Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What They Don't Tell You

I've read a whole lot of how-to books on writing. I've read every book in the writing section in Borders, mostly during my first two-year period of writing. I read or skim every new writing book that lands on the shelves, just because. (I think I'm afraid I've missed learning something huge.)

They rarely talk about imagination.

They say to write what you yearn to read, but I don't think that's enough. They teach you to plot, plan, and revise. They teach you to up the stakes and to follow the journey.

I have plenty of spy stories I'm yearning to read, but I haven't finished one, yet. In the comments, yesterday, I whined that no matter what NY story I undertake, my imagination tends to stick with what pseudo writes. (*blush*)

With one of my series, most every reader who writes me says they wish they could "go there." Ohmigawd, they have no idea! I would die to go there. DIE! I love that world! When I'm writing it, I spend probably twenty or thirty hours a week "living" there. The main character is one of my "friends," and I visit him often while writing other worlds.

I spend more time in a day imagining my story world than writing it. I probably imagine ten scenes to every one that makes it in my story. Five hours of imagining to two hours of writing.

I think you have to write the story that grabs you so much, you would love to live there. A world so fascinating, you want to spend hours upon hours of imagination time exploring it.

I "live" in my WIP: during the shower, during car rides, during cleaning, while falling asleep, while waking up, while going through the motions of my day. If my imagination time is interrupted by worries about teaching or students, then my writing time suffers.

My main character's name and mine are regularly interchanged in my imagination. I "become" my main character. I feel what she feels. I cry real tears. I laugh out loud. I become afraid, depressed, thrilled, in love, and even, sometimes, traumatized.  No kidding, seriously shaken and traumatized.

Maybe it's not everyone's process. Maybe it is. I find if I'm not interested enough to live intensely in my story world for weeks and months, then the writing doesn't happen.

I am utterly in love with my worlds.

I've always lived in these worlds. Always. My earliest memory of them is first grade. Every night, it took me two hours to fall asleep because of living in these worlds. When I finished my first real story as an adult, I fell asleep within five minutes, completely at peace. Finally! I swear, 70% of why I write is so I can fall asleep in peace when the story is written and "done."

If I don't write these stories down, they don't get an ending.

Sometimes, rarely, I have to force my mind into my current WIP. This sometimes works, sometimes not so much. I have to be enraptured by the world.

How big a part of your life is the imagination time? Do you yearn to live in your story world? How often do you imagine your story during the day? Do you imagine more than write? Write more than imagine? Is it equal?

24 bonus scribbles:

Robin 9/16/2008 10:41:00 PM  

Oh, Spy, that's so funny, because in the book in my head there is little imagination - it's all based on real life experiences, even though it's a story. The main character is practically me but thinner. I may be imagination challenged.
To make you laugh - my first novel was about a bipolar guy whose evil girlfriend made him become manic by feeding him excessive amounts of potato chips. Ha! (It's possible, you know.)

Christina 9/16/2008 11:28:00 PM  

Strange, I'm like that with "how to write" books too. I've read so many and they all pretty much say the same thing, yet I'm still afraid I missed something and the next big book will tell me what it was that I had so far not learned from the 100's of how-to books.

I decided that having a small collection isn't a bad thing. Some of them are really interesting.

spyscribbler 9/16/2008 11:55:00 PM  

Oh, Robin, that's hilarious! I had a bipolar boyfriend, once. Ohmigawd, I FEARED when he wore orange. Ohmigosh, it's hilarious. Kinda.

I totally can connect with the girlfriend experimenting with what food caused what moods, LOL!

spyscribbler 9/17/2008 12:30:00 AM  

Christina, yes! Isn't it funny, because they DO all say the same things!

And totally, some of them are very helpful! Sometimes, I sit them beside me for inspiration. I remember what's in them, so I don't have to read it, LOL, but I need it sitting beside me!

Angie 9/17/2008 12:30:00 AM  

I imagine my stories and live in their worlds when I'm in bed, either right before going to sleep or right after waking up. You know that sort of in-between time when you're not really awake but not fully asleep? That's a great imagination space. :)


Vwriter 9/17/2008 12:38:00 AM  

William Jones (Professor of Literature, Publisher of Elder Signs Press, Author, and all around great guy), told a group once to quit reading writing books and start studying the kind of books we want to write. It was good advice, I think.

I can throw in something a little different, though, and that is that it really helps to lead an interesting life. It gives the imagination so much more to work with when we're writing. In lieu of experience, of course, we make things up. But it's so much easier to write about danger, for example, if you've actually experienced it.

There are limits to this, of course. We don't need to be shot to write about it- we can always research it and talk to people who have been shot. So much better than taking a bullet ourselves.

But sometimes interesting lives can stimulate the imagination. Although another writer told me once, "Look, I don't have an interesting life. That's what makes my imagination work harder!"

