Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Clash of the Titans: Woolf vs MacDonald

"As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall."—Virginia Woolf in A Writer's Diary

There are many writing styles out there: Some, like Anthony, have a couple novels hanging out in the waiting room of his mind while he's working like a fevered Ob/Gyn doctor, delivering the current one.

When I think of John D. MacDonald (author of Travis McGee mysteries), who once said that you need to write a million words before you know what you're doing, I think that this method is undoubtedly the best. Give yourself a little shake, metaphorically, and spew writing like the fun, bubbly stuff.

My writing challenge: when I write this way, the revision is a bugger. It takes months years and it's not just plot checking. It's an entire overhaul, from stem to stern.

Woolf's quote speaks to me because this is the way I've decided to write my current WIP. I know this is not "the Way". I know one should write every day (Nulla dies sine linea, my motto). I know one should hack through the walls and build bridges across raging rivers. But honestly? I took a year of planning before I ever sat down to write this book.

The good news: the WIP feels "impending, grown heavy" and nestles uncomfortably against me. Every word written is one released, set free, and -- although I may be deluding myself -- every word feels "right."

My writing challenge: I hate knowing what comes next. However, my last hurdle was cleared with several inches to spare, and I'm harvesting the benefits. Unfortunately, I'll hit my million words when I'm about 80.

What is your writing style? Pros & cons?


  1. I love that Woolf quote. Indeed, fruit is always sweeter when it ripens on the vine or tree. However, right now I'm enjoying writing like a maniac for NaNo. I think there is room for many ways to write, and it may depend on the story itself sometimes.

  2. I really like the ripe pair metaphor. This sense of the story being present, full, and pressing is cool.

    When I write, as of late, it is in sudden bursts that are full and pressing. The biggest change I've made, in my writing philosophy, over the last year or so is the idea that there is a rhythm to the first draft, which can be badly messed with through heavy revision. So, this idea of the story "pressing" to be told is significant, because hopefully the rhythm of the story will play out. I'm talking about sentence flow and the overall waves of story line. Now, all of this seems to contradict the idea that a first draft can be crap, and then you just revise it, which seems to be a good idea because that frees you up to write with out being worry heavy.

    I like Bruce Lee. There's this cool movie where he battles different opponents. He changes his style for each opponent. In the end, he fights a guy that is about seven feet tall and he chooses to use an unorthodox method. All that is to say that the way to write depends on the circumstances and what we are battling. Adapting method, just as Bruce Lee does, seems like the way to go.

  3. You show a pear, I think of the song "My Favorite Plum" by Suzanne Vega.

    She's in the Woolf camp. She talks of sitting back and regarding the 'languid and slow' plum, the perfect plum for her... it's bursting with juicy secrets. And there's a chance someone else might take it, but she knows that it's meant to be hers.

    Some folks will take a bit of any apple that comes their way, seeking the perfect crisp bite. She waits, dry, and nourishes her plum until it falls into her lap.


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