I’m a really slow writer. Really slow. It’s a combination of: I can’t actually type very quickly, and I think too much. Thoughts pile up in my brain because I cannot type (or write) them down fast enough, and the thoughts at the bottom of that pile get compressed so much so I become, quite literally, at a loss for words.
I think it’s because I’m a visual thinker, and not a word-oriented thinker. Yep, there’s a movie playing in my head when I’m writing these erotic stories.
So, in my writing life, I use Thesaurus.com as a sort of road map to the deeper recesses of my brain. I can often summon a vague word-oriented impression of a thought, so I start with that word and keep clicking through the thesaurus until I discover the actual word that captures the visual in my imagination. I find it all a little weird. It is also a little frustrating. In a world of NaNoWriMo and #1k1hr*, I am barely keeping afloat.
This trait came to the fore on Saturday when I took a writing workshop from a rather in/famous fiction writing coach (I’ll get around to who a bit later). I’m a pretty good note taker (although, again, with that movie constantly playing in my head sometimes I get distracted. You know, how you just zone out of the actual physical world and all you see is that visualized world? Okay, maybe you don’t. But it happens to me. I “wake up” and suddenly I’m no longer in 19th-century England and fear I have missed something. Especially in a writing workshop where the presenter begins with “imagine your principal protagonist…”. I have to cling desperately to the physical world around me to not think too much about her, like “Oh! What is she wearing?”)—
So, yes, if someone else is speaking I can take pretty good notes. I don’t have to think, right? They’re just spewing forth all those great words and I just have to type them down. Of course, I’m not a fast typist so it becomes problematic at times. Good presenters take lots of breaths so we slowpokes can catch up. But I do type more quickly when someone else is providing the words.
But, when the presenter decides we’re going to do an exercise involving creative writing, well, that’s when I falter.
Our final exercise was on deconstructing action scenes, action being sex (and)/or violence, and it was fantastic for me because it involved visualization:
- From the point of view of one of the characters in the scene, take a unit of time, like ten minutes, of that scene. Visualize the scene as a video that can be advanced or rewound, perhaps with a time stamp in the corner. Pick five frames of this “video” and describe these five still moments. (It was Theresa Rogers who suggested another metaphor for this exercise: imagine five panels of the graphic novel version of your story.)
- For each still/panel/moment what would the point-of-view character sense (see/hear/taste/touch/smell) that was unique to that character, or that another character might not notice?
- For each still/panel/moment what would the point-of-view character feel? Not the obvious feelings, but the less obvious secondary emotions, i.e., “what does the character also feel?” What are the layers of feeling, what are the feelings the character doesn’t expect and doesn’t want?
- Now use the above to construct the scene. The presenter gave us five minutes.
Five minutes. That’s it. I wrote 141 words. That’s right. 141 words. Pitiful.
And, three of those words were “[describe more sex]”. The lush sex scene between two people in love was not one of those five still shots. Rather, the still/panel/moment I chose was of the voyeur squatting down to peer through a door at the lovers. (If you know my work you know voyeurism is one of my beloved erotic elements.) So, really I wrote just 138 words.
And then the presenter asked for volunteers to read their work aloud. I looked at what I wrote, and it wasn’t bad for a 5-minute rough draft. But, I held back and waited to hear what others wrote.
Across the board the quality was good. This was a room full of writers, some of them published, so that was to be expected. What astonished me was the quantity of writing. After the first two people had read, I realized how little I had written. Then the final volunteer read. Wow. It was a whole blasted scene! Absolutely pages of words! This person was superhuman to have been able to write that fast.
Or perhaps I am superhumanly slow? This exercise just proved to me that I am head and shoulders below my colleagues as far as typing speed.
The writing workshop was “The Fire in Fiction” given by Donald Maass, a New York-based literary agent who recently made industry headlines with his blog post delineating “The New Class System” of writers. Outraged criticism was quick and excoriating. As a hybrid-published author (both self-published and traditionally [mid-list] published) I certainly disagree with Maass’s assessment of the publishing landscape. But his writing workshop was wonderful and offered some great tips and techniques, so I will not jump into the fray of this argument which has become somewhat ad hominem.
I also won’t post that 141-word scene. It is from the third book in my Harwell Heirs series, working title Miss Danby’s Condition, and involves two characters you met in The Pleasure Device. I don’t want to give too much away at this point, especially since the book is in an unfinished rough draft state. What I will say is what I learned in the workshop will definitely help strengthen my writing. So, I may be slow but my work will be better!
*#1k1hr is a Twitter-based challenge to writers to commence writing one thousand words in one hour from some appointed time.