Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writing AO1, installment #2: Size Totally Matters

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We begin today with a disclaimer. There is no one way to write let alone to write well. I have known excellent writers who had to have every chapter and paragraph of a book planned out in advance before they wrote a word of it. Others, like myself, simply sit down, put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper and see what happens.
The beauty of this method is that I get to find out the story as it goes along and often this includes wonderful surprises when a storyline suddenly. seemingly by magic, just clicks into place and ideas planted in say, chapter two re-emerge in chapter fifteen and pull the whole plot together. Truly, this happens. And it’s exciting. let me tell you. When I write nonfiction, I find out as I type. For fiction, I find out as I handwrite the first draft. My fiction mind only moves as fast as a pen.
All this is to say whatever your writing style, it’s OK. The fact that John Irving writes every single day of the year and right into his word processor or that Alister Macleod plots out an entire book, then writes every sentence just once does not make them better people. More organized, better disciplined people, for sure, but not better.
The only book on writing I’ve ever read is "bird by bird" by Anne Lamott. I recommend it highly. Particularly to those of you who already write. Reading this book makes you feel less insane. Anyone who writes knows how valuable that is.
One of the things Lamott made me feel less insane about is the fact that if I try to sit down and write a novel or an article or a book of nonfiction humour, I can’t do it. The scope of the whole thing, even if it’s only 1200 words for a magazine, is too huge for my tiny self-doubting, easily overwhelmed writer-brain.
The only way I can write anything is by tricking myself into believing that I’m only writing 600 words. 800 max.
Lamott suggests approaching any writing project as if you’re holding a picture frame. Each time you sit down, you’re only going to describe the one thing or action that’s in that little frame.
Giving yourself small assignments means not having to put off writing because you haven’t time to author a whole book, or because you find the concept of trying makes your brain shut down as if you’ve just been asked it to define god or explain stars. It means that, “But I have to work/go to school/eat/sleep/cleanse my body/think of excuses not to write, not having time being the very best one,” no longer washes.
600 words. One idea.
Each day when I sit down to I write, I am not writing a novel or a book of nonfiction. I’m just writing 600 words. One little idea. I can handle 600 words and one idea. I can keep myself at the keyboard for 600 words. Often, I end up writing more though not always. I go word by word, 600 a day.
Size matters. Too big and you’ll be overwhelmed. 600 a day and somehow rather miraculously it turns into a whole magazine article or a short story or maybe a book.
Word by word.

Next installment: Editors and Other Complete and Total Goddesses

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Anne Hines

Anne Hines is the author of three novels, Fishing Up the Moon (Pedlar Press, 1998), The Spiral Garden (McArthur & Co, 2005) and Come Away: song of songs (McArthur & Co., 2007) and one collection of nonfiction humour, A Year In HineSight (McArthur & Co, 2002). A series of essays, Parting Gifts: notes on loss, love and life is due for publication by McArthur & Co, fall 2008.

Go to Anne Hines’s Author Page