Monday, August 4, 2008

Q. Why is writing so hard?

A. Because I've forgotten English how speak to.
A. Stories in brain but not come out. Stories laugh. Writer gnash teeth and think caveman thoughts.
A. Writer too sleepy.
A. Writer too caffeinated.
A. Writer decides to check online weather, cuticles, laundry, cats, actual outside weather, e-mail, bookmark location, reading material, shipping status of ordered books, pen colors, ink saturation of various papers, chair / desk alignment, screen angle, font size, notecards, idea journal, thesaurus, revision notes, amount of water left in glass, ceiling fan setting, lint on carpet, lint on chair, lint on leg, location of missing lint brush, healing progress of stubbed toe.

But I've learned a trick. Certainly I'm not the first. You can't make it good until you revise. You can't revise until you write. When you write it doesn't have to be good.

Ha ha! Take that, blank screen! I can write anything I want and it doesn't matter because I can fix it. I can revise it. Trying to make it good the first time is like painting a room before the house is built. Good luck.

So yeah: I got up at 5 since I couldn't sleep, and made my coffee and put on my Writing Glasses and re-read my notes and bled out a few hundred turgid words. Not anything near what I needed them to be. Or what I imagined they would be. Or what I know they could be.

Was it a waste? It seemed to be at the time. But now I can go back and fix it.

If a book is a sculpture, then writing the first draft is like heaving the ugly piece of marble out of the ground with a long pointed piece of steel. The rock sits there, scabbed with mud and pickaxe marks and you think: that is not really what I had in mind. Disaster! But no. Then the real work begins and you turn it into some approximation of the sculpture that floats in your mind. Ahh, revision.

When I'm building my boat, I cut out lots of pieces of wood. I start with a rough cut, then I take a second pass, then maybe finish with hand tools to get it just right. Then the piece is assembled in the boat and attached with bronze screws and epoxy, then it's sanded and sanded and sanded and painted. The finished piece is a far cry from the rough thing I hack out of lumber.

Somehow I thought writing would be different. It's sad how often I forget and re-learn that.


Peter S said...

Hah! I laughed when I read "That is not what I had in mind." I find that when the story is still in my mind it's shimmering with blinding brilliance and bathed in angelsong.

On paper it's "What I Did This Summer" by Peter, age 5, written in rounded-tip purple crayon. Arrgh!

Laini Taylor said...

Oh, so good, so good -- so true and painful. I also laughed out loud over, "That is not what I had in mind." Great post! (Wheeeee! I just send off draft 3 today! Yay for revisions!)

S R Wood said...

Peter -- Purple crayons have Special Significance in writing. Remember Harold? That aside, I know what you mean. I think John Lennon once noted that he didn't write songs so much as just take notes on the concert that was always playing in his head. I wonder if what he wrote ever approached what he imagined.

Laini - Congratulations on draft 3! I'm coming to the slow and slightly unwelcome suspicion that the real work in writing comes after the first draft. The first draft is hard, no doubt, but that's just the first hacked path through the jungle (as you know!)