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Swirling/writing (3): When I Was Stephen King

So, I heard a multitude of heads following off when I posted Chris Priest's admonition to print off the first draft and delete all electronic copies...

I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only...?" Er, I mean, "Is that the way you write, John?"

All right, I told my friend it was a good idea, but... No. I do not delete my first draft.

However, my second or my third draft is physically a rewrite: I don't amend much of the existing text; I write new stuff at the top of the screen and delete away the older version as I work. No sentence from the first draft survives unless it works so well that I retyped it during the rewrite. But I type very fast - usually I can reproduce an entire sentence faster than moving the cursor to the correct position to, say, delete a word - and the main thing is that the very first words you wrote need to be re-examined.

Not everyone does this, and I'll add caveats in a bit, but...

Steve Barnes has worked with many writers, and from looking at his website, he has identified a specific problem that trips up writers, preventing them from entering or staying in the writing flow-state. He found that it's almost always due to mixing up the otherwise distinct processes of first-draft writing from subsequent-draft writing.

Or to put it another way: if the story's not flowing, give yourself permission to write anything to move it along, knowing that only the good stuff survives.

So, the caveats. When you're working on the first draft of a novel, you're normally picking up from where you left it yesterday. Some writers find that tweaking the final few paragraphs of what they did yesterday to be a useful way to glide into continuing the story today. Others want to revisit everything they wrote yesterday, while still others (I think most, but I wouldn't swear to it) want to dive straight in.

Philip Pullman, who writes with pen and paper, makes sure never to end a day's work at the bottom of a page - if he's about to finish, he'll write one more line on a new page... Some writers actually leave an unfinished sentence, just begging for those extra words which kickstart the next day's work. (Leigh Kennedy first gave me the tip; she got it from someone else, but I can't remember who it was.)

Such considerations aside, the basic idea of first draft is to write down what you're seeing/hearing/feeling in your mind as the story unfolds. If it's well-crafted, great; but if it isn't, that's fine too. In the second draft you can tidy up the language, delete the things that don't work or slow the story down, and so on.

Debugging code requires a different mindset than writing it or designing it.

[Aside #1: my diary this week. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday: wrote 2 additional first-draft chapters for a new book proposal (my agent having said I needed to extend what I'd written already) and tweaked the outline; Thursday: stared into space for somewhere between 10 minutes and 2 hours, then wrote for 12 hours straight to produce a complete 10 - 12000 word story (using pen and paper out of pure whim, since we've been talking about varied writing methods); Friday: received and worked through galleys for next book in one 9-hour session.]

[Aside #2: I write novels in two different ways. If I've outlined it rigorously, the 2nd draft is 10-15% shorter than the 1st through normal polishing. Other times I've meandered through a first draft, discovering as I've gone along, but when I take this to the extreme, I get a 1st draft that is 1 hamilton in length, and a second draft that is 0.5h or less. Both ways work. Most writers tend towards one or the other, though rarely with a 50% drop in final length. I'm on my own again...]

[Aside #3: another extreme was Dick Francis (some people would say it was Mary Francis, but who knows?), who by dint of writing very slowly and thoughtfully, produced first draft that allegedly needed no revising. This is so unusual that if you work this way, well, carry on like this only if you get excellent feedback from your readers! (And not just your mum or best mate down the pub.)]

Even before the first draft begins per se, there's whatever happens in the writer's mind to begin constructing a book. So I pick up the side-point I signalled in Swirling(1) about knowing the ending in advance.

As Charlie said before, there's more than one way of doing things, but knowing what most writers do sort of similarly and what varies widely (like outlining and knowing the ending) will help you know whether you're really doing something, er, unique.

(I once talked to someone who was trying to write by dictating to his voice-recognition software... I was the only person, apparently that didn't tell him he was doomed. (I mentioned Voltaire dictating to his secretary.) But I wouldn't recommend it, either.)

To recall Terry Pratchett's boxing metaphor: if you're a beginning boxer, and you think you've a better way to throw punches than everybody else, and some secret method of gaining strength endurance that only you know about... then good luck: you're on your own. Anyone who thinks they're an undiscovered genius is probably right... about the undiscovered part.

But "most writers" is not the same as all.

However, when you begin the first draft, whether you know the ending in detail, have a fuzzy idea of it, or total ignorance... is just fine. John Irving begins by writing the final page of the first draft; only then does he go back to the beginning. J.K. Rowling famously wrote the ending (I think it was the final chapter) of Deathly Hallows before commencing The Philosopher's Stone. Stephen King, as I pretty much began by saying, sets up the initial situation and discovers the ending as he writes. Likewise, I believe, the late Robert B. Parker.

As a reader, any or all of the above might write books you don't like... but remember, other people do. Just as a writer loading their novel with visual words is going to appeal to certain readers (the ones who can't get on with Isaac Asimov or Elmore Leonard), likewise, I suspect, the difference between aiming for a specific resolution and embarking on a voyage of unpredicted discovery results in different core readerships for each.

(And some are sensitive to the poetry and rhythm of each sentence and paragraph, to the richness of metaphor, while others just want the bare bones to move the story along.)

I'm reminded of something here. I've taught analysis and design to many different corporate groups (in several countries), one of the key distinctions being between trainee business analysts and experienced hardcore software engineers. When getting newbie BAs to perform some modelling in case studies (rather than totally trivial toy examples, though lots simpler than Real Life), some would either have difficulty getting started or when we compared different people's approaches.

In particular, some were perturbed by the notion that there can be more than one correct solution. I soon learned to preface exercises by pointing out there is a finite number of legitimate models and an infinite number of wrong 'uns.

Maybe I should volunteer to write Head First Writing.

So, is there a generality I can abstract out from first-draft writing that applies equally to those who know the ending in advance and those who don't? Well, I think so, and it has significant ramifications...

Everything is hard work from time to time, but putting that aside: are you enjoying the actual story you're uncovering day by day? It's like a year-long archaeological dig... the story better excite you, cos if you're not excited, why should anyone else be? The craft of subsequent-draft rewriting and polishing works only when there's something fine to be polished. So enjoy the story.

Self-belief - or rather, belief in the story - is the absolute number one ingredient. I think that New York agent Don Maass pointed this out in his book The Career Novelist. Usually, editors and agents speaking at conventions talk about researching the market and so on. This is misleading... You can only write what sets your mind on fire. If space opera isn't selling right now but it's all you want to write, then I don't think you've any choice but to go for it.

Besides which, if you're just starting out and it takes you fifteen years to get published, today's market conditions are hardly going to apply when you make that first sale - when the publisher says: "And I can expect a second book in twelve months, right?" When the real pressure starts.

Where market research does apply is having current knowledge of your chosen (sub)genre. My agents receive wannabe first novels of wildly disparate lengths, from far too short to far too long. It's possible for a publisher to sell a million copies of a title and make a loss because the page-count exceeded a threshold - some of the production costs are as quantized as electrons' orbital transitions. (Charlie wrote about book lengths here.)

If you're writing sword & sorcery, you'd better have read Joe Abercrombie as well as Tolkien.

Any exceptions to that rule? Well, I can only think of one, but we're talking major talent here: James Lee Burke, having won the Pulitzer Prize for lit'ry fiction, returned after a years-long hiatus with the first Robicheaux mystery (or crime novel as we Brits prefer to say) that was terrific. He wasn't steeped in the genre, but he did have a background of working with the types of people that feature in his excellent books.

Hmm. It also occurs to me that Iain Rankin wrote his first book without assigning it a genre: it was simply a novel that featured a guy called Inspector Rebus.

Anyway, my subjective experience has little to do with market considerations; it feels as if the novel chooses me, not the other way around. (And for all I know it could be literally true: Cthulhu channelling Cthulhu-thoughts via the cats into our fingers on the keyboard. Say it ain't so, Joe Charlie...) No other options.

