There is nothing writers love to do more than talk about the way they write. I’m no different, but usually no one I know wants to hear about it!
Well, thanks to fellow WordPress blogger Frankie over at Truck Turning Write, I’ve been asked to answer some questions as part of a “blog tour” on the writing process, and I think this will allow me to give some further insight into my Live Novel-ing project.
Check out his blog entry from last week on this topic:
1. What am I working on at the moment?
I’m working on an all out action extravaganza super-novel called The Incredible Insane Challenge. No deep thoughts or insightful meaning here, just total crazy fun-ness (if that’s a word). You see, the second the baby in my story bursts from his mother’s womb he has to finish one ridiculous task every year until he turns 18 (stuff like win the heavyweight boxing championship, capture Bigfoot, build a submarine, fight lava-men, etc.). If he dies at any point then he gets to start all over again, just like in a video game, but he only has 100 lives and if he fails ever to make it to his 18th birthday then the universe will be destroyed. When the novel starts he is already on his 91st attempt to complete the challenge, so he’s running out of time… and then things start to REALLY get crazy.
2. How does my writing differ from others of its genre?
The only thing I can say specifically that might be different about my writing is how every page I do is one, 3-paragraph short story. There may be some larger narrative links between the stories but for me it’s all about fitting into that short, concise format for maximum action. Each page represents a snap shot into one year in the life of the challenge, so that’s a lot of incredible and insane things I need to try and squeeze into 3 paragraphs.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Why write in one page instalments like that? Well, now it’s going to get boring, but bear with me… The idea goes back to the dreaded PhD that I worked on for 8 years and recently failed! What I was doing there was researching and experimenting extensively into the standardised test essay writing of English as a foreign language (EFL) students, particularly those in Korea, and the kind of practice they use to prepare for high-stakes, timed writing.
It’s no secret that teaching academic writing to EFL students who study intensely their whole lives for one-off tests requires a very compartmentalised process and simplistic form of the essay. And if you’ve taught EFL writing in a place like Korea you would know the frustration of explaining the balance between creativity and form. Thus aspects of creative writing, such as freewriting, become textbook and classroom gimmicks for strategic brainstorming to fill in the blanks on an organised essay structure rather than being used the way it was intended – as a fluency practice for native speakers/writers.
The students will settle for nothing less than being taught how to write perfect essays at incredibly fast speeds that include all the quantifiably testable aspects of grammar, vocabulary, fluency, logic, reasoning, and creativity. This could be almost the complete opposite of what freewriting would force a writer to do.
The mind-boggling paradox that you can get caught up in as an EFL writing teacher is that in order to be accurate you’ve got to be a fluent writer, but in order to become a fluent writer you need to allow yourself to NOT be perfect all the time.
This can clash with the test prep industry in Korea that tells students they can’t afford to ever be anything less than perfect, since just a fraction of a score lower than the next student could mean the difference between a lifetime of wealth or poverty.
Can you imagine having to write a perfect essay, both structurally and grammatically, that is also unique, interesting and persuasive, about an impromptu topic in under an hour, using a foreign language? It took me a day just to get that sentence right!
So for the creative component of my thesis I wrote an entire novel in one page short stories that imitated the standardised timed test essay format in an attempt to contrast the difficulty of writing in this style with the pressure in Korean society to conform to the rigid structures of academic expectation.
And now I am kind of stuck writing like this; I’ve spent so much time just trying to physically shave down paragraphs to fit onto one page that it’s almost like I’m a construction worker more than a creative writer. Flip these words over here, replace this word there, hurry hurry, choppy choppy! So I’m not saying what I do is spectacular to read, but watching the struggle to get it right might be where something interesting lies.
4. How does my writing process work?
Therefore, these days I’ve been putting my writing process online for the whole world to see! Utilising the revolutionary ‘Live Novel-ing’ concept, through the collaborative document sharing process on Google Drive, I’ve set up a timetable where anyone is free to come and watch me produce new content at different stages of the academic writing process.
Everyday of Live Novel-ing looks something like this:
I. For 30 minutes I will just go crazy and write non-stop in a full-on freewriting trance based on one of the tasks my protagonist must attempt.
