Monday, January 07, 2008

A metaphor for writing

Now that the festivities are over, and the first official work week of the year begins, it's back to the old drawing board. I don't know about you, but the prospect of another year stretching out before me is a bit daunting. Sure, it will be full of success, joy and prosperity. But it will also involve a heck of a lot of work. That's what's proving tough to get my head around.

This weekend I read an article about the YA writer Tim Wynne-Jones, in which he likens writing to stacking wood. He stacks his firewood not tight like interlocking bricks but criss-cross so that gaps are left for air to flow through and thus dry out the logs. It's no small task, as he uses the wood to heat his home in Perth, Ontario, Canada all winter long. He approaches the task patiently, one log at a time, and points out that it is not an endless but a finite task. "You have to approach something like writing a novel the same way. It's just a chapter at a time. Like stacking wood."

My father and brother (and sometimes my mother when winter encroached too quickly) stacked the wood in our household. My sister and I were more likely to be given the task of cooking dinner, tidying up the house, or feeding the cattle. So, sadly, I can't borrow the metaphor, even if I feel desperately in need of a similar inspiration for my writing.

So what metaphor have I latched on to? Dominoes! I'm not talking about the game of strategy but rather domino toppling. Like stacking wood, standing hundreds, maybe thousands, of dominoes on their ends in an interesting and intricate pattern in such a way that they all topple precisely as arranged, takes planning, ingenuity, patience, and inspiration. And, unlike stacking wood — or so I imagine; correct me if I'm wrong, Tim — dominoes have a way of going their own way, much as my favourite characters habitually do. The best part about writing is letting the "tiles" fall where they may.


Tim Wynne-Jones points out: "Sometimes you pile [the wood] so that so much air can get into it, and then it falls over. You discard the odd-shaped logs that don't work for you. And you build more firmly." That's the crux, I figure. No matter the planning and the careful precision, something invariably goes awry. But the best work benefits from little setbacks.

What is your metaphor for writing? How do you imagine it will help you return to the drawing board/keyboard/blank page?



Blogger Brown said...

Mine is that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and is completed, one step at a time...

It helps me remember to take things small, slow, easy. If I think of 5 miles or 10 miles, I can really muck myself up--if I'm thinking, "Yeesh, I have to sub, or I need 225 pages" it's enough to send me into a panic-induced coma.

But if I say, okay, all I need is a sentence, or a paragraph, then that's something I can handle. I can't write an entire novel in an hour, but I can do a page...

10:46 pm  
Blogger India said...

To me it feels a bit like swimming. I don't want to go-- it's cold outside, and the prospect of getting undressed and plunging into the water just makes me want to grab the biscuit tin and make for the sofa. But I know that if I do I'll feel unstettled and miserable and wrong...

So I go, and the first few lengths are torture. I want to get out now. But I keep going, and then suddenly it's easier and I stop counting, and before I know it it's time to go and I feel WONDERFUL.

(In fact, I think I've just persuaded myself to start swimming regularly again!)

9:37 am  
Blogger Eva said...

Great metaphors, girls! I think we all agree...slow and steady.

5:43 pm  

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