Posts Tagged 'first draft'

Repost: Writing is Hard

I think this will be about the last repost from four years ago, but it so expresses how I’ve been feeling as I circle around my work, dreading jumping in to wrestle with it, that I want to share it again.

It is more taken from the book Overcoming Writing Blocks by Karin Mack & Eric Skjei. I adapted the following passages to fit my situation because it pretty well describes what writing is like for me and is another reminder of why I want to check email!

“You take some notes, make a list or two, then, if you’re not too blocked, you launch into spinning out a sequence of story events. But no sooner do you have an event or two in line, than you begin to see that your first considerations weren’t quite on target. This isn’t quite the way you wanted it to be. It’s not going to work because you see some other considerations that will alter it. Suddenly you are in the middle of the quest for the best possible events and ordering of those events. Or you look ahead and see a new line of conflict appearing that could reshape the story in a better way. You see how each added event, or character, or motivation, or world situation, like a stone tossed into a still pool, sends out ripple after ripple, each merging with and altering the others.

“Precious story patterns shift, disintegrate, then reform into something quite new and different, but still composed of the same basic elements. So you realign your thinking, and your writing, and you start over. (Or, if the critical feeling gets too strong, and you begin to feel that what’s coming together in a storyline isn’t quite right enough or good enough, you falter and stop dead in your tracks.) The chase can be exhilarating or stupefying, but it’s never easy.

“Zigzagging like this from creation to criticism and back again is often extremely frustrating, especially if you magnify it by feeling guilty about not being able to put together a story line in a short order of time. Those who aren’t used to the process (and even those who are) often find themselves terribly beaten down by the feeling that they’re wandering aimlessly around, getting nowhere. A deceptively small internal voice . . . keeps wondering why you seem so ambivalent and indecisive. “Don’t you know what you think?” it whispers. “C’mon, just get it out. Stop being so indecisive! Maybe you can’t do this after all. The other two worked, but this is just too complicated, too complex. You’ve bitten off way more than you can chew!”

“This experience of constantly discovering new possibilities, alternate ways to proceed, fresh ways to restructure and recast what you’ve devised, rich as it may sound, can induce confusion, fear, and eventually, blocking of the writer’s decision-making faculties. This is especially true because there’s never enough time to thoroughly explore all the possible permutations of the work. Deadlines are nipping at the writer’s heels. She can’t afford to indulge in endless speculation and experimentation. Decisions must be made, and they must be made now. So there can arise a paralyzing conflict between the need to understand the alternatives and the equally powerful need to bring the task to an end.

“It takes energy and self-control to do all this. You have to be able to concentrate, to form your thoughts, to pick those that are central to the topic, and reject those that aren’t. You have to be able to articulate them, to name them with sufficient accuracy and lucidity that someone else will know what you’re talking about. There’s no easy way to do this.”

Indeed.

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The First Draft is a Slog

People often think that professional writers just sit down and start writing something that comes out fully formed. While a few writers may do this, most do not. But even those of us who do not, can get caught up in that lie again if we’re not careful. I have been caught in it for several months now.

I think in part that’s because the experience of beginning a book is much different from that of rewriting one or finishing one. My favorite parts are rewriting and polishing. That stuff is for the most part easy. And fun, because it’s always fun to make something better. I can work fourteen hours a day on rewriting, editing, etc. And while sometimes there are those periods where I have to think about the problem, mostly the words suggest better words, the ideas, the characters themselves suggest improvements, and because you have so much of the work before you, the work itself is a partner in the effort.

In the beginning there is no “work” to partner with. I’m sure this seems obvious, but it isn’t always to me. I remember most the exhilaration of working with a draft already there, seeing how things come together, seeing what isn’t needed, what needs to be added, refined. I’ve been expecting those feelings to manifest themselves now, when that’s not at all what it’s like for me to write a first draft.

Basically, the first draft is a slog. That’s the only way to describe it. I have never been able to breeze through a first draft, just writing willy nilly, come what may. Because usually that just sends me off a cliff, where suddenly words fail me, and I have no idea where I’m going any more. Not only that, the whole direction I was moving in now bores me and I can’t bear to write another word in that direction. I did that with a draft of The Light of Eidon. Wrote 100 pages of stuff that had to be axed in entirety.

So I do it for a bit, usually very roughly, then have to go back and see what I wrote. See if I can make some sense out of it, get a direction out of it, at the very least make it coherent. That part, not surprisingly, I like better than the first part. I think there is also an aspect of memorization involved… I go over and over things and get the events, the world, the people imprinted more strongly on my mind, so that when I start the next bit, I’m not wondering if I chose A or B in the last chapter and what kind of goals and reactions would be reasonable for Character C.

Granted if I had an outline, this wouldn’t be so necessary, but I can’t write one until I’m a little further into the book. There’s the element of “what I really want to write” that plays in, as well. So, if this sounds confusing and ineffecient… it is! It’s why I don’t write a lot of books in a short period of time!


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