Wednesday, April 10, 2019

On a Roll

Has your approach to writing changed during the time you’ve been published? What was the change in response to? Or, if not, have you considered other approaches and rejected them? What were they, and why?

by Dietrich

There are times I think it’s best to stick to what works, and then there are times I want to try something new. 

Since I started writing the process has become easier. Confidence came along, and I generally know when I’ve got it right. I’ve also learned to recognize when it’s time to stop. But, I don’t want to become so comfortable that the writing becomes routine. So, it’s good to take a new approach or a chance now and then. I’ve tried different genres, different points of view and perspectives and explored various settings and eras.

My first three novels were unrelated modern-day crime stories written in third person, all set on Canada’s west coast where I live. Then I tried a historical novel, House of Blazes, set in San Francisco during the great quake and fire of 1906. It was interesting and involved a lot of research and fact checking. Then it was back to Vancouver for the onset of the punk rock era during the late seventies. It was an intriguing period in music and that one, Zero Avenue, was seen through the eyes of a female protagonist. I followed it with the current one, Poughkeepsie Shuffle, written in first person and set in the mid-eighties in Toronto where I used to live, and alternating between upstate New York. The one coming out in October is Call Down the Thunder, and it’s set in Kansas during the dustbowl days of the late 1930s. Again, there was a lot of research. And I followed that with a story that starts in Vancouver and takes readers up to Alaska. It’s due out next year. Right now I’m focused on a true story about a couple of lesser-known bank robbers who were at large in the Plains during the late thirties.

I wrote my third and fourth novels simultaneously, alternating between drafts. I thought that taking a long break from the first draft of one while getting started on the next one could be a good way to go. Then I alternated back and forth until they were both complete. It did work out in the end, and they were both finished in about a year and a half, but I doubt that I’ll try it again.

My first drafts are usually penned in longhand. There’s something organic about it. Then I type the second draft into my computer. It’s so much easier to deal with the amount of changes I make at that stage. Plus, I can only imagine my publisher’s reaction if I sent them a manuscript written in longhand.

I generally do my best writing early in the day, and I often go from the time I get up until about noon. Sometimes I write again in the early evening. I just have more energy and a clearer head at those times.

One thing that remains the same for me, it’s a creative expression, one that needs a high level of belief and enthusiasm in what I’m doing. And that level needs to carry me through from beginning to end. I think if I couldn’t maintain that, then I doubt a reader would want to stick with the story either.

For inspiration I read a lot, and I like anything from crime novels to science fiction to autobiographies, as long as I feel the writing is good. I’ve recently revisited a couple of old favorites: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, published in 1962, and Deliverance by James Dickey, published in 1970. I also just finished George Pelecanos’ The Man Who Came Uptown, The Good German by Joseph Kanon, and House of Earth by Woody Guthrie. All very good and all very inspiring.

1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

Longhand! I can hardly write a short grocery list in longhand any more. I do understand that you have to consider the words differently and as a result you are probably doing a kind of instinctive edit as you write. Bravo to you for your method.