January 9, 2020 in Dag

I’ve just discovered a new way to lose sleep

Writing presents so many challenges.

With every story that I write, there are a number of stages to go through, each of which requires a significant investment of mental energy.

Stage one is the basic idea for the story. Sometimes this comes quite easily. You’re just getting on with living life, maybe reading something or watching something or talking to someone, or just spending some quiet time alone, when bam, that idea suddenly hits you from out of nowhere. Other times, you have to sit and force your brain to come up with a new and innovative idea that you believe can form the basis for a half decent story.

Then comes the second part – I like to describe it as the mapping part. This is where you dissect and deconstruct the idea in as many ways as you can, and try to flesh it out so it actually develops from a basic idea to an actual story, with some structure and some characters and all the other key elements you need. And yes, I could dive into the debate about plotting and pantsing and say that some writers like to go straight from story idea to writing. But I find that even when I’m in pantsing mode, I need to have quite a few story elements developed before I can get into the actual writing. However you do it, it requires a substantial amount of thinking.

Finally, we get to stage three – the writing of the story. Trying to find the right words and sentences and expressions to convert the story circulating in your brain into an actual artefact. This can be brutally difficult, like forcing your brain to mould concrete after it’s already dried.

Those are the three main stages. Except that I’ve decided to make life more complicated for myself, by adding an additional stage.

I mentioned last week how one of the activities I was considering for the upcoming year was to work on rhyming texts for picture books. Well, I’ve decided to make this my first challenge, which has led to an interesting discovery.

Writing rhyming texts requires four stages. Three of those are pretty much the ones listed above. You still need to come up with a basic idea, you still need to flesh it out into a story, and you still need to write it. But there’s an extra stage, that sits between the second and third stages.

Between a fleshed out and a written story, you need to get it to rhyme. You need to figure out how the rhyming scheme (apparently the technical term for this is metre) is going to work. And then you need to figure out the actual rhymes. I find that the best way to do this is with a pen and paper, rather than on a keyboard, as it seems to free my brain up a little bit more. I also find that the most effective approach is to figure out the second part of the rhyme first, particularly as this often works as a bit of a punchline, and then try to write a lead-in line with an appropriate rhyming end.

Of all the stages of writing, this is the one I find most intense. I end up mentally exhausted after a couple of solid hours. And it’s hard to switch my brain off once I’ve finished. When I go to bed at night, my mind is still turning over, trying to figure out the next set of rhymes, and preventing me from sleeping for hours.

With everything else going on, the last thing I need is another way to keep myself awake at night. But just try and stop me.

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