Sunday, August 14, 2022

So I'm Writing a Book, Among Other Things...

 The non-fiction book is about writing and editing, since I have been doing one since I was five and the other for over twenty-five years. I hope to finish it this year, and publish it next year. I'm thinking it will be short, like 100 pages. I'm pondering quirky titles, like Tips and Tricks from the Editrix. Stand by for more on all that. In the meantime, here's an excerpt, which may or may not be Chapter 1.

First Off, Forget all the Noise and Write

The more we know about writing—what some famous author or writing teacher said or wrote, what the critics seem to like, what our writer's group liked when we shared last month—the harder it becomes to simply write. And I didn’t choose the word simply at random. Most of the time, our first drafts are very simple and clear, lacking subtlety, intriguing plot twists, and sparkling dialogue. We simply get down the gist of the story. The germ of the idea that’s been bugging us when our mind wanders from our open book or screen, and waking us up at night. And that is fine. 

There is time enough to weave more layers into the plot, flesh out the character’s movements and motivations, and make the book’s settings come to life. One day, your characters will begin to talk to each other—if they were not already doing so while you are writing the first draft. When that happens, you'll gain insights that help you to envision and enliven their conversations. 

    Each time we re-read our first draft, we have the opportunity to add elements that clarify the structure or deepen the impact of the text. No first draft I have read (or heard of) ever arrived with all of the compelling complexity of the author’s final draft. And once again, that is perfectly fine.

As far as revising, there is also a time and a place to put on the editor’s visor, to judge and reject words and phrases, to attempt to “omit useless words” as a great editor once said. There is time to employ our computer’s search and replace tools, to carefully count our use (and overuse) of our favorite words, phrases and imagery, along with the mostly unnecessary thought verbs and filter words (more on those later). All of that judgment and consideration has a time, a season as it were, and can take as long as you have the patience for it. 

What I do suggest, and I am far from alone in this opinion, is that you don’t concern yourself with any of the above when writing your first draft. This is because the very act of thinking about the book’s eventual structure, story and character arcs—not to mention grammar, spelling, and punctuation—is usually the kiss of death to creativity. When I write a 500 word essay for publication, I write a slew of words, maybe 1500, trying to get to the heart of what I am “arguing.” Sometimes, when I reread that first draft, I find I have repeated myself a few times, but one of those times (usually the last) is stronger and clearer than the previous iterations. If I tried to just write a “perfect” 500 words, I would spend twice as much time and effort, all to get nowhere new, with the result being 500 words that lie lifelessly on the page, sounding either trite and hackneyed, or stilted and forced.

Here’s my suggestion: When you are writing the first draft, simply write. Save all the thoughts of revision and judgement for a later date. Just “keep your hand moving” as Natalie Goldberg would say; if you do your first drafts by hand, you’ll know what she means. I type my first drafts, so both of my hands keep moving, but you get the point. Keep writing, stop thinking. Just let the words flow. Let characters say and do things you hadn’t yet imagined; let events take place that you never pictured occurring. 

    Refuse to allow your intellectual, know-it-all, left brain, self-doubting, linear, critical mind to interfere in your creative time. See what your unconscious, right brain, big picture, confident, trusting, accepting, and curious mind has to say. See what happens on the page. 

Your characters may surprise you. 

You may surprise yourself.