For example, here is a sample of the first 10 minutes I spent freewriting based on this task/prompt for one year of The Incredible Insane Challenge:
Become the world’s greatest archer to defeat the world’s greatest swordsman.
This was only the quarter finals of the world’s greatest weapons masters tournament but to you this was the finals. You only entered this tournament, learned to become the world’s greatest archer so that you could enter this tournament and hopefully match up at some point against the swordsman. You didn’t know how else to find him, he was elusive, ever since he took out stopped for a second to watch the final seconds possession of game 2 of the first round raptors playoff series against the Brooklyn nets, looks like the raptors have it locked up, which is good since they lost game 1 surprisingly, just like the Bulls, my all time favourite team, the Bulls now though alone really are just a team of supporting players after losing their superstar Derrick Rose, again, and have no right being the fourth seed overall, but like I said, it’s pedigree, and they have a will to win, let’s hope… speaking of wills to win, in the tournament, a master of a weapon would match up with another in a single elimination bracket to find out who was wielded the ultimate weapon. The only rule was no guns, these had to be non explosive weapons. The sword-master was exceptional, having won this tournament 5 straight years and proving what most always believed, that the sword was history’s greatest weapon. Spears, bolos, maces, even axes, they might have made it close, but were not able to claim victory since this particular swordsman began active competition. You don’t really care about any of that, you wouldn’t mind being the one to win this underground tournament, and prove the bow and arrow were superior in battle to the sword, that would be a nice feather in your cap, especially since you wore one of those green, pointy triangle caps just like Robin Hood, and it really could use a good feather, literally. But no, your motivation for getting involved was to bring that villain to justice.
II. For the next 30 minutes, I take the freewriting that I produced the day before and revise the content to better fit into my one page, 3-paragraph format. This includes scouring the wild freewriting for some interesting ideas or vibrant phrases, then cutting out a ton of words and rearranging the remainder. Then I need to re-write a lot of material so it all makes coherent sense.
So then, I took the section of freewriting that I’d written a day earlier (above) and revised it to look like this:
Winning the Weapon Master tournament with a bow and arrows would be a nice feather in your cap (especially since you wore one of those green, pointy triangle caps just like Robin Hood, and it literally would look good with a feather in it) but your true motivation was just to finally get your hands on The Slimy Swordsman. Well, that’s what you called him at least, everyone else just referred to him as No-Name since he was never addressed or announced by name through all of his previous matches during the past five of these annual tournaments that he’d won. You would be the one to finally defeat him and also drag him back to the mainland and hand him over to the authorities for all of the innocent victims that had gotten in his way during the elaborate international jewel heists he perpetrated during the tournament off season. Including that one in your city when he cut off 2 fingers on your right hand.
For the final 30 minutes of the day I will take the revised content from the previous day and perform some thorough editing. This is where I try to clean up the vocabulary, structure, organisation and grammar.
And to complete the example, live online, I took the revised version of the freewriting content and edited it down to a more concise and proper paragraph.
Bullets bounce right off you, daggers tickle your spongy sides, and you’ve never even bled from a simple scraped knee or paper cut, but when you confronted No-Name the swordsman on the roof of the museum he swiped at you with his short thin sword and cut two fingers off your right hand. You were trying to convince him to return that bag of jewels he’d stolen and obviously he wasn’t persuaded. Everyone refers to him as No-Name since, well, no one knows his name and he rarely speaks. Although, that night after cutting off your fingers he did laugh as he made his escape. When you learned months later that he’d be competing in the annual underground Weapons Masters tournament in Hong Kong, you knew this was your chance to finally bring him to justice. You just needed to learn how to use a weapon first.
So that’s right, you can watch along as all that happens live through my Google Drive account, just click on the G+ widget to the left or bottom of the screen and add me to your circles, or you can email me and I will share the folder with you: email@example.com
According to ‘phatdog’, my one persistent (trolling) reader of the Live Novel-ing, it’s really nothing to see, however you can feel free to stop by anytime and check in on the progress in any of the various folders.
And finally, the 2 blogs that I want to ask to continue on the tour are both relatively new and are focused on the act of writing. I hope these questions will motivate them to keep up the good work!
How About a Pen Name?