Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Old manuscripts

Today, in an effort to clear out some clutter from the writing room, I tossed my body weight in drafts of Blackbringer, Silksinger, and Lips Touch into the recycling. Well, okay, I asked Jim to do the actual tossing, since I'm not supposed to lift heavy things, and he argued with me. He didn't think I should get rid of them. And it did feel kind of weird. But . . . really, what am I supposed to do? Keep a stack of paper the height of a four-year-old for every single book? Our 1924 cottage is seriously lacking in storage space. If all goes as planned, the number of books will mount over the years, and that's a lot of four-year-olds taking up space in the house! They had to go. (Old manuscript drafts, not actual four-year-olds. No four-year-olds were recycled.)

I kept some things, like early drafts of Silksinger, which are both fascinating and painful to look through, because they are VASTLY different from the final and they bring back all the agony of uncertainty. I was on a really different track when I started writing that book and it wasn't working out. It took FORTITUDE to keep going and find the right story. In fact, I think if that book had not been under contract as part of a two-book deal, I may not have written it. It was hard. (Imagine that said in a pitiful whine.) I'd have given up; I'm sure of it. But I didn't, and the book exists, and I love it. So: hurray!!!

Speaking of old drafts, while I was going through old floppies last week looking for the paintings I posted before, I came across a folder entitled "Witch Novel" and pulled this off onto my desktop. In the early days of writing Blackbringer I was working on two novels. The other one was the witch novel, and I'd leap back and forth between them when one or the other got rough. Eventually [lightbulb] I realized if I wanted to finish anything I had to choose between them -- a Sophie's choice -- and I chose the "Fairy Book." It was a fairly arbitrary choice, actually. I loved them both.

Anyway, I read about 20 pages of the witch novel yesterday, and as I read it, I recalled sitting at the kitchen table writing it . . . and rewriting it and rewriting it (those first twenty pages, anyway), as was my way. So what did I find, looking at it again?

I found that there was some nice writing in it -- some good sentences, some cool ideas. And I found that it didn't flow very well. It had a choppiness; rereading it, I could feel my seriousness, my fear, my groping for the story. I could feel how badly I wanted each line to be perfect. Ah, perfectionism, it can turn the act of writing into a misery. You want so badly for everything to be just so that you ache with every little snag, every hint of imperfection.

Sigh. It is something to learn to overcome. Reading that old manuscript was kind of like a time machine to the "time before" -- the time before I had learned to overcome my terrible paralyzing perfectionism. (Don't get me wrong, I still struggle with it each and every sentence.) But it was nice to be able to say to myself I have made progress. I have written three books. I figured some stuff out. And I still want to write the witch novel. I think it's an awesome premise with tons of potential for fun. I wonder when it will find its way to the front of the line of books waiting to be written.

There are so many. Now that I've proven I can write a book, my next huge challenge is to become increasingly efficient. And now more than ever this is crucial, because people tell me MY WHOLE LIFE IS GOING TO CHANGE and I don't doubt it for a second. It will be interesting. Very, very interesting.

Reading The Ark's Anniversary but Gerald Durrell now, written on the occasion of his zoo's 25th anniversary, and in it is a mention of his going down to his house in the south of France to write a book (books were his bread and butter for years, and what kept the zoo beasties in fruit & meat, and kept the creditors from the door). How swell, to pop down to one's house in the south of France to write a book. One imagines that with such tranquility and "away-from-it-all-ness" that the book would just pour out. One imagines. One imagines many things, many fantastical and false things. Surely it would still be a struggle, with the added difficulty of wanting to go wander in a vineyard or buy excellent cheese. But. A secluded writing house is still at the top of my fantasy list.

Just add a Mary Poppins to the fantasy now :-)


Katie Anderson said...

Laini, your posts about your journey are always so inspiring to me. I just love knowing that Silksinger was HARD. (sorry-ha!) but it comforts me to know it isn't always easy...

And that your writing has grown and changed and gotten better - simply by the exercise of doing it...

I could go on, but I'm glad you have saved all of this in BLOG form, because I want you to compile a book about the ups and downs of a writing life one day. Of course I tell you that all the time.

Carrie Harris said...

You are a better person than I. Every time I run into piles of Ye Olde Writing, I vow to recycle some of it, end up reading it all in full (in the supposed interest of selecting material for said recycling), get distracted by how crazy awkward it is, and end up recycling nothing.

Pitiful but true.

Stephanie Perkins said...

Good for you for doing some recycling! (Something I quite relish.) I like to keep my earliest version -- to remind me how far I've come -- and the latest version. But the rest? As long as I have the drafts on my harddrive, my office doesn't need the clutter.

Of course, I DID also keep a certain heart & smiley face enhanced version to cheer me up ;)

Debbie Barr said...

I'm so glad you didn't quit on Silksinger! It was wonderful when I read it, and I'm sure it's even better now. I'm excited to buy a hardback copy of it and read it all over again. :)

Good post. Got me thinking about things I need to work on, too. (i.e. actually writing)

J.M. said...

I was knocked out with the flu last week so this is an overdue hoorah for the little fairy in your belly!! Congrats to you, Jim and your Lovely!
I can't even remember if I posted I was so Nyquiled..

Anyhoo, I realized that I kind of depend on reading your blog, Laini. I'm supposed to be writing my little heart out but when I'm alone with my computer I run off and sweep or read books or dishes sounds majorly important. I decided I had to start blogging again as step one in morning writing excercises. I MUST write my senior thesis to graduate college and I must must (because I actually want to in my scaredy cat way) finish a fiction manuscript in addition towards said graduation. 9 week to write something wonderful. Anyway, I suppose I am just sharing all of that because your dedication and humble heart inspire me to know I can grow into my writing, even when it feels impossