Tools for Writers: "How To Turn Your Writing Around" by James Bernard Frost

On Writing

James Bernard Frost, Adjunct Fellow at the Attic Institute

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“I sit at my table and wage war on myself. It seems like it’s all, it’s all for nothing.”

These are the lyrics from a song by R.E.M. called World Leader Pretend that inspired my first novel. It’s also how I feel on those days when the writing simply isn’t going well.

Sitting at a desk and trying to pour the contents of your mind onto the page can be a lonely experience, especially when you’re feeling lost in your story. But good writers are never actually alone. When they sit down at their desks, they have all the books they’ve ever read in the backs of their minds. They have all the stories and conversations they’ve heard out in the world. And they have traditional story structures—tried and true methods for engaging the minds of readers. 

Still for novelists, it’s hard to keep structure in front of you on a day-to-day writing basis. Readers read a novel in a matter of days or weeks. For them, the movement of a story happens naturally in real-time.  But writers write much more slowly then readers read—and that time disconnect can make it difficult for writers to feel the natural rhythms of their own stories.  This is where outlines, character arcs, and plot conceits become important tools for writing your way out of dark places. Occasional skirmishes are to be expected when working on a novel, but all-out war is not something you want.