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Máire Fisher

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Tracey Farren – South African writers on writing

Fiction writing evokes an unconscious terror in many people. It is not a terror that iseasy  to recognise. It doesn’t bring sweaty palms and a thumping heart. It brings unnecessary trips to the vet and time consuming charity work. It brings devoted support for other writers, often to the point of hero worship. Sometimes it brings leg movement; kilometres of running on the treadmill or the tar. Often it brings a shattering of intimate relationships, when some poor special person is seen as ‘not good enough.’ With the crazy making propulsion of this fear, it is a marvellous thing that fiction even exists!

Fiction happens when the compulsion to write is more powerful than the fear. Either way, we are talking about an internal war. During the writing my first novel, I became tired of my own anguished ambivalence. I felt worn down by the vicious dialogue between my love of writing and my fear of being seen. Out of desperation, I worked out two ways to sidestep the war.

1. Routine

I dedicate some morning hours to my imaginary world. I get my ass down on a chair by nine in the morning. I get up once an hour for tea or a snack. I ignore the thought that I should really have my thyroid tested instead, or that today is the perfect day to renew my passport. I stay away from the phone. I resist phoning a friend to tell them the thing I forgot to say the other day.

2. Self Deception

When I start writing I tell myself, ‘This is not my book. These are just rough notes to use as reference when I really write it.’

When I have written a couple of hundred pages, I say to myself, ‘Let me take out the bits I don’t need and write in the notes that are missing. Then I’ll really start on the first draft of my book.’

Afterwards, I say, ‘Let me edit these rough notes just to make them readable. It would be nice to print them out before I really start writing.’

Once it’s printed, I say, ‘Goodness gracious me! This could pass for a first draft!’


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    February 23rd, 2009 @10:26 #

    Thanks, Tracey -- all authors, note that "self-deception" provides the most sensible guidelines for writing I have ever seen, ESPECIALLY from the perspective of an editor. Should actually be called "The Reel Trooth."

    I'd add, once you have your printed first draft, start on a stringent self-edit. And when you've finished that, next is "I need to work with an editor at this point." And after that, you begin the real rewriting.

    Oh, and when your publisher says "This is pretty clean, it won't need much editing," be sceptical -- very sceptical. In far too many years of editing, I've seen only TWO cases where this was true (the manuscripts of Duncan Brown's Voicing The Text: SA Oral Poetry and Performance and Ivan Vladislavic's The Restless Supermarket).

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    February 24th, 2009 @17:50 #

    Ben, I know we're drowning in great posts, but I HAVE to bump this one.

  • Maire
    February 25th, 2009 @00:11 #

    Thanks Helen - truly worthy of a good bump!


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