I thought I'd write a little more about the world I am immersed in right now: as I unkindly dubbed it in my last post, "the ugly stage." I should also say, that all bound up in the pain of writing something so immensely imperfect, there is this kind of thrill -- like, I don't know, doing something you never thought you would do, something "positively wild" (said in a prim proper voice). I am extremely proud to be getting to the end of a first draft, and as much as I might wish it were prettier, I kind of love that I managed to keep my insane perfectionism in a box long enough to do this great mess of a thing. I mean, WOW! There's a sign-off for some TV show or other, you know, the producer's little signature at the end, in which a piping child's voice says proudly, "I made this!" Well, that's how I feel.
I keep notebooks for each book I write or plan to write -- I'm on volume 2 for Silksinger -- and amid story notes and research, there are little messages in there to myself, like these:
"Ooh! This is really good!"
"Write the damn book." - Jane Yolen
"Write to learn what the story is about. WRITE TO FIND THE STORY." - Verity (a blogger I've since lost track of)
and recently, this:
"The goal is to have a great slovenly heap of manuscript to print out and go at with highlighters and a red pen."
Ah, a great slovenly heap! How beautiful! A heap! When I wrote that I was trying to get myself to leave off the premature "persnicking" and plunge into the terrors of a wild ugly draft. I was craving that slovenly heap of manuscript. Like, I wanted to trade the dainty little china tea set of my persnickity biddy side for a flask of some dangerous potion that would make my throat burn and, I don't know, my, er, hair turn pink! I've written about my perfectionism before, how it has kept me from finishing things for so long, how I am always having to outwit it with new unintimidating names for various drafts, and by sheer ruthless whip-cracking, and I can't honestly say I feel my nature changing or anything. I'm still the same freak of a perfectionist. It's still really really hard to make myself write messily forward. Sometimes I find it impossible. I guess the only thing that has changed is that now, in the battle of me vs me, I usually win in the end. (You know what I mean. I think.) I know I can beat my persnickity perfectionist. I can wear her out. I will write the book. This ugly draft is a kind of triumph only some people can really understand.
There are those people out there who just sit down and . . . write books. They don't even have to trick themselves. They would not understand me at all. [Honk if you understand me!] I am still haunted by reading the
You have to work with the brain you have. Like, it's an unruly pet, say. We adore our dog Leroy. He's the sweetest dog that ever lived. Just don't bring another dog into the room or he turns into a savage**. No amount of training ever managed to change that. So we just work with it. So too with our complicated brains. Don't try to treat your brain like it's somebody else's well-behaved dog. Know it. Love it for its own quirks and even its savagery. Because let's face it, other people's well-behaved dogs are some kind of freakish robots, aren't they?
So, my glorious heap will soon be ready to attack with highlighters and red pens. And I can't wait. It will be a mess. My mess. My glorious, glorious mess. When you're staring at your screen, paralyzed by the ungodly imperfection of whatever is sure to come out if you dare to start typing, think of that. Think of yourself as a wild bohemian sprawled on a moth-eaten velvet divan surrounded by the glorious mess of pages that your own unique brain managed to produce. And all you have to do next is make it better! AND: nobody has to see it but you.
When I heard Jane Yolen speak in January she talked about how some writers blaze intrepidly through the first draft, and others kind of waltz back and forth, tidying up after themselves as they go, revising along the way. She admitted to being the latter type, and I felt that silly kind of vindication that comes of finding out a successful writer kind of has your same process. And, that really is my way, to revise as I go. And I have been doing that for months on this book, but I've changed my mind so many times about so many things that I really had to just stop the revising and do this terrifying first draft thing. And you know what? It makes me want to do this on the next book. Maybe this is a better way for me. I don't know. We'll see!
And to answer your question, Gerry, why do people do word counts? Well, I didn't when I was writing my first book, but now it's kind of a daily check-in. Like, if you're a runner and you kind of want to know how far you're running. Because sometimes I might feel like I've been writing all day and really, all I was doing was rearranging stuff I already wrote. For me, at this stage, if I'm conscious of word count I know to keep myself moving forward with the story. I give myself a goal for the day and try to meet it. That's all. Just another tactic in the war of me vs me!
Now, yesterday Jone threw a lovely book party for me at her home and invited her friends and book club, many of whom are teachers and school librarians, and I had a delightful time talking about the writing process with them, and about my book.
Thank you, Jone! So glad to have met you through blogging. And, your dachsunds are so cute!
**Behold the savage Leroy: