Guest Blog from Patrick McCord

Patrick McCordI recently asked Patrick McCord for some writing tips for those of us hoping to get our 50,00 word novel written this November. Do let me know which ones you find helpful.  I personally am fond of tip number 4. It worked for Hemingway, and it seems to be working for me. Patrick certainly has the credentials. He describes himself as a fugitive from Hollywood, where he learned that his talents were more analytical than presentational. He’s an award-winning poet, published short story author, and he has sold teleplays and a screenplay. As a college professor, he has specialized in story- and identity-cognition in film and literature.  He is currently Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of The Editing Company and is developing the Write Yourself Free(SM) Writing Manual.
The Editing Company and the Write Yourself Free(SM) workshops are housed in a 19th Century carriage house in the center of Westport, CT that features a dedicated Writers’ Room. Patrick and his partner Tish Fried  have launched The Editing Company Publishing. Their first book, Resurrecting Democracy, is available on Amazon.com. By the way, they welcome NaNoWriMo writers who need a space to write. Contact Tish at TishPatrick@gmail.com to find out when space is available.

Writing is Play

1. Writing is a habit. Don’t wait for inspiration; inspiration is a myth.  If you have a habit of writing 4 or 5 times a week, you will finish your projects.  Just 15 minutes at a sitting will keep your story cooking on the stove of your pre-conscious imagination. But if you wait for once-a-week inspiration, you’ll find the story-stew has gone cold. Schedule your writing to create a habit and get projects finished.  Waiting for inspiration will leave you with inspired beginnings, never finished.

2. Writing is play. Free play doesn’t have rules. When you’re drafting,  spoil your inner child: give yourself permission to write absolutely anything. Write for your own pleasure or to explore. If you worry about rules, about audience or quality, you invite paralysis.  In order to get to your best drafting self, let go of all the critical nonsense about sentences or reality you think you know, and just mess around. The Jungian psychologists say, “Write the Shadow!”  What they mean is “Creativity means making a mess.” The writing doesn’t have to be good. In fact, it can be naughty, terrible, unreal, psychedelic, depraved, or, yes, poorly phrased or, gasp, unpunctuated.

3. If you want your narrative to move, align with your characters’ perceptions and goals;. Get them acting, talking, and moving; don’t worry about what they’re thinking.  Readers love to connect with a perceptually rich, motivated character.  Get your imagination into the character’s body, and let the words connect to your characters’ nervous system.  What is the sensation of wanting? That’s what drives the story!  How does what the wanting affect what the character sees? What does if feel like to be in conflict when a want is frustrated?

4. Hemingway’s Rule: stop writing when you know what happens next.  This is nifty trick and it’s hard to learn but worth it.  Recent linguistic research has shown that conversations that are left unconcluded tend to stay in mind longer than those that have closure. If you want to keep your story simmering in the back of your mind, don’t finish off all your ideas; have an image in mind of what happens next.  It’ll leave you eager to sit  down the next day and get writing instead of cleaning the house, emailing or texting, etc.

5. Don’t revise as you draft. Write in a forward direction every day; advance the plot, complicate goals, conflict! Get to the end. Re-reading what you wrote the day before and revising for “perfect sentences” is a terrible waste of time. However, when you write to the end, you get many cognitive payoffs that will speed revision— you will have taught yourself your themes, your character arc, and your style, diction, and vision will have evolved holistically.  Use each writing session to teach yourself to tell stories, not to revise pathologically.

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