Monday, November 05, 2007

Writing to the end

So, more times than I can count during the writing of Silksinger (still underway), I have said to myself, "Self, I am just going to knuckle down and write to the end. A free, wild burst of a draft, all the way through to the end. Then after that I'll, you know, write a better draft and then a better one, etcetera. Okay, ready. . . go!"

And then I'll write a few pages of this free, wild burst of a draft, my fingers a-flying over the keyboard, and it might even be a little thrilling at first. . . but after a few pages my shoulders will start to droop, my lips will start to sort of curl downward, I'll start to flag. The draft will begin to feel like this heavy, burdensome, awful thing I'm forcing myself through. It's terrible. Unusable. Why go on? And I'll stop and rewrite those few pages into something prettier and tighter and then I'll move on. Every time. I just reached the 4,000ish word mark on another such vow to "write to the end" and I'm halting here. I. Can't. Do. It. I can't work that way. Why must I pound my little fists up against this brick wall of my nature? Why not just accept my mind for what it is and work with it?

Here's what it is. Freewriting has emerged to be an absolutely essential part of my writing process, but I can't sustain it. For me, freewriting is the first of a two-step process. 1) Write a freewrite of the scene once or twice or thrice (or more), mull it over, figure out what really happens, and then, 2) Actually write the scene. Freewriting is the essential first half of writing to me. But I can only happily go scene by scene like that, not a whole draft. I need to reel the wild thing back in and tidy it up before I can go on. Again and again I try to defy myself and become a "mist-flyer" (someone once said that leaping into the unknown book and writing forward like that is like "flying into the mist" and I love the idea; I just can't do it!). Ah, it's funny how predictable the cycle is, how strong that desire can be to "write to the end" and how I'll get all gung ho about it and tell myself heartily that I can do it! And then after a few pages, the will is gone.

You know what it's like? It's like when you're hiking on a really hot day and the whole time you know that at the end of the hike a cool river is waiting for you and you imagine how wonderful it's going to feel to jump in! But by the time you descend into the river canyon, it's not so hot anymore. And you put your feet in and the water is so cold that all of a sudden you lose the desire to fling your whole body into it! THAT is what it's like. My book is like a cold river at the end of a hot hike. Agh! That makes no sense, I know.

"Process" -- does it even exist? This is a question posed on Gwenda's blog recently. She cited Rosemary Wells as saying something like, "All [good/real/some value judgement] writers know there's no such thing as process." And Gwenda agreed and I thought "Urk?" and at first I was certain I disagreed wholeheartedly. Now, I don't know. What is process? I would love to explore the idea right now at length but it would only be an avoidance technique. Silksinger awaits me! Tally ho!

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Okay, you don't know me, and I'm not usually one to leave comments on a blog (unless it's my brother's, and who can resist that?) but I am in the process of writing my first book and I keep telling myself to stop reading other stuff; I have just spent years reading so much other stuff, and I have taken all my stuff back to the library, and have deleted pretty much all blogs from my list--except family and yours (I found your link on Shannon Hale's when she had it there) and I just can't stop looking at your blog. In fact, today, I so much wanted to look at it but said no, Saturday I will look, the day when I will take a break from writing. And then I finished my writing for the day, and just quickly looked, and finally, we are getting to the reason I am writing this, I just love and agree with so much of what you have to say. Thank you! Lately I have been trying this experiment where I just write what I can for the day, putting my critical self aside, and then when I have done all I can do, and start to fizzle out, I go back and spend about the same amount of time changing words and making it sound better. And so far it seems to be working really well. I feel really good about it. In the past (expect for poems and short stories in college) I haven't actually finished anything, because I freak out that it's horrible when I'm somewhere in the middle, but I really hope I am doing it this time. I am. And please keep writing. I love it and it's motivating to me. Even though I really am only going to read it on Saturdays from now on. (Ha,ha.)

Laini Taylor said...

Hi anonymous! So glad you commented! Sounds like we have MUCH in common! Man, finishing a piece of writing is the hardest thing EVER and I can't WAIT to finish this book! One would think that desperation would translate to furious action. Funny how the perfectionism is STILL stronger! Yeesh! But it's coming along. It's all about stubbornness. I wish you well with finishing your book! You can do it!

