One of our topics for the next cycle of blogging at “A Good Blog is Hard to Find” focuses on the writer’s process. I just started a brand-new spanking novel, and after having written seven, I always think the same thing: How the heck am I supposed to do this?
Do welders have such silly, insecure thoughts? Auto mechanics? Doctors? How would you feel about lying on an operating table and having a surgeon say, “Sorry. I’ve taken out several appendixes but for some reason yours confounds me.”
It’s ludicrous that I’m so leery and unsure of this new novel because while I was writing my last novel, it was hustling me like a streetwalker.
“Unload that tired biddy of a novel,” it cajoled. “I’m shiny and young. I’m the one who’s going to win you the Pulitzer or at the very least four stars in Romantic Times”
But now that this new novel and I are finally alone, I’m feeling nostalgic for the one that came before it. It’s done after all and isn’t just a bunch of goobledy-gook in my head that I can never successfully transfer to paper. The honeymoon is over even before it’s begun. What had I possibly seen in this tart?
This time, I decide, I’m going to be a serious, organized writer and outline the new novel with Roman numerals as proper writers do. None of these wild goose chases of past novels. No discarding of hundreds of pages until I finally find the thrust of the story.
Unfortunately as I sit at my computer, I experience severe and debilitating outline block.
Time to change tactics.
Forget the outline, I say to myself. You’re an organic writer. Your words and ideas need to have free range like chickens from Whole Foods. Let them frolic across the page.
But I don't feel like I'm frolicking. I feel like a cat coughing up a hair ball. I try to remember Anne Lamott’s invaluable advice in Bird By Bird: Give yourself permission to write crappy first drafts. (She uses a more colorful word than “crappy.”)
My aim is to get the story out there. No point in primping the prose. Who knows what part of my work will be thrown into the dumpster to fester with the fish heads?
In several months I’ll have ninety to a hundred thousand words-- mostly unusable words--as if a can of alphabet soup exploded on the page. But at least I’ll have something to edit.
Editing’s my favorite part. I become obsessive. I might do fifty or sixty edits. This takes several more months. When I finally finish I imagine my prose sings like Pavarotti. I’ll put it aside for a week or so and discover it actually sings like American Idol contestant William Hung’s rendition of “She Bangs.” So I re-write some more.
Finally I send it to my beta reader and she says: “This is promising for a first draft. Maybe you should rethink the characters, plot, and possibly the setting. But other than that…”
Self-loathing sets in. I drink red wine and try again. And again. God as my witness, next time I’ll definitely outline.
Did Isaac Asimov go through this with all 500 of his books? Why can’t I be one of those people who say writing books is like taking dictation from the universe?
Maybe when I write novel number nine….