But I would hate to write about love without ever having experienced it.

spyscribbler 9/17/2008 12:39:00 AM  

Angie, it's the best! Well, actually, it's second best, because I keep falling asleep. The shower is first best for me. I read it's something to do with ions and charging and this and that.

spyscribbler 9/17/2008 12:43:00 AM  

Vwriter, I completely agree. I spend 99.9% of my "continuing education" time studying fiction of all sorts. It's DEFINITELY a better education than reading how-to-write books. Way better. No contest.

I know what you mean by an interesting life. And what you mean about leading a boring life. :-) I've done lots of jobs and had lots of experiences, but when I was sick, all I had was imagination.

R.J. Keller 9/17/2008 07:56:00 AM  

I work nights, and do most of my writing there. It's perfect because the editor half of my brain is usually sound asleep at that time, and my right-brain controlled imagination is allowed to get down and party.

Lauren 9/17/2008 09:22:00 AM  

When I buy another how-to-write book my hubby gives me this pained expression and just walks away. lol. I love reading them and actually get some decent tips out of them, but honestly, the best tips I ever got were from the classes that I took.

As far as imagination...that's where I do all my plotting. If I have writer's block it's because I've not spent enough time daydreaming.

Edie 9/17/2008 12:08:00 PM  

I'm more careful now what I spend my money on, especially since I've read so many books on writing. Every once in a while, I'll get the urge to get another. Totally recommend Savy the Cat! by Blake Snyder.

Spy, I'd love to feel the way you do about my characters. I immerse myself in their minds and their world when I'm writing, but not as much otherwise. It's always on my mind, though, and I get snippets when I'm doing other things. I have scraps of paper and pens in every room of the house. :)

Melissa Blue,  9/17/2008 12:44:00 PM  

I collage. I make book soundtracks. I know what my front to back and I learn things along the way. I pretty much bury myself in the imaginary world, the characters, especially their emotions.

I like to call it method writing.

Melanie Avila 9/17/2008 02:11:00 PM  

*checks out n00b label stamped on forehead*

Well you'll all get a good chuckle at MY blog post today. :)

Spy, I think it's great you get so involved with your characters and the worlds you create. THOSE are the types of books I like to read.

spyscribbler 9/17/2008 09:39:00 PM  

That sounds like an ideal arrangement, RJ. Actually, that sounds like an amazing arrangement! Except when the weirdos come in and when I'd have to sweep up co-workers cigarette butts, LOL!

spyscribbler 9/17/2008 09:40:00 PM  

Lauren, YES! Me too! I totally have to get in my head and start daydreaming, if I'm stuck. That's it!

spyscribbler 9/17/2008 09:42:00 PM  

Edie, that's one of my favorite books. And actually one of the best and truest and most original writing advice I've gotten. You don't read what he talked about in many (any?) how-to books, you know?

I confess I only buy the how-to books that truly inspire me, too. I read them all while sitting in Borders and writing. If they have anything worth knowing, I do buy them, though!

spyscribbler 9/17/2008 09:44:00 PM  

Melissa, that sounds like fun! I've always wanted to make a collage for a book, but I could never find just the right pictures. I've recently experimented with mood music to suit my story.

It's fun! Anything that makes it more real.

spyscribbler 9/17/2008 09:47:00 PM  

Melanie, don't be silly! (I'm still trying to work out why my post makes you feel like a n00b, LOL.) I certainly don't consider you one! And if you tell me your memoir is your first book, and the novel beginning I read is your second, then WOW!

Kath Calarco 9/18/2008 09:17:00 AM  

Spy, I'm so glad that I found your blog, thanks to Michelle at Magical Musings.

This particular blog resonates with me. Suffice it to say, we may have been separated at birth - you just detailed a large part of my writing path.

Like you, I spend more time letting the scene/story roam around in my head than actually writing it.

But as far as books on writing, there is only one that grabbed me, and to this day sustains my muse - Stephen King's "On Writing". For me there is no need for any other. Although the text books from my literature courses help, too, the King book is what set my course.

Eric Mayer,  9/18/2008 10:28:00 AM  

The thing writing books don't mention is that all the technique in the world is useless if the writer doesn't have any imagination. How do you say to someone, anyhow, well, you write wonderfully, you've learned all the techniques but you have nothing interesting to say? And it is scary because *how* do you imagine something? How do you make that happen? Even if you can do it, how do you know you'll continue to be able to do it since it is pretty much a mystery?

spyscribbler 9/18/2008 04:47:00 PM  

Kath, and now I've found yours! Good to meet you!

I'm a "On Writing" fan, too. My two other favorites are Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer and the Nano guy's book. The NaNo book doesn't really talk about how to write, but it does talk about how to lead the writing life. It's great. It totally understands all the feelings we go through when we write!

spyscribbler 9/18/2008 04:53:00 PM  

Eric, that's scary! What a thought. I'm trying to think "how" I imagine. Good lord. I haven't a clue.

You've stumped me. I don't know what I'd do if it dried up. Funky.