Speaking of Don Maass, as I did earlier, he has a list of risk factors for novelists, and one of them is writing cross-genre books. [Insert gulping sound here.] If I write a police procedural set in a quasi-dark-fantasy world that is really hard SF, I'm hoping for a readership that comprises the union of three sets; in practice, I'll be lucky to reach the intersection of the three sets.

Which is one reason why Stephen King is such a powerful role model for a professional writer, regardless of whether you love, loathe or just sort of like his books. He writes in a genre called Stuff By Steve. Horror, SF (which you might or might not think of as SF-for-people-who-don't-really-read-SF) and (Rita Hayworth and) the Shawshank Redemption, all to the same standard.

To the extent that anything I've said so far constitutes definite advice, think of it as techniques or strategies that are worth trying, with genuine effort - in the hope that some will be right for you, and if they're not, that's fine. I've tried to deconstruct other writers' experience, not just mine.

[But here is strong advice: do read Stephen King's On Writing. Really. If ya wanna write, read it.]

But here's a little psychological adventure that's all my own. Well, me and Steve Barnes - he's also a hypnotist, and recommends this as a useful experience for all writers. For my part, I'd already written five (possibly six) books when I tried this out. It worked for me. It was also a weird experience.

Bear in mind that trance states are neurological phenomena that show up even under quite ordinary EEG scans.

Don't do this at home; but if you really wanted to, you'd need a trained hypnotist, or to have learned to perform true autohypnotic inductions (for example, the Betty Erickson induction). I did it at a training seminar, knowing that the opportunity might crop up, which meant (unlike the other delegates) I was prepared.

It's really method acting with added mesmerism, and it's called Deep Trance Identification. As the Deep Trance bit indicates, you need to immerse yourself in this for it work; a quit-smoking session with a therapist, for example, probably wouldn't drop you that deep inside.

In trance you "convince" yourself that you are that other person - or in my case, that I Was Stephen King. Some people get a bit whimsical in their choice of person (and in a seminar environment, a large percentage decline to do the exercise); but taken seriously, with a specific real individual, it helps to have at least seen them in Real Life. In this case, I'd attended a charity gig in Radio City Musical Hall (called Harry, Carrie and Garp) where Stephen King, John Irving and J.K. Rowling read from their work and chatted; plus I'd seen clips of his interviews; and I'd read his highly autobiographical On Writing.

Most weird, the result. My facial muscles pulled into a different shape - more wide-mouthed than usual - and my eyesight blurred to the point where I had to pop on my glasses that I wear for driving, and my voice, according to the guy who did the hypnotic induction, was pure New England. Plus, when asked about what I was working on, I came out with a horror-novel idea that had sprung from nowhere.

But what was oddest was the feeling that the architecture of my mind had shifted around inside my head, and I was operating with sound (more than sight) in new ways, while the core me was relegated to an observer. Really, really odd. (I did this for twice the length of time of other participants, and then I had to go away and sit in a graveyard for an hour to reset the contents of my head. (Interesting choice of location, John, you might mutter.))

Afterwards, I think I had new skills to add to my usual writing; but that'll be for others to judge.

But in a level-headed, rational way, every writer performs a mild version of this as they progress. You've internalized the rhythms and the structures of all the books you've ever read, and (with varying degrees of conscious awareness) you emulate the writers you like best, and slowly, slowly accumulate and aggregate to develop a new blend; because the world doesn't need another King, Rowling, Irving, Heinlein, Herbert, Banks or even Charlie Stross: it needs you.

Stephen King wrote that every time a writer makes a sudden jump to a new level, there's almost always an element of adopting and adapting some part of another writer's way of performing their craft.

Little did he suspect, when he wrote that, that one day I would pluck his soul from three thousand miles away and swirl it round inside my head for an hour or so before I sent it back to him...

