by Jeremy Edwards
When I was first invited to make this guest-blogging appearance, I was torn. (Well, I was conflicted; the cover of my paperback dictionary was torn.)
Since I love OGAG and greatly admire those involved in it, I was of course immensely flattered by the offer. But at the same time, I was faced with the inescapable truth that I’m not really a Hobbit person. Why, I’ve never even read any of J. L. R. Tolkien’s work. (What? All right, all right: J. *R.* R. Whatever. We fortysomethings aren’t obligated to remember more than two initials at once, you know.)
Fortunately, by the time I reread the invitation, my bifocals had accidentally found their way onto my face. (They normally reside atop the snout of my stuffed Tigger. Please stop looking at me that way. You too, Tigger.) At this point, I discerned that I’d been offered a slot blogging about writing *habits*, and this simplified the situation considerably. My sole worry now was that Ashley and I--whose minds work alike to a degree that even television vampires have described as “frightening”--would craft virtually identical posts, distinguishable only in that (a) my piece would have fewer u’s (favor, harbor, candor), and (b) his piece would be better.
What with one thing and another, I’d gotten out of the habit of thinking about my habits, and so this assignment forced me to take a long, hard look at myself. (Long looks at myself are always hard, chiefly because of the strain on the neck muscles.) The first thing I noticed--other than the fact that my earlobes are slightly asymmetrical--was that my writing habits could be divided into three categories: good habits, bad habits, and odd habits. (Technically, a good or bad habit might also be an odd one; but for the purposes of this discussion, good- or badness trumps oddness.) I then took the liberty of further organizing these habits according to which aspect of the writing task each pertained to.
The first area I’d like to explore (though it wasn’t the first one I thought about--see Sequence, below) is that of Momentum. As all writers know, momentum is what ultimately allows us to have a body of finished work (sometimes even with a head attached), rather than just a quaint menagerie of promising starts. Here are the habits of mine that I’ve identified as momentum-relevant:
Building on Success.
This is where I say, “Wow, the passage I just drafted feels good. I think I’m really in the groove, so instead of switching to another task I’ll keep writing, for now.”
This is where I say, “Well! That’s an awesome 175-word paragraph I just wrote, if I do say so myself (and there’s no one else in the house, so I’d better). I know it’s only 9:23 in the morning, but I do believe I’ll take the rest of the day off.”
This is where I say, “Sweet! That passage reads beautifully. I wonder how it would look in 15-point Baskerville Oldface.”
Then there’s the issue of Sequence. Though I often, as they say, begin at the beginning, I don’t necessarily write an entire story in the order in which it will be read. (I’m assuming a reader who reads left to right and top to bottom--unlike my aunt Felicia, who is a career bureaucrat and insists on reading the words in alphabetical order.) Here again, I exhibit a cluster of habits:
Going with the Flow.
The “flow” might be the chronological sequence of events as it will be seen by readers other than Aunt Felicia, or it might not. The “flow” is simply whatever direction my creativity is going. If my momentum (see above) keeps me progressing from point A in the narrative to points B, C, and D (please note the Felicia-friendly order), then, great--I’m writing in sequence. But if I’m stuck at point A-and-a-half (also known as A-sharp, or B-flat) and, meanwhile, my spontaneous creative Eislaufbahn* is making a totally separate scene unfold before my eyes, then that’s the flow with which I should go. In that case, I’ll be embracing the literary equivalent of the cinematic tactic called “filming out of sequence”--and, if it makes me feel important, I can even shout “Action!” at the start of every paragraph. (As noted earlier, I’m usually alone in the house when writing.)
*Disclaimer: Accuracy of random, impressive-sounding German terms not guaranteed.
Writing a New Scene without Carefully Rereading the Old Scene.
It’s all well and good to go with the aforementioned flow; but if I begin my writing day by plunging headlong into a shimmering new episode in my story, without first refreshing my mind regarding little things like hair color, point of view, and, oh, gender (since I write both hetero and lesbian stories) ... then my characters and I may get into trouble.
Writing Sex Scenes Last, Even If They Fall in the Middle of the Story.
I don’t always do this, but it’s not unusual for me. What can I say? Having a story two-thirds finished gives me a virile feeling.
I also have an array of habits that relate to Character Names. (I’m referring to the names of my protagonists and their associates, and not to items like the percent symbol or the left angle bracket--though, come to think of it, Percent Symbol sounds like she’d make a cute leading lady.)
Reviewing the List of Names I’ve Used Before.
I won’t say I never repeat names, but I do try to avoid giving my most faithful readers the impression that I have a small stable of recurring characters on the payroll, who behave in inconsistent manners from story to story and jet capriciously back and forth between American and British settings.
Starting Out with an “-s” Name.
I’m sure other writers will recognize what I’m talking about here. Phyllis. James. Dennis. Mags. It sounds like a yummy foursome ... until I get one page into the draft and find myself stuck in a possessive-case Essiggurkefass like
James’s hand lingered on Mags’s breast, even as Phyllis’s gaze, then Dennis’s, intersected Isis’s line of sight. [Yes, I threw Isis in there for good measure.]
When it comes to selecting names, possessives are nine-tenths of the law.
Gravitating to Three-Syllable “M” Names for My Female Protagonists.
For eroto-aesthetic reasons that are obscure even to me, the as-yet-untrod stage of a new Jeremy story is often rushed by a Millicent or a Marigold, a Melanie or a Minerva. Sometimes--just sometimes--these prima donnas get to stay, if they promise to behave *very* nicely.
One final observation: When a habit proves to have a positive influence on my writing journey, I upgrade it, for labeling purposes, to a “strategy.” This terminology makes it sound like I’m carefully stewarding my creative process--like I’m in control.
The disadvantage to this is that since all the good habits become “strategies,” most of the official “habits” I’m left with are bad ones. So thank goodness for the odd ones!