#100: A Farewell

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This is blog post #100. It will be my last.

Over the past two years, this has been a constant, sometimes challenging, often enlightening, always enjoyable project. By attempting to articulate my personal writing process, I learned a lot about myself–both as a writer struggling through the writing process, and as a person struggling through life. It is my hope that this blog was not purely a selfish accomplishment; that at some point it inspired someone to write, to experience a similar joy that writing brings me.

I will now dedicate my time to completing my next novel, in addition to starting a new writing project that has been brewing for quite some time.

It has been a pleasure talking to you. Perhaps one day I will have the pleasure of talking with you.

May your writing fuel your life in amazing ways.

I wish you great success.

Emma L. R. Hogg

 

Storage Bin Half Empty

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Within hours of starting work on Draft 3 of my current manuscript, I had gone from the high of having completed a second draft, to the disheartening realization that my manuscript was far from being a final draft. Five pages into Draft 3 and already I had crossed out, moved around, and re-written nearly every word, or so it seemed. My draft was covered in edit marks.

Discouraged, I complained to my husband how frustrated I was. In response, he asked, “How many storage bins of drafts are in the basement?”

I thought it was a strange question to pose at that particular moment, but I answered, “Five.” One bin for each of my five previous novels, each bin filled with multiple manuscript drafts.

He asked, “How full is the storage bin for Winona Rising?” Winona Rising is the working title for my current manuscript.

My answer: the bin was practically empty. Only two bundles of papers were inside–Draft 1 and Draft 2. I laughed. Perfectly, my husband had put my progress into perspective. My current manuscript didn’t yet have to be at the level of a final draft; there was still a lot of space in the storage bin to fill.

Attempting to accomplish a big, complex project with a grueling process and a lengthy timeline requires constantly checking in on your emotions and assessing their validity. It’s okay to have emotions (you’ll have lots during the process of writing a novel), but if you let your emotions own you, especially the ones that hold no validity, then your writing will suffer as a result.

It’s understandable to lose perspective, but it’s important to regain it, and to regain it quickly, so not to waste valuable time moaning when you could be writing. Admittedly, it helps to have someone in your life who understands your artistic process and is an avid supporter. Sometimes, we could all use a little reminder to be a little kinder to ourselves.

Characters

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I recently completed Draft 2 of my current manuscript.  Each draft I write, I learn more about my characters—that’s right, I learn.  In turn, the more I become attached and invested in their story.  Attachment and investment, I believe, are qualities of a passionate writer, and passion is the backbone of any goal.

But passion alone will not produce a strong novel.  Among many qualities, a writer must be humble in their role in a character’s growth.  When a character is ready, the writer must allow the character their freedom.

Typically when I create a character, it starts with a flash image (like a still photograph) and then a name (sometimes a name comes first, then the image).  Undefined at the character’s birth are their behaviours, their mannerisms, their fears, their dreams.  Traits like these take many drafts to develop.  I experiment with a character’s personality by putting them in different situations and testing various responses, emotions, reactions.  It’s a learning process where the character eventually becomes the teacher.

I am often surprised by who my characters end up becoming, the choices they make, the emotions they experience, the situations they find themselves in.  Strange perhaps to think of a character independent of its creator, but that’s what it often feels like, and I think that’s a positive.

The state of creativity, I think, is only partly conscious, that for a writer to write well, they must loosen their grasp on reality (while they’re writing).  After all, fiction by definition is not reality, though fiction sets out to mirror it (at least the fiction I write).  As characters become stronger (as their traits become defined), the writer’s control over them weakens; a good sign that your characters are becoming like real, believable, people.  These are the types of characters present in great books, and the types of characters I strive to have living within my own novels.

During the process of writing a novel, I get to the point where I have to write my characters in a certain way, not because I want to (in the sense of in that moment), but because that’s who they have become—fictionally breathing people with their own set of values, emotions, fears, and dreams.  As the writer, just because I have omnipotent power over my characters, it doesn’t mean it’s suitable for me to exercise it.  Better to let the character be who they have become through your hard work—a compliment to a writer who has created a character so defined and life-like that even free-will is bestowed.  An avant-garde concept, yes.

Create your characters, hone their traits through experimentation, and then free them from your omnipotent control.  Honour your relationship with your characters, and your novel will be better for it.

Surprising Connections

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While visiting my parents in the house I grew up in, I slipped away into my old bedroom to get some work done on my manuscript.  I am currently working my way through Draft 2 and was almost at the end.

As I sat on the bed, my legs stretched out, my laptop teetering on my thighs, I picked up where I had left off in my manuscript the day prior.  In the scene, my main character—a fifteen-year-old girl named Winona—had escaped into her bedroom.

As I worked on the scene, I suddenly looked up, took in my surroundings, and realized that I was not only sitting on the bed in my childhood bedroom, but I was sitting on Winona’s bed in her bedroom.

Not intentional, though obviously subconscious, Winona’s bedroom was an almost exact replica of my own when I was her age, minus the colourful posters that had covered my walls during my teenage years.  The layout of the room, however, was exactly the same.

The realization was slightly unsettling, as it hadn’t been my intention to share my childhood bedroom with anyone, not even with a character in a book.

It has never been my intention to bring my own personal experiences into my fictional writing, though intention aside, of course my personal experiences influence my writing.  Memories (experiences) and creativity come from the same place: my mind.

