On Thursday 22nd February, Pamela Johnson, novelist, critic and curator, gave a Novel Masterclass for the SCBWI Professional Series in London.
Pamela has published two novels, Under Construction and Deep Blue Silence. Her third, Taking in Water, will be published in 2007. Her short stories and poems are published in anthologies. Her critical work includes Ideas in the Making. She teaches fiction writing on the MA Creative and Life writing at Goldsmith College, University of London, and is working on her forth novel.
She believes you can’t teach writing but, writers can learn and are capable of more than they know. Pamela explained how writing is experimental learning. You have to do it to get better at it.
So, what do you do when you are six chapters in and can’t get any further? Pamela narrows this down to three hurdles:
Belief – You have to believe in yourself and the novel. Is it the writing that is the problem or the resistance? You have to question rather than judge the work. One solution to this hurdle is to ask the question and answer it on paper. The aim is NOT to get it right but, to get it written. Remember, writing is on paper not in your head.
Time – Is there enough of it? How much do I actually have in between the school runs and the housework? How much can I steal back? How can I utilize the time available effectively? You’ve cleared a morning to write and you’ve sat there and written nothing! Remember, being anxious about writing is normal. It takes time out of your life and it may be for nothing. But, you can waste time by rushing around trying to do everything. You wouldn’t read a novel one page at a time, once a month, so don’t try to write like this. You need to engage with your work regularly. Break down your time into useful 40 minute slots. Define a piece of time and decide you are going to do one thing. Then define the task and do that one thing, nothing else.
Resistance –There are two forms of resistance:
The diving board syndrome - you keep going back and tightening up but never go forward. Will I ever get past page 20?
The flood - writing pours out of you but you never revise, so never have a finished product.
You need to recognise the boulder on your shoulder. Journaling is great for this as you can talk to yourself on paper. This is one way of giving yourself a tutorial every morning. But, only read your positive scribbling back. Move towards the triumphant don’t dwell on your negative thoughts.
However, if you are already a published author, Pamela identifies another even larger hurdle for you to jump.
PISS (Post Incredible Success Syndrome) - Sometimes a second and a third novel can be harder than the first. There is more pressure to do well and make a repeat performance. One solution that can help with this is to read other writers talking about writing. Pamela recommends four authors that have helped her:
- Stephen King - On Writing
- Peter Elbow – Writing Without Teachers
- Heather Sellers - Page after Page
- Pat Schneider - Writing Alone and with Others
Right, now you’ve jumped the hurdles but somehow, something feels wrong. You know you have a great storyline but the characters don’t quite live. Or, is it you have some fantastic characters but they just don’t seem to be going anywhere? What do you do then?
To help identify any problems, Pamela outlined six diagnostic questions to ask yourself about your writing. And guess what? I will tell you them another day. You know what that means don’t you? You have to come back and read my blog again! LOL