A couple weeks ago I was driving to work thinking about writing and how I'll never be perfect at it since no one is, but I wanted to be able to lay down words more accurately. Despite how much I love diving in and writing a story, there had to be a better way than to flail my way through the drafts, a way that didn't require the rigid outlining that breaks my brain, or even the vague plotting I do that's basically me talking to myself on paper. Basically, something that would work better for me. In my circling thoughts I came to the conclusion that I just had to write more. Makes sense, right? I mean, that's what everyone says: keep writing, keep reading, eventually you get better.
But something was nagging at me. If I just keep doing what I'm doing, how will I know when I'm doing it better? I've noticed a few things I do now that I didn't before that make my writing stronger, but it doesn't help me get from one scene to the next, it's more mechanics, word choice, things like that. I wanted a way to make my storytelling abilities better. I have a story-centric mind and telling stories on paper has never been difficult for me, but what I wanted to do now was to really craft them. Or, to put it a different way, I knew I had good instincts, but I wanted to hone them.
I'm fairly certain that article is changing my life, or at least, the way I approach my writing. I highly suggest you go read it, since I'll be referring to it often. I'll wait.....................
Now. What I got out of that piece was that I needed to Pay. More. Attention. Not necessarily write more but write with more attention, more focus.
Something in me has always resisted this when writing, and when I'm next writing a first draft I'll probably do my usual write-flail-write-flail method, since, like I said above, I do believe I have pretty decent instincts overall. But right now I'm writing draft 2 of Darlington and I didn't want to flail it. That's how I end up with bloated first drafts, the flailing that adds lots of random details, but not the right ones. So with this draft that I was already attempting to do differently (I'm barely glancing at the first draft nowadays, just straight-up rewrites), I decided to give the method described at the end of the article a try. While every step of the six is helping me move forward, the problem-solving model described in #5 is what I've made into point #3 of keeping a practice journal.
Here's what I do now. Every 1500-200 words or so of new material I hit a stopping point. I know I have a problem facing me, and usually I'd just think at it a few minutes and write, or just leave it until my next session. Not anymore. Now I take out my Practice Journal (really it's a writing journal, but I like thinking of it as practice-- not quite final, you know?) and I write out: Define the Problem. And then I do. I write out Analyze the Problem. And then I spend a few lines taking it apart, trying to determine what's at the heart of the matter.
After that I write out possible solutions. I choose one or a combination of a few. And then I implement them. The next day I reread what I've written and if something isn't quite working right, I edit it to a more suitable solution.
I'm not going to lie: this process is slow. The first few days, it was frustrating. I had plenty of time to be writing, yet I wasn't. I kept stopping, checking my notes, writing new ones. When I got to a good stopping point I'd get up and go in another room and read or play with the dog or bake. I felt guilty. Shouldn't I be writing during those free hours? But now that I'm getting into a groove with it, I'm finding it's more frustrating not to have filled out my practice journal. The days that I attempt to write without refreshing my memory on those notes or if I try to forgo them, I'm lost. I write better now with this easily accessed bank of my thoughts. And because I've taken the time to write them down and sort through them, I can see why I've dismissed certain ideas, and why some are still valid even if they didn't work at that particular point. I see when I've missed adding a crucial detail.
I know that no everyone works the same way, but I do highly recommend at least attempting this method for a week or so. I'm not sure how it will fair with a first draft, but for my revision, and the way my mind works now, it's pretty amazing.