Heather said...

Anonymous - you took the words right out of my mouth! Except I'm not actually writing anything right now. At all. I'm just busy basking in Laini's inspiration for the time being and creating in other ways. That's good enough for now, because I know if I force the writing, I'll abandon it faster than a crappy boyfriend. It will come. Hopefully BEFORE I'm on my deathbed! :o)

Amber said...

Well, whatever your process-- it works for you! Keep it up! Dreamdark was wonderful magic, and Silkslinger is going to rock! Can't wait. ;)

And I agree with Anon. I love your blog-- and have all this time-- because I find your thoughts and words about writing to be very inspiring food for my muse...That and you are strange. I dig strange. ;)

:)

Alexandra S said...

Ei ya yi will you forget about this dumb Silksinger already??? If its giving you this much trouble just drop it. Don't give it even one more little pretty thought. Move right onto Rathersting and many years from now as we are dotting a path to your birthday party with all your fallen teeth on each side I will lean over to you and say, "Hey, remember that year way back when when we had hair and you were driving yourself crazy with that Hirik book and you will lean back over and say ,"yessiree I sure do and I'm so glad I didn't try to write it afterall. I'm so glad I stopped wtiting the whol Dreamdark thing because it gave me so much more time to bake cookies and eat candy and yodel and learn to play bagpipes and I'd probably never have joined my rock band, Grease Monkey." THis stress is telling you something Fatty- move on and bake me a cake instead and I will pick it up on my way home later from work. Thank you in advance.

Left-handed Trees... said...

Your comments are almost as interesting as this post! Yes, I rely on freewriting too, especially when I am stuck...I cannot wait for Silksinger.
Love,
D.

Sustenance Scout said...

LOL! A great post with riotous comments. Go Laini Go. I used to hum Mr. Rogers' "You've got to do it, every little bit" song; now I'm just as likely to chant "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming." Onward! K.

liz elayne said...

laini - i just love these peeks into your writing world...thank you for sharing the "truth" of your experience...

and goodness alexandra's comments make me crack up!

Gwenda said...

Preach it, sister. It sounds like our working style is pretty similar. I am so ready to be done with this book -- I want that mad, headlong momentum, but you can't force such things.

I was being kind of a cheeky smartypants when I agreed with Wells. I don't fully agree, because I do think (the idea, at least, of) process is important. Sometimes it's all we've got to hang onto, but I just think it's more complicated and malleable than we realize. (Like pretty much everything else!) And that it changes from book to book, sometimes from day to day, and that so much of it is magic, the thunderbolt, and showing up until that happens. (It takes me at least four drafts of EVERYTHING.)

As long as we come out the other end with a book, it's all okay, right?

Laini Taylor said...

Ah, Alexandra, you psycho. Please blog more so your wild mind is not confined here in this little comment space! That imagination needs more space to roam!

Thanks for all the comments, everyone, and Gwenda, that's the thing about "process" that made me realize that despite my first reaction, I don't disagree with you. Process IS important to me, but what the heck IS process? It does change constantly; it's as much strategy and mind games as anything else. It's something I do want to think about more -- maybe after I've finally finished this book!!!!

Cheers!

Mardougrrl said...

See, from the outside here, it's so obvious that your process is whatever works for YOU (in this case, freewriting in bursts, then rewriting to your satisfaction). How do I know this? Because you are such an amazing writer, and because you manage to get it out in the world. Thus, your process works. I don't think there is any ONE way that is the right way (which is odd for me, as I always think there IS a right way, and that is usually the way I don't know)--I think you are obviously on the right path because your work is so wonderful.

And I am FINALLY about to start Blackbringer. Hurray!

xoxo...you will never know how much you inspire me!

Rampian said...

There are probably as many right ways to go about writing a book as there are writers. Each of us must find the way that works for us. Turning it into a conscious ritual certainly helps: first I do this, then, I have to go over here, and do this, then I fix myself a cup of tea. "The sacred rage to order" as Wallace Stevens called it---there are many ways to seize the narrative. Sneaking up and pouncing on it, luring it with treats and promises, spells and potions. It's magic in its purest form: creating something out of nothing. Wonder, insanity, and presumption--these can help! Me? I get scared and hide under a rock. You are far braver than most of us my friend.