The Stutter and Flow of Writing

I have been thinking about my prose writing lately, and how different it is to write my blog as opposed to my novel.

When I write a blog post the writing seems to flow quickly. It is like a conversation with myself, or simply jotting down a stream of consciousness about something that has inspired me. I set it down and come back to it a week or two later, when I might fine tune or add to it. The whole process is quick and organic, and I rarely make big changes to what I have written.

By contrast, writing my novel can be like the proverbial pulling of teeth. It is hard work. There is a lot of background research to incorporate without letting the reader feel preached to or over-informed, and there are certain elements and events I need to cover when writing a particular scene.

When I wrote my first novel, I plotted too precisely before I started writing. I then found that I didn’t have room to let the pace ebb and flow, or the ability to go off at interesting tangents – if they presented themselves – without messing up the storyline. My second novel worked better, especially after a complete re-write, but working in the first person limited my opportunities for description and poetic prose. These aspects of my writing had been considered a strength in my first novel by some of the agents I had approached, so in my third novel I am trying to get a good balance of immersive description – the landscape is a character in itself – and storylines that intrigue and flow.

Granted, passages where I write conversation or action scenes seem to go smoothly and reasonably quickly, but the descriptive work is stop start – each word and phrase needing to carry its weight, and to balance in a poetic meter within the whole. I read back what I’ve written, then run on, then do this all over again, until a passage feels fully formed. The following piece is an example – not fully honed yet – of this type of writing:

It is summer. God’s sky is sent out in waves of insistent blue, pulling and tugging at the edges, distorting into reflective waves as if someone has flooded the crazy mirrors tent at the fairground with a palate of cobalt and aquamarine. It is too warm for some. Such an unusual thing, a hot English summer. Too dry for the farmers, and all the local people headed for Skegness.

In the village; silence, in gathered measure of time, sits across the land. The heat is myopic, shimmering a blur that sends people drowsily out into their gardens where they idle on deckchairs and tinker with the idea of breaking the hosepipe ban. The sky sighs and stretches, touching the land cleanly, as if contact with the soil would burn and tarnish. Earth and air meet, tensioned, a cautious meniscus of attraction.

I am learning the trick of balancing these intense passages within the wider flow of the writing, and am very excited about the way my current work is progressing. Still, the top tip I have ever been given as a writer holds good: always finish your writing session in the middle of a scene, or even a sentence. It makes it so much easier to pick up the flow of the writing in a seamless way when you start again the next day.

© Anne de Gruchy

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