27 Comments

1:

Topically, here's something Peter Watts posted today on facebook

"Looking over the rough draft of Dumbspeech, I encounter the following text: "Leona nodded, and did something inconsequential that resulted in a narrative beat."

This is going to need a *lot* of editing."

2:

I just work over the previous day's writing every morning (at least a little) before doing new material, using each chapter or scene as the unit of work. When the chunk is finished, I go back and do a rewrite of the whole.

Then I go on to the next segment, then do a final lick-and-promise before turning in the book; that's mostly to eliminate duplication and check for continuity.

After that I do not rewrite except to editorial direction.

The earlier drafts therefore vanish automatically every day.

3:

"Leona nodded, and did something inconsequential that resulted in a narrative beat."

I'm glad I'm not the only one who's committed this. But then, it's called a rough draft for a reason, right?

4:

When I was doing Nanowrimo, I used to fall asleep at the keyboard. But I would keep typing.

Usually I'd end up with random gibberish, but once I got a complete pageful of really freaky dream sequence (which actually fitted perfectly and was highly usable).

Once, however, my characters started complaining that I wasn't getting enough sleep...

5:

I'm not convinced that cross-genre is a problem-- a very high proportion of sf these days includes mystery and/or romance.

Cross-genre experiments are a risk, but some combinations become standard.

6:

When I write code, often I will write it, debug it, and then immediately delete it and rewrite it from memory. This is more common amongst forth programmers, who do it on a smaller scale and call it refactoring -- I do it with larger projects. I wonder if it would be worthwhile to try doing this with my narratives. After all, the tendencies in my code that this fixes -- overcomplication, lack of clarity, unnecessary pieces that could be merged both conceptually and physically with other pieces -- are precisely those about which people complain in the context of my fiction.

7:

NaNoWriMo experience should encourage you to keep writing. I recall I wrote a couple of day's worth, my first time, that totally wrecked the flow of the story, and I deleted it, which was foolish. The scene did fit in towards the end. So what I ended up with wasn't first draft. (I was writing quickly enough to still hit the target with a few days to spare.) The scene wasn't an end-scene: it turned out to be the "boy re-meets girl" scene which is followed by a trouble they overcome together.

I do find bits I want to re-write, but other people do choose to put my stories on websites, and I reckon I produce a pretty decent first draft text. Maybe that's a hang-over from my pre-computer days. You know editing is physically difficult, so you try not to make mistakes.

8:

During the first draft (of that difficult second book) the process has often felt chaotic and frustratingly unresolvable. But then there are those rare moments of rapture – that feeling you are creating something original which actually hangs together as novel. Ok, the word ‘rapture’ might be an exaggeration, but it’s a good feeling. What really matters is the belief that you can get there.

I’ve become obsessed with divining/distilling the essence of a novel. What’s the theme? The underlying message? Can it be described in a blurb-sized number of words? It is,though, really difficult, and may not even be essential. Of course, that’s mostly about pitching it to a potential agent/publisher.

Another way of finding any incoherences is to imagine you’re being interviewed about your latest work, though by an interviewer who wants to challenge your reasoning (in such context praise is pointless).

These techniques i’ve learned through bitter experience (yes, rejection), trying not to make the same mistakes again.

Still, nothing beats the fresh pair of eyes of an expert editor.

9:

Mixing genres worked pretty well for Terry Pratchett.
When he started it can't have seemed that there was much of a market for a satire of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books (which is how The Colour Of Magic first struck me).
The Discworld books' fantasy/comedy/satire/crime/mystery/thriller blend became pretty popular nevertheless.

