me muddle through things in my life or the world in general. Maybe things will change over time, but for now, having found my voice I can’t wait to hear what it will say.
Question # 2: What is one “piece of writing advice” that you wish you’d never taken?
James Scott Bell has theorized that there’s a mad scientist in Schenectady, New York, who comes up with bogus writing advice and surreptitiously slips it into writing groups around the world. As a newbie writer, I love that idea – negotiating the minefield of poor advice would be so much easier if it could all be laid at the feet of some renegade squint. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s that simple.
For me, I think the bad advice was that there are immutable rules for beginning a novel, such as ‘Don’t Start With…
a. a character waking up;
c. the weather;
Before I go any further, let me first acknowledge that my intent here isn’t to come across as the stereotypical new writer arguing about how my writing is different, trust me, so rules don’t apply. Believe me, I come from a military background, so conventional rules-based approaches are at my core.
That said, experience is also important and what my experience was telling me in this case is that there are generally exceptions to rules. Under certain circumstances, a frontal assault could be the best option. Similarly, starting a story with a character waking up doesn’t have to be a show stopper. Many good stories start out using one of the above examples – it depends on how it’s done. In these cases, sometimes the only way to figure out if a technique works is to experiment.
Of course, many of these scenarios probably end up as gospel for good reason, which is that they lend themselves to being cliché or flat. Just because a rule can be broken doesn’t mean it’s easy to do, or more importantly, easy to do well. For me, I went with advice over my experience and ended up toiling on various beginnings before finally coming back to something that technically violated one of the rules, but seemed to fit the story better. Does that mean I did it well? Not necessarily, but at least I haven’t artificially constrained either my writing or my developmental experience.
Question # 3: How would you explain your creative process to a five-year-old?
My creative process is like building a sand sculpture, with each word being like a grain of sand. When I have an idea about something I’d like to create, I jam as much sand together as I think is needed to hold the idea. Once that’s done, I begin carving pieces off, starting with bold changes at the beginning (don’t need that chapter / structure – get rid of it!) to more detailed near the end (this metaphor / window needs to be fine-tuned!). Sometimes I need to add more sand while other times it’s easier to stomp it down and start over. And sometimes, what I uncover within the sand looks nothing like what I started with.
Question # 4: How do you know when something in your manuscript should be edited, removed, or left just as it is?
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King states that “…good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style).” While I agree with this statement wholeheartedly, it necessitates that I’m honest with myself about my grasp of fundamentals. Bottom line, I’m a relatively new author and still learning. That’s not a bad thing, but it means making up for my lack of experience by relying on guides, references, and tools.
Resources like The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne and a variety of readings by Steven Pressfield are invaluable in deciding if something should come out – basically, if the item in question has nothing to do with the theme of the story, it’s gotta go. Once I’ve decided something should stay in, virtually everything else gets edited with a variety of references such as Strunk & White, The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass, or Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.
As for whether something should be left as is, that’s almost the easiest of all (although it rarely happens). If the writing makes me experience the emotion I’m trying to convey (as long as it’s not embarrassment over the writing), it stays in. Better yet is when a beta reader tells me they’ve experienced that emotion, which actually makes everything worthwhile.
Question # 5: And finally– What do you plan to write tomorrow?
There are so many things to write tomorrow. Responsibly, I must write the next scene in my second novel, a thriller about a criminal analyst. Professionally, I ought to write another blog to stay on top of my fledgling author platform. Developmentally, I’d grow by writing in the first person POV because it’s something I’ve rarely done. Uncomfortably (for an introvert), I have to write a Facebook post to stay connected. Emotionally, I feel like writing about the family farm and what may happen when my parents die. And lastly, selfishly, I want to write my own work of staggering genius. I’ve got so much writing to do and so many options, but that’s all okay. The important thing is that I will be writing tomorrow – and the day after that.
© 2016, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.