Monday, June 22, 2009

Ritual and Rules?

I have just written 600 words, and it's 11.27 am. For me, that's huge! A good day. And I am thinking about ritual, because on my last day here at Anam Cara I realised that I sort of set up a ritual: breakfast, walk down to the river, sit for a while thinking about what I might write, or thinking about something else and waiting for it to come, it arriving, and going back to my room to write it - and writing it while also playing at least one game of online Scrabble (Wordscraper on Facebook) which helps me not get stuck. (I did this except the day it rained so heavily I couldn't see the garden at all.)

Sounds easy, no? It made me realise that I haven't had a ritual until now. Since we are moving countries in August and I don't know where we will be living, can I come up with one that isn't place-specific? What are your rituals? I'd love to hear what other people do.

And rules, do you have any? Apparently, Rick Moody has 14 of them, as he detailed in a recent interview in Night Train:
1. Omit Needless Words
2. Sacrifice Your Modifiers
3. Consider the Rhythm
4. Replace "To Be" and "To Have"
5. Simplify Tenses
6. Avoid Alliteration
7. Rethink Abstraction
8. Spill Your Parentheses
9. Use Figurative Language Sparingly
10. Engage All Five Senses
11. Cut the Last Sentence*
12. Read the Passage Aloud
13. Put the Draft Away
14. Do The Above Fifteen to Thirty Times
I don't quite understand number 4 - does it mean you can't say "I used to be..." or "I used to have.."? Or that you can't say "I am going..." or "I have done so much"...? Not sure what number 8 means either! read the full and great interview here.

Rituals? Rules? Tell us!


BarbaraS said...

A good thorough list, and I would use most of them. I think what he means by replacing to be and to have, is to not use the passive voice - use active verbs instead.

My rituals would include scrutinising my line end words. Not ending a line on a weak word, but instead using a word that either ends a complete unit of sense, or makes a bridge between this line and the next.

Sounds like you had a very productive time at AC. I'm looking forward to my next week away at Annaghmakerrig, one of the other great writing retreats in Ireland. Maybe sometime we'll meet there ;)

Anonymous said...

My rituals:
1. Breakfast
2. Turn on computer
3. Access Internet
4. Stay there until someone says, "What about supper?"
Hmmm. I wonder whether I should change any of these.... ~Miriam

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Ha Miriam!- I like that one!
I find Rick Moody's 14 rules very prescriptive- I almost feel like I'm being forced back to a 9-5 job with a BIG Boss called MR GRAMMARMAN. No, no, no- not for me.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

My ritual: park but in chair, turn on computer, and don't leave until something happens. Sometimes that something's just reading other's blogs, Googling my brains out, and drinking way too much coffee.

I write first draft, then rework and rewrite, over and over and over.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

A very helpful list. And tis so lovely to hear someone like RM agreeing that there are rules for the creation of strong prose!

'Course, once you've learned the rules,, then you can start breaking them, so long as you do it deliberately... not through ignorance.

Not sure it is a 'rule' as such, but I've been a bit focussed on 'endings' for a while. No - not the ending of the story, necessarily. But the last words of a paragraph, the ones that linger in the reader's head. Or even a sentence....

glad to hear you had such a wonderful time at Anam cara!

E.P. Chiew said...

Ritual absolutely important for me. Mine is get kid ready for school, take her to school, run my grocery errands along the way, stop at Starbucks for a double expresso.

I find that if I check all my various emails etc. before I even do all of the above, I'm ready to write.

Rules schmules. I don't write by rules. Those 14 of Rick Moody's are important if you want to submit to one of those academic fiction journals in the States. Otherwise, I'd say do what best serves your story.

Tania Hershman said...

Barbara - have a wonderful time yourself! And yes, let's coordinate next time.

Miriam, glad to hear you have breakfast, at least :)

Hi Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by. I like "don't leave until something happens"!

V - but did you understand all his rules? Perhaps I am beng dense. Endings are so important, aren't they. My writing group and I did a great exercise recently where we just wrote the ending to something we didn't have a middle for yet. It was wonderful.

Elaine, double espressos are vital. And yes, I must agree about rules schmules!!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

But but but - (hey, good debate)

if we say 'rules schmules' to someone who is just starting out... what is it saying?

Look at his list, and look at our own working processes.

1) Omit Needless Words

How often do we say 'every word must count in a story'? if it isnt necessary, delete it.?

2. Sacrifice Your Modifiers

Really the same as above. Unnecessary words.

3. Consider the Rhythm
Dont we read our work out loud? I know I do. Thje change something because iot doesn't sound quite right...

4. Replace "To Be" and "To Have"

Do we often use passive voice? Or pluperfect tense? Its more effective not to.

5. Simplify Tenses

as above probably.

6. Avoid Alliteration

Not sure about this one. If it sticks out, then sure, and my poetry tutor told me I do it too much! Rule was broken.

7. Rethink Abstraction

dont know what this means. I like abstract thought.

8. Spill Your Parentheses.

Absolutely. if something is in brackets, I take it out.

9. Use Figurative Language Sparingly


10. Engage All Five Senses

Of course. But after a while its done unthinkingly anyway. But I was taught to do that consciously.

11. Cut the Last Sentence*

And probably the first as well, in multiples. This one makes you realy look at the endings... whether they 'do on past the strongest point. But unless you are told this, how do you learn?

12. Read the Passage Aloud

Yes!!!! It is so different to hear your work. It throws errors into relief.

13. Put the Draft Away

Time. And we all use time dont we... not sending something out the moment it tis done.

14. Do The Above Fifteen to Thirty Times

Edit, edit, edit. Scour work for mistakes. Sharpen prose.

Rules schmules? Which of the above do we NOT do as a matter of course?? And which would we suggest to new writers is unnecessary?

Thing is, so much becomes unconscious.

Teresa Stenson said...

I think there's something to be said about learning and understanding the rules, then breaking them knowingly and for the right reasons.

Ultimately I think it's about expression and voice - particularly the voice of your character - so, I'd say if something feels right but it's breaking a so-called rule - do it.

Number 8, taking things out of brackets, is one that jumps out to me as being unnecessary. I used loads in a story Brand Magazine published last year (actually Tania, you're in there too - and as an aside, I thought 'And. Bruised' was excellent) because it was important to the first person narrative, and it happened naturally and felt 'right'.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the energy in which a piece is written. Although I completely understand why we need to re-draft and edit, I wonder about the loss of naturalness (a word??!) and energy in the prose as a consequence of this.

KatW said...

I try & engage in a routine that involves day job in the morning and novel in the afternoon. Doesn't always work but I do try and write something every day. My writing ritual always involves tea or coffee, prefably my writing hut or a pleasant cafe, my lap top & my latest Moleskine notebook.

At least the internet means that wherever you move to you can still be in the same place in the virtual world.

Kat :-)

Tam said...

No routine, I just squeeze in writing as and when I can. I like rules but there are exceptions to all of the above so I guess you follow them until you sense they're not quite working for you.

Clare said...

My rules would be:

1. Forgive the first draft.
2. Cut by one third.
3. Hear the dialogue.
4. If it needs a complete re-write, it needs a complete re-write. Don't shirk.
5. The inner critic comes when I call, and not before.
6. Read aloud.
7. Save a new version every day and back up your computer.

Tania Hershman said...

V - you are quite right about saying that to someone starting out, but I was taking this list as rules that Rick has for his own writing. Of course you can and should break rules - but what I tell my students is - do it with awareness. For example, don't skip from one point of view to another carelessly, do everything you do deliberately, knowingly, in the service of the story.

Teresa, nice to meet you and thanks for the lovely words about And Bruised! When I get home I will look up your story. I am not always so good at reading the rest of the mags I have a story in, embarrassingly. I like what you say about energy - I think this is sometimes true, that in redrafting and revising we damp down something that was there in the first draft. Fine line, eh?

Kat - so jealous of your writing hut! And it sounds like you know what works for you. I hope your novel is going well.

Tam - exactly. We should none of us feel forced into doing anything, otherwise that takes all the joy out, no?

Clare - love it! Would you cut by one third if your story is 250 words long? I have done this. But yes to the no shirking, the reading aloud and the backing up, yes yes yes!

Teresa Stenson said...

You know, Tania, I'm not too good at reading the rest of the few mags I've had stories in either, but your name is one that I've seen shortlisted in so many comps I've entered over the past few years that I just had a feeling you were in Brand02 as well.

I saw 'White Road' in Waterstones today - fantastic. Almost bought it til I remembered I've ordered from Salt, to do my bit for their campaign.

It's really inspiring that you're not a novelist first and then a short story writer second, and seeing your book in Waterstones gave me a little boost.

Tania Hershman said...

Teresa, sorry it took me so long to tell you what a thrill your comment gave me! I saw my collection in Borders in Bristol a few days ago and it always moves me, but the idea that you seeing my book gave you a boost is just too lovely for words! Thanks for supporting Salt and us.