10:

" Chris Priest's admonition to print off the first draft and delete all electronic copies... "

Chris Priest Was, and - as Far as I am Aware- still is a Consummate Professional in the Field who ever and always Has /HAD his Writing Tendrils Extended and his note book poised so that ... Say, at a convention of some time ago He Watched me dealing with a problem at a Con that was not My Problem strictly speaking for I was not, he knew, , either on on the con committee or Opps - But, Lo, HE knew that I am Drawn To Trouble as The Sparks Fly Upwards - and, after I'd sorted it Out he approached me at The Bar - as was sensible - and Spoke Saying " So, ' A ' ..That Weird Woman and HER Problem, and Her 'Boyfriend ' that you looked as if you might knock down and jump up and down on ?? What Was IT, and How did you Solve it without violence? "

As a non writer I suspect that the writing /redraft process starts long before the Writer places Finger to Keyboard and the re write goes on long after the "Finished " Final Draft leaves your hand .... Editor to Writer : " Did YOU Really Mean to say That ? Wouldn't it be better if ?????? " ...

11:

My experience with advice from writers about how to write is to take it with a chunk of salt. Try it out, by all means, but don't try to emulate the procedure, it may fuck up your process, such as it is.

I listened to some advice that Harlan Ellison wrote long ago, and trying to copy him exactly just did not work for me. It was useful in a way, but it would have been more useful to just ignore him, or to have realised that it was only helpful up to a point. Or that what works for an experienced writer isn't necesarily what a novice needs.

12:

John, this is a brilliant post. I love all those references, especially that bit about Terry Pratchett. I took so much much away from it. I'll be coming back and rereading this post as well, and visiting your blog from hereon out, obviously.

13:

The old-style pulp writers maybe have a few things to teach us. They were writing for a market which demanded faced paced action. It's maybe in vogue to criticise the short attention span of the modern audience, but I don't think that there's anything all that new in it. So grabbing the reader by the throat is worth doing. And don't let them go.

Of course, it's not a model for every book.

But even if you're getting nowhere, there might be a line you could use.

"It was a Wednesday, not the best day of the week to rob a bank."

14:

Yes... Take what works for you and discard the rest, definitely.

I've steered clear of discussing anything that applies to full-time writing (or even of when to take the plunge - and for me, a conversation with Charlie in an Edinburgh restaurant some years back was very helpul) and in particular to address the motivation you need to keep writing while holding down a day-job.

Anything along the lines of "write every day" applies to novels - I might amend it to "write a whole draft from beginning to end without interruptions." [Caveat: except when a voice of doom in your head tells you it's time to stop and rethink.] Dreaming up a new short story the day after you've finished one... that's far too much to ask.

And I've tried to mention the things that work for most and to note the things that vary.

For anyone still at the early stages, whatever that really means - um, reading Orson Scott Card's "Character & Viewpoint" might be helpful. Other than that, the basic commandment (as per Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Ian Rankin, me...) is: Read Lots. Write lots.

And persevere. Everything else is entirely up to you...

...and I look forward to reading something by you at some point!

15:

I’ve become obsessed with divining/distilling the essence of a novel. What’s the theme? The underlying message?

I think I'll just pass on the spirit of Stephen King's advice here. If you've reached the end of the first draft, and then you work out what the theme is, you can use that knowledge during revision to bring out features of the narrative that will help everything to be seamless, whole and coherent.

Other than that: yes, being able to do the famous "elevator pitch" is useful if you're rubbing shoulders with editors. Not so much otherwise. (An inability to create such a pitch might indicate a book that is so cross-genre or out of genre that it doesn't fit a publishing niche.)

As for the second book thing... Well, congratulations, because you've done it once before, so you can do it again!

I was profoundly unhappy with my second book as I was nearing the end of the first draft, and stopped writing. After a stressful few days in the day-job, I was driving back from a somewhat unpleasant client meeting in Scotland (end of the short project though, and no draggers were drawn against me personally) and pulled my car off the road somewhere in the Lake District, and fell asleep.

When I woke up (with some of that rapture you mention) I realized I had to restructure the book and wind another thread through the whole thing...

For me it was a private struggle, without letting my editor or agent know. (I had a two-book deal, the second book on the basis of a one-page outline.) In the case of another SF writer I know well, exactly the same thing happened, but not privately: said person had submitted a complete draft which needed total reworking.

