Develop a Habit of Research in Writing...

Over a lifetime, a writer might develop an amazing array of facts and information because of lengthy research into the topics of their stories.  In a study of medieval Paris, an author may learn all the historical landmarks, the city streets and their ancient layout before the city was modernized, or the placement of walls and battlements that are no longer standing in the present day.  The writer might also discover customs now lost to society, such as the rag-catcher who would collect the used handkerchiefs of the city dwellers and take them on to be ‘recycled’ in other ways.  This research can stay with a writer for years after they have finished their story and it is a product of research conducted once the writer has the germ of the narrative firmly in mind.  This is the research that most of us come to associate with the daily life of a professional writer. But research can occur at any stage of the game, in many forms, and should be a universal writing habit. The curious writer is the one best poised to uncover story almost by accident, thus sparing himself the discomfort of having to dream up a narrative from scratch. It’s a common adage in the writing community that one does not think up a story, one writes it down like a faithful assistant. Julia Cameron attributes this to having a good sense of direction. A good habit of daily research means that stories come to the writer, rather than the writer chasing them down like butterflies with a net. The writer must be curious. A curious writer is rewarded with ideas that she never strove for and these are the most natural and organic ideas. They become discoveries like buried treasure...

Writers Journey: The Fine Art of Criticism, part two...

Research is a must when you are getting into your structure and working on the writing of scene after scene.  If you do your research before or during your writing you will save yourself the pain of finding contrary discoveries later when the editor or copy editor gets hold of your words later in the process.  It’s important to be as critical of your own work as possible now, rather than experience an extensive period of rewriting later. In some ways you can’t avoid certain aspects of rewriting even if you’re a careful researcher or editor on your side of the work.  When books are written largely for target market audiences today, you will find that more often than not, people will ask you to make amendments to what you’re putting on the shelf.  Particularly with large publishers, they do have target demographics out there and they do research on what will and won’t sell according to those demographics.  This can be a trying process for a writer in general as you wrestle with your vision in the waters of a market place that can feel fickle and faddish. The best thing you can do is make sure that your work is well-edited either way.  The most important thing is to hone your voice within the work and to essentially be yourself.  People will often still be drawn to an author’s style or tone.  Authors are like friends to the reader; they will come to read what you have to say the way a good friend opens your emails every day.  So once you’re pushing through structural edits, you need to settle in to what makes the work sound like it comes from you and no other author. One writer, Julia Cameron, suggested that...

Writers Journey: The Fine Art of Criticism...

We’ll be looking at criticism for the next few weeks and I’ll be reviewing the steps within the author’s editing process, then the whole process of editorial review at and before the publishing level, as well as what happens when the critics finally assess your story or novel. The fine art of criticism begins with the author and continues in many stages through to the editorial phase of any work. There are many pitfalls along the way, and some of them are natural and occur because it is impossible to be perfectly objective about one’s own work. The closest you can get to being truly objective is to put something away long enough to absolutely forgot that you’d written it in the first place. When you pull out the manuscript and wonder what had compelled you to write this or that detail, or what possessed you to add this or that scene, then you have a good grasp on what it’s like to be on the other side as the reading audience or the editor looking over your work for the first time. This is why a lot of authors have taken years to perfect a work of art. Some, like E.M. Forster, sat on manuscripts for up to forty years and sometimes it was not by choice. But the time to perfect the manuscript, to age with your piece, is nevertheless valuable. What a writer looks for in tightening up a draft is manifold really. At the start, the most important factor in your drafts is to take the large view and work to the small view. This is why it’s vital to just keep putting down pages daily and building up the material you have to work with. As a writer, we’re one...