Sorry for the slackness on this one, but Katherine has kindly passed on some notes she took at the Masterclass she did at BWF with Yann Martel.
Rules in writing? Martel says there are no rules. No right or wrong – just what works for you. Yann thinks we write because we’re not at ease with the world. Because we’re not comfortable. ‘Waiting for my life to start, I started writing and, bit by bit, I got better.’
He got one story published and straight away sent 16 others out. All 16 got rejected. But he kept submitting. He likes writing novels. Short stories make him nervous now – they have to be so tightly wound – like a Swiss watch. He prefers novels, which are more like a marathon.
When you start writing the most important thing is INTENT – Why are you writing this? Why are you telling this particular story? What do you want your reader to receive from it? You have to know the answers to these questions.
Don’t strive for beauty when you’re first putting words on the page.Free writing takes the pressure off. Allows you to just get it down on the page. You make the words beautiful when you polish and edit. That’s when you worry about the choice of words.
Also, don’t let your story get clogged with facts. Your story works because it’s spiritually correct rather than because it’s factually correct.
On the art of writing: Art is a purification of life. Having the personal and the universal collide. Things echo. Art needs the stamp of personality. Sift through your life and find things that are interesting.
A book only provides 50% of the story. The other 50% is provided by the reader. In writing, less is more. The less you give, the more the reader has to project. You leave space for their imagination. Cut back to leave the space.
Writing is hard work. Martel’s concern as a writer is purely engineering. "How do I get this to stay up? (How do I keep a tiger alive in a life boat?)" He researches and knows the novel’s form before he starts writing. With Life of Pi he knew it would be a novel in 100 chapters. Knew the book would be in three parts. Knew what was happening in each part. Once he started writing it he knew what was happening. Like he was travelling with a thorough guide book. He can’t imagine starting without the form already planned.
Imitation is a venerable way to learn to write and to find your feet. Imitate the masters before trying your own style and always have a notebook with you. Be open to stories. Recognise that life is a story.
At one point you have to ignore the world and just do your thing. Let it rip – don’t be self-conscious in the first draft.
"The great nobility of art is that it takes everything from you and may give you back nothing." – Martel