My novels are fiction, through and through, but little tidbits, small details, subtle quirks, have subconsciously found their way into my books.  Realizing the personal connections after the fact always surprises me and makes me a little uncomfortable.  I am an introvert, after all.  But I am also a writer, and so I must strive for fearlessness—for it takes bravery to create honest characters and passionate stories.

I will not change Winona’s bedroom.  After all, it’s just as much her bedroom now as it had been mine.  I certainly wouldn’t have wanted anyone arbitrarily moving doors and windows around and rearranging furniture in my personal space.

Typing Class and Grammar Rules

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Back in high school, I took a typing class: F-F-F<space>J-J-J<space>G-G-G<space>H-H-H<space>, over and over again, hammering out the letters. The classroom sounded like a factory, thirty students rhythmically practicing the alphabet on electric typewriters. I loved it.

At the time, I didn’t understand how important and useful of a skill proper typing was going to be later in my life; at fourteen years old, I didn’t yet know that I would dedicate my twenties and thirties to writing novels. Today, I am grateful for having learned how to type properly; it allows me to get words down on paper at the same speed the ideas manifest in my mind.

Sometimes lessons are learned way before you need to apply them. Because of this, I try to keep my mind open to new things, new experiences, new ideas, and take advantage of opportunities to learn, even if I’m unsure when I will apply the new skill/set of knowledge, if at all.

Also back in high school, I took an English class where there was a unit on grammar: nouns, verbs, clauses, prepositions, homonyms, etc. At the time, I hated all those rules, and I had made only just enough effort to pass the unit.

In high school, I didn’t appreciate how important and useful the understanding of grammar rules was going to be later in my life; at fourteen years old, I didn’t yet know that I would become a writer. Today, I wish I had taken the grammar unit more seriously; having not properly learned all the rules, I must now spend additional writing time editing.

Sometimes, I find myself in situations where I don’t have the necessary skill or set of knowledge, whether because I didn’t chose to learn it when I had been presented with the opportunity, or I had never had the chance to learn it before. No matter the reason, it’s never too late to learn a skill or acquire a set of knowledge now.

If there is something you want to learn, seek out a source to learn it. Check out your local library, audit a class, google the Internet, search for an expert, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be bold!

Learning a new skill or acquiring new sets of knowledge is likely quite accessible to you if you’re proactive about it. It’s never too late to learn something you’re passionate about learning.

For me, I am currently reading a book on grammar.

 

Run, Walk, Jog, Rest, Skip, Sprint as Fast as You Can!

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There is a direct correlation between the speed of which I work and the quality of my production.  Therefore, I think a lot about the pace of which I work on my manuscript.

At times if I’m too slow, I get bogged down; too fast, and my work gets sloppy–both resulting in poor production.

Working at the right pace is a difficult concept to master because the “right” pace is inconsistent throughout the writing process.

It’s slow down, speed up, slow down, speed up, coast, break, rev the engine!  Sometimes, the pace must be slow and deliberate, while at other times, the pace must be urgent and free.  It all depends on where you are in your writing process.

For example, when I am writing a first draft, the pace should be fast, with the sole goal of getting the idea down on paper.  First drafts are sloppy and terrible, but they’re supposed to be.  No one ever sees my first draft of anything, so the quality of the writing doesn’t matter so much–it’s the quality of the idea that’s the goal of the first draft.  On the contrary, when I am editing the final draft, the pace should be slow with a sharp eye for detail, making every effort to hone each sentence.  Before publishing, I have to believe that I made my best effort to remove inconsistencies, typos, and grammatical errors.  This requires a painstakingly snail’s pace.

Learn when to run and when to walk, when to jog and when to rest, when to skip and when to sprint as fast as you can!  The quality of your production is your indicator. (Don’t worry if you didn’t get it right, you can always go back and try again–in fact, that is exactly what you will have to do).

The goal is to work, at all times, at the highest production quality.  The more you write and work your way through your writing process, the better you will understand the perfect pace at each step.

Artistic Articulation

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In my opinion, one of the primary skills that separate high-level artists from non-artists or developing artists (generally speaking) is the ability to articulate emotional responses from a work of art. I refer to this as Artistic Articulation.

Artistic Articulation is a skill that requires deep thought and practice.

When one consumes a work of art—a book, a painting, a theatre production, a dance performance etc.—some common remarks I hear when posed with the question “What did you think of the work?” are: “I liked it,” “I didn’t like it,” “I didn’t get it,” “That was awesome.”  But these answers are incomplete; they don’t express why.  Why didn’t you like it?  Why did you like it?  What didn’t you get and why do you think the work didn’t deliver?  Why was it awesome—what about it made it so?  These are really hard questions to answer.  But these types of questions are exactly the questions an artist needs to ask of their own work, as their answer is the foundation of their art.

Generally speaking, the objective of an artist is that a work of art represents the intention of the piece—that the audience consumes the work of art as the artist intended them to.  Intention is often difficult to translate into artistic mediums (it’s often difficult to translate in everyday life!).  Most art is not about blatantly telling an audience how to feel, but about cleverly creating the intended feelings in an audience through the audiences experience with the work of art.

Because articulation—especially of tough questions involving emotional response—takes practice, study hard. Consume art, all kinds of it, and examine it; answer why it made you have the emotional response you did. The answers to questions like “Why did this piece move me the way that it did?” will help you hone your own work, to get it to a place where your future audience will more likely experience it the way you intended them to.

To create art with intention (which I think is the purpose of creating), and be successful at it, you must be able to define the intended emotional response in your audience. This is Artistic Articulation.