So many lessons have come in the last two+ years since I decided to "become" a writer. Would probably be good to write them down somewhere. Hmmm...
Like this one: The First Draft Rule. Also known as the "Crappy" Draft Rule. (Yeah, I made an editorial decision...hold it against me.) The rule is simply this: Get the story out, start to finish, and then worry about whether you've got a diamond worth polishing in your boatload of unrefined coal. Write now. Fix later.
One of the writing analogies I sometimes hear is the similarity of the writing of a book to the building of a house. Some of the metaphor has merit. Like designing the house before you build it. The importance of a foundation. Etcetera etcetera. But the analogy breaks down at some point. Building a house is not like writing a novel. You can't move a garage if it somehow got built on the second floor. Relocating a toilet is not as easy as relocating a paragraph. Running electrical wires takes a whole bunch more effort than cutting and pasting (and deleting - can't forget deleting) will ever take.
The point? Writing is rewriting. Editing is really where most (perhaps all even?) great writing happens. The war we wage is the war of trusting this to be so. We writer types question everything. Even our questions are questioned.
As I fight this fight with not one but two current and very different writing projects, I face this challenge daily. Sentence after sentence. Should I just get the dumb things written and then worry about fixing everything? Or should I fix as I go along? Isn't that more efficient? Won't the book be "done" faster that way?
From Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: "Just get it down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you're supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go - but there is no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages" (Lamott, 1994, p. 23).
My vote goes to getting the first draft done. After you've first designed the story ("plot outline") and built a strong foundation ("narrative outline") and of course determined what will make the house yours ("narrative voice") - just don't spend more time than absolutely necessary getting the first draft written. The hard work is yet to come once that's done. Sorry if that's news.
One last thing. Since the writing life is about taking risks, I'm going to push way beyond my comfort zone and start posting here the number of words and pages I've written each day. Hence the little box there on the right with the date and numbers. And if you're feeling especially bold, dear reader, perhaps you'll share in comments how you did in your own words and pages endeavors. Let's crank it.
Write first. Fix later.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
"There isn't a person who is alive and who has any appetite for living, who doesn't make plans. I make a plan for every day I live. I've got certain things I want to do that day, and if I didn't, I suppose I wouldn't do anything. But I can't help but notice, and I've been noticing for a good many years now, that my plans almost never work out. The day almost never exactly fits the plan. Some days depart wildly from the plan. So I conclude that even though you're going to make plans, if you're a live human being, one of the things you must learn to do is to take them lightly."
"A plan really is useful for signifying to yourself and other people that you like living, that you're looking forward to living some more, that you have a certain appetite to continue the enterprise. But one's real duty to the future is to do as you should do now. Make the best choices, do the best work, fulfill your obligations in the best way you can, and work on a scale that's appropriately small. Make plans that are appropriately small. If you do those things, then the future will take care of itself."
Plans are curious things. We live by them. Revise them constantly. Watch as they fall short of expectations. Make new ones. Repeat.
Posted by Scott Livingston at 12:00 AM
Monday, January 2, 2012
New year. Same work as the old year. And the same me to do it. Goals are useful, to a point. But in the crux lies the same essential fact: Doing the work is the only way to advance in the direction of the dream.
Over the last several years I've been blessed with many essential lessons, though I've been slow at times to see them for what they are. One of the gifts given (Thanks, Caleb!) is the idea that great writing is designed.
So for me, this is what I must work at more carefully and relentlessly - designing my work so that the actual writing produced will reflect this understanding.
The ever-present ghost of doubt whispers the ever-constant lie: Not good enough. I try to push the miasma away, shouting "stop" in the Octagon of my head.
Beyond what the eye can see, the heart staggers up the path it has not known. Blind. Seeing.
Resolved: To keep resolving.
Posted by Scott Livingston at 8:37 PM