Monday, April 29, 2013

The Things We Do For Love

Writing a book is like love-at-first-sight, especially when the idea for a book hits like a ton of bricks. "Best idea, ever!" "This is gonna write like butter!" "I can't believe I thought of this!"  Or, it may be more subtle.  Either way, there's a secret inner loveliness of knowing that you're going to write a book.

It's when the writing begins that the process appears to be more like an arranged marriage than a love match.

Inspired, the writer writes the first two thousand words of the first draft.  He's still on a pink cloud.  He goes to bed, gets up the next morning, fires up the laptop and ... wait, WHAT?

An experienced writer will see things like this: Clunkiness. Unwieldyness. Too many shiny-faced, clever little darlings seeking to hijack the process. Too much exposition.  Too little natural dialogue.  Head hopping. Bad grammar. Execrable punctuation. Misspelled words—lots of them.  On its face, this is most definitely NOT what the writer fell in love with, but he knows the story is still there.  He will take it to his writers' group willingly, craving those other sets of eyes.

An inexperienced writer will suspect his writing maybe isn't as good as it appeared first blush. He will take it to his writers' group and get feedback from the more experienced writers, and hopefully they will dispense the truth with kindness.  He will take what he needs and leave the rest.  He may feel a flash of resentment, but he will also see that many of the suggestions are spot-on and he'll intuitively know a good deal of what's been shown to him will help.

A non-writer will not see any of this. If he belongs to a writers' group and submits his work for critique and the writers attempt to remove the scales from his eyes, he will either take offense and storm away in high dudgeon, maybe never to return. Or he will sit and seethe, leaving at the same time as everyone else, maybe never to return. And he'll stop writing.

Or he'll write "at" everyone, finish his work and maybe become a writer just from the process of writing.  Many excellent writers have actually started out this way.

Whether a writer submits to a critique group or not, he must get to know his story at deeper and deeper levels. He must let her lead the way as she reveals her characters, point-of-view, plot, pacing, backstory —everything. Then she must let him write.  He's drawing her out.  Writer and story will find places they cannot stay, but the experiences in those places only serve to enrich the narrative. And the way he cares for her, builds the relationship and learns about her is by writing and writing and writing.

And she will be unlovely a good deal of the time, especially the first draft.  There will be lapses in chronology, abrupt changes in characters that don't seem authentic, too much of something, too little of something else, but if her truth is allowed to assert itself, he will fix what needs to be fixed, she will show him more, and they will journey on.

It's actually her "unloveliness" that causes the writer to assert himself, for he knows that if she is to be revealed, it's up to him.  But he can't do it without her, for if he forces whatever version of "loveliness" he craves on her, she will be ruined.

In case anyone is interested, here is a  book which describes a process for revealing a story that suits the way this writer writes— The 90-Day Novel by Al Watt of the LA Writers' Lab.  It's all about embracing the unloveliness, because unloveliness, if tended, is a progress in love.


  1. Well, I'm on my fifth draft currently and the thing is still unlovely, if less so ... but oh, how I love the story. Wish it could go directly from my synapses into the pages of a book.

    1. But the entire process is about removing the internal synaptic component and making it an external one. In other words, how do we go from crying ourselves to getting the reader to squeeze out a few drops (or bawl his/her eyes out)? How do we go from laughing where we sit writing to eliciting a belly laugh from the reader? I love the idea of an external synapses! May I swipe the concept for another blog post?

    2. Yes! Patti Gauch said: A writer's heart must beat. A reader's heart must hear it. Same concept.

      "I love the idea of an external synapses! May I swipe the concept for another blog post?" Of course. It's yours to begin with :)

  2. I've lost track of how many drafts I've done. I was at four drafts before I started the last series of editing revisions. I don't think anyone that hasn't actually done this could understand the emotional range a writer goes through in writing a novel. A marriage is a terrific analogy and spot on.

    I've had many jobs (and even another career) that I loved very much. . . but nothing I've ever done has taken me back and forth through pits of despair (sorry for the use of a cliche) to pinnacles of joy. I've loved and hated this book all on the same day and on more than one day.

    1. I tore mine to pieces and it wasn't all necessary. I had become a thrall to every little thing that came my way in the form of critique and I finally had to say, "That's enough!"

      But I must say the process of putting "her" all back together again is making for a better story.

  3. Great analogy! I always try to write a little "road map" detailing all the reasons I love a story and am excited about telling it when I first begin--it keeps me from getting too far off track as I go along and start to hate my writing later.

  4. Sigh. I thought I would take to writing like a duck to water. Some days it's more like a wooly mammoth to tar pit.