Here's what my agent told me: "It's good for it to happen now, because sooner or later it happens to everyone. You might as well learn early on that you can deal with it."

Because of my hypnosis training, I've worked with several writers who had writer's block. In one case, though, it was because the writer had got a long way into something like their tenth book before realizing it all needed to be reworked. And when I said, "You mean this has never happened to you before?" the answer was: "No... You mean it's OK for this to happen?"


16:

Thank you, dwh! [Tips hat and bows.]

17:

Mixing genres worked pretty well for Terry Pratchett.

Can't argue with that!!!

So, hmm, can I refine my thinking here? (Incidentally, agent Don Maass's book has a chapter devoted to the mid-career author. He has a list of potential warning signals - poor book covers is one, declining advances an obvious one, and writing cross-genre books is another. So this is a generalization from someone with vast experience and a commercial outlook.)

Some genres mix in an obvious way, such as mystery and SF, or (nowadays) romance and urban fantasy.

When it's a more unusual mix, you get away with it by being an unusually talented writer.

That definitely applies to Our Terry. Stephen King has his own "genre" as I mentioned... However, when he was starting out - by the way, he had a huge number of short-story rejections before getting published - it was a publishing truism that no one could make a living by writing horror fiction.

Similarly, Robert B. Parker's first few "Spenser" novels in the 1970s revivified another (sub)genre, private-eye novels.

Someone with bucketloads of talent can either create some fantastic new cross-genre mix, or they can revitalize the western.

P.S. I once read a translated modern Chinese novel, that was supposed to be a crime novel, except that half-way through the book the "murder victim" turned out to be alive, and after that... things happened. Um.

18:

OK, Dave. I'll play...

It was a Monday, not the best day of the week for shaving chihuahas.

It was a Tuesday, not the best day of the week to collapse a wormhole.

It was a Thursday, not the best day of the week to transmogrify three doughnuts.

It was a Friday, not the best day for Lady Sinclair to set fire to her petticoats.

It was a Saturday, not the best day of the week to declare itself sentient (but not the worst, either).

It was a Sunday, not the best day of the week to sublimate.

19:

Appreciate the whole series of swirling/writing, very helpful advice - particularly since I am (not really) a fiction writer: Still it had me spell-bound, and I started to wonder in how far it applies to writing for scientific journals.

I think some parts would have to be adjusted, but since I personally like articles that are interesting and well-written (apart from being based on good research), maybe not too much. Anyone further ideas on that?

20:

#5 and 9 - I'd agree about the increasing popularity of "trans-genred fiction". Even leaving "urban fantasy" out of it, there's SF romance, SF Napoleonic Wars, OGH's near-future SF crime novels and Laundry series (spy novel + horror), Pterry's "Victorian set fantasy/comedies" (source being Pterry himself in conversation)...

21:

"Leona nodded, and did something inconsequential that resulted in a narrative beat."

I kind of hope this stays in. Reminds me of the single best line in Snow Crash. Towards the end of the chapter, Our Hero, Hiro Protagonist, kills a man in a swordfight, slashes through the wall of the building with his bloodstained katana, leaps onto his terrifically advanced motorbike and roars off down the road, closely pursued by a mob of heavily-armed rednecks in pickups and by the local privatised law enforcement, the Enforcers, in their Enforcermobiles.

"And after that it's just a chase scene."

22:

When I was Stephen King, it was a very good year.

23:

...and I look forward to reading something by you at some point!

Uh, well, umm, you see.... Oh, all right, I'll see what I can do.

24:

Re: Pratchett and The Colour of Magic, I haven't re-read it in a long time, but if I recall correctly each section was a parody of a different fantasy (or fantasyesqe science fiction) classic -- not only Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser but Conan and the Dragonriders of Pern and some others that don't come readily to mind.

