Friday, September 08, 2006


["persnickity" : overly particular about trivial details]

I caught myself yesterday in persnickity writing mode and I had to use all my sneaky arts to drag myself out of it. There IS a time for persnickitiness, and I LOVE that time. I love to futz with sentences and I do so with all the delight of a little old lady trying ribbons on her poodle. I just don’t get tired of it and when I get a paragraph just right I want to pick it up and kiss its little wet nose.

I love to futz. I love to “persnick.”

But as I said, there’s a time for it, and that time is AFTER there’s a story to “persnick” with! Not while the document on my computer is a clean and endless white scroll without a living breathing story on it yet. Not when I’m still trying on ideas like new wigs, keeping an open mind and giving them all a chance, every color, every shape. To be too persnickity at this point would be like spending hours styling one wig only to decide the color’s wrong and toss it out the window. What a waste of time!

Oh God, I can see I’m Metaphor Millie today. I get like that. I’ll try to shake off the poodles and wigs!

The thing is, I’m back into Silksinger, my second novel, after the sidetrack of revisions on Blackbringer (though I’m expecting to receive the copyedits today, so... holding my breath!), and it’s glorious to be following a new story along. I love the way a whole world falls open and ideas swarm out, and there are a million choices to make, and serendipities are born between your fingertips and the computer keys and amazing, unexpected things happen and you let them, you follow them like interesting strangers and see what they’ll do, and after a while, they’re not strangers any more but part of your world. And all the while you know that at any point the story could go in a million other directions. And that can be paralyzing, wondering if you’ve chosen the right direction out of millions -- how can you know?

But the thing is, there isn’t one right direction. A novel isn’t a labyrinth with one way out and a dragon waiting to kill you if you turn the wrong way. It’s like a life in miniature, an organic thing that sasses back and screws up and backtracks and tries again. And again. And again. You’ve just got to keep moving, which doesn’t really happen in persnickity mode.

So, to get out of there and into... er... wig-trying-on mode, I have to be stern with myself, and I have to be tricky. Sometimes it’s as simple as opening a new document called something un-overwhelming like “Silksinger temp doc” and writing there where I can hide it from the characters in my REAL draft so they won’t see how much I suck and start to despise me.

And I force myself to free-write. This is something I never want to do, like going to the gym (which I already did today), or painting the new doors (which I have to do later. ARG!). I groan. I panic, a little. I consider a tantrum. I look up something in the dictionary and end up writing twelve exciting new words down in my notebook. I pet the dog with my foot. I dawdle.

But yesterday, I looked at the little clock in the upper corner of my computer and said, free write for ten minutes on this scene. Go! And I went, even though it was naptime and I could have wrangled my way out of it. And ten minutes flew past, and before I knew it, I had written as much as I had in the previous four hours. The panic was gone, and I had remembered that when I free write like this, I don’t actually have to READ what I’ve written after, but usually some little twist in the story will pop up and I’ll follow it and it will turn out to be the one choice out of the millions that seems right for that moment.

Maybe it’s the one idea in the crowd wearing Christmas lights and jumping up and down, and maybe it’s the one in the back, not raising its hand and not making eye contact because it didn’t do the reading and maybe it doesn’t even speak English but that’s okay, because it can sing, baby, it can sing.

Think about this: as a writer, you’re the team captain and there are a million-trillion ideas you can pick for your team, and there are no limits and no rules. That’s pretty cool.

And the story inches onward.

And tomorrow, you try on another wig. And another.


Kristy said...

I don't know if this was at all in response to my recent email to you -- but, either way -- it answered so many questions, and then raised some more.

I can write about my "things" (that's a technical term ;-), but when it comes to fiction, I'm at a loss. And I always wonder how it happens at the hands (fingers?!?) of others.

Thanks for the glimpse...

Kim G. said...

I love the analogy of the novel NOT being a one-way out kind of journey. That's the part that scares me the most - the end. How will it end? Don't I need to know even before I write the beginning? I'm starting to learn from you and other writers, that the answer is "not necessarily". Whew! "big sigh of relief" One step closer maybe . . .

Thanks again for your email - hope you got my response! :)

Anonymous said...

I love trying on wigs - literally, and now that I have a name for it - metaphorically. Thank you for reminding me it's ok to just try them all on, and worry about the styling and hairspray later :)

Deirdre said...

Yes, yes, yes. This is a good reminder to just let the story flow. My problem is the editor who leans over my shoulder and tells me not to use 'that' word or follow a particular thought. I visualize binding, gagging, and throwing him into another room. Then I slam shut a steele door and turn the heavy lock. When the story is ready for his input I let him out to do his job, but not a second sooner. It works. :)

kelly rae said...

though i'm not a writer, i can totally relate to the experience of "free writing." the same thing happens with art for me. if i just "play" and not worry about censoring myself, it comes naturally and before i know it, i've completed a piece! is it like that for you both in writing and your art?

ps - see you soon!

Anonymous said...

ladies tie ribbons on poodles? I never knew! *smile*

can I tell you just READING this post with all your flow and energy just pouring out of it inspires me. I still haev a ways to go to get my life organized until I am writing regularly again-- but reading this today gave me a glimpse to the near future and I thank you!

you are just life itself-- and, since I've totally hijacked your comments-- I PAINTED my studio/office a color! it's gorgeous and I'll post pics soon-- and your color courage totally inspired me.


Anonymous said...

Very fascinating how creative minds work, whether we are writing, or doing a piece of art, that persnickety feeling comes upon where it's hard to be satified--so I go all over the place with many different wigs :) You are such an inspiration!!

Jamie said...

I love these insights into your process. You are such a playful, beautiful spirit. It's a delight to read anything you write.

Jim Di Bartolo said...

I love the front-row seat I get for watching you create whatever beautifully imagined world you decide to invent. It's truly amazing.

And if I get to choose which wig you pick next, I choose that blue one you had on at the winery in CA -- meOW! :) :) :)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing how you practice your craft. Reading how writers write is almost as interesting as reading the final product. So often others assume it is an easy task and the writing always flows.

kerry said...

thanks for teaching me a fun new word! and for encouraging me to believe the story inches onward no matter what.

meghan said...

Laini - i LOVED this! I've been trying to be stern with myself lately and I loved reading about your process. I am going to read it again tomorrow morning when I sit down to write - you are inspiring!!! xo

paris parfait said...

This is a wonderful piece about the writing process and the quirks and diversions along the way. Beautiful prose - I just can't wait to read your book(s)! As for painting, sigh. No doubt you'll be pleased once the drudgery's past and you are appreciating the beauty of your efforts. Pictures soon, please. Your writing room seems delectable.

Darlene said...

I sooo love to tweek my sentences, too much sometimes...and then end up using the one my gut wrote out in the first place...

aren't we silly
poodle dressing
wig trying
christmas loving
persnickity writing
wonderful women ?

yes yes yes we are...all that AND a bag of chips :)

you are loved
xxx d

Jennifer S. said...

Wow Laini, what a great entry! It's such a liberating thought. Thank you!!! I am going to boycott "persnicking"

BTW: It was so great meeting you last night. I really had a nice time. Thank you again.

Left-handed Trees... said...

Yes! Writers never tire of hearing about the process of other writers...your post here was no exception. The rituals, the self-doubt, the editor arriving a bit early in the process. I can relate to all of this. So glad I'm not the only one who operates this way.

Rosa said...

Your drawings are amazing! I found you after purchasing one (several) of your calendars and note pads. Your sayings are wonderful. Can't wait to read more on your blog. Nice to meet you!

jojo said...

i am the queen of primping the wig before trying it on. i annoy myself. i love what you have shared here. insightful. liberating. freeing. i could be a writer yet =) cheers!