Re: revising the previous day's work before starting to write new material -- I've done that sometimes, especially when resuming after a break of a day or more. It might help in combination with this to use automatic version control on one's drafts -- I have a cron job that commits all the files in my drafts directory every night (and logs daily word counts on them), so I can revert to older drafts or compare with older drafts if I need to (for instance, if I find I've accidentally deleted a section I meant to cut and paste elsewhere). If I'm cutting a long passage, more than a phrase or so, I'll cut and paste it to a "deleted scenes" file instead of deleting outright; sometimes I may need to refer to these later to check worldbuilding consistency or something.

Re: rewriting from scratch instead of revising -- I haven't done this very often, but when I have, I think it's seriously improved the quality. I've generally only done it when the first draft was pencil and paper or when the first electronic draft was a mess with more plot holes than main characters, so I don't have a large sample for testing how well this works.

Another thing I've done occasionally is to write the first draft in a language other than English (which I'm somewhat less fluent in), which forces me to focus on coherency of plot and character rather than fine style, and to do a total rewrite instead of a revision, and incidentally exercises language skills that I otherwise might not use often enough to avoid rust.

25:

I enjoyed reading Stephen King's "On Writing". It is an extremely well written autobiography. However, don't expect any serious writing tips. King's atitude is that you absolutely have to have the "calling" as a writer. He's sure that nobody can become a writer without original talent. You have to be born with it. If you're born with it he tells you that a BA in English lit might be helpful. That's it! He gives you no more, apart from expalining why writing camps and /or workshopd are not useful for novel writers.

26:

I'll keep thinking on this...

For now, here's something that might carry over. You know how novels will often complete a circle? Or more a spiral, perhaps... You revisit a certain locale or situation from the beginning, but at the end of the book, things are different. And I find that happens at many levels. Often a minor character that just pops into the story from nowhere is just what you need to resolve something later. (And in the first draft of one book, I had an early scene with an offbeat character who seemed ripe for later use - but never re-entered the story, so I deleted him entirely in the 2nd draft.)

I think you can do this in articles, along with setting something up as a teaser - so it seems you're not resolving it - and then close it off later.

I submitted a computer science report to my supervisor and received praise including a comment about the dramatic structure!

Also, years back, knowing nothing about Barbara Kingsolver, I picked up her book of essays, High Tide In Tucson. (Pretty intriguing title if you've been there, which I have.) After reading the first essay, I thought: that might have been written by a novelist, what with the way it opened up in an intriguing, catchy way and then came to a resolution that closed everything off.

And then I found out she really is a (scientifically trained) novelist, and most excellent, too.

27:

Probably a bit late spotting this one. But the impersonating-Stephen-King bit rings very true with me. I'm a musician - not a great one, but hell, it's not my day job. I can't say I play any instrument to my personal satisfaction, but I play them to the satisfaction of the pub crowd dancing away, and I guess that's what matters.

Anyway, I used to suffer from really bad stage fright. Never mind if it was just a folk singaround with a dozen friends, I'd be petrified. At some point along the way I got myself a CD called "Self-hypnosis for musicians". Various exercises in relaxation, getting you to practise, things like that. But the *really* good one, the one that almost completely busted my stage fright, was very similar to yours.

Think of a great musician, someone you admire. They're on stage, playing perfectly and fluently. You walk on stage while they're playing, and stand right behind them. They're still playing perfectly and fluently. And then YOU TAKE ONE STEP FORWARD...

If this creeps you out, then you're not alone - it's spooked a lot of people I've described it to. And if I'm recommending the CD to people, I make a point of never describing this exercise, because I think you get precisely one shot at it, and if you know what's going to happen then it doesn't work. But it really, seriously worked for me. Stagefright busted, good to go. I'll still get nervous - have I got spare picks? are my cables OK? is the balance right? But stagefright is long gone, and it ain't coming back.

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This page contains a single entry by John Meaney published on August 13, 2011 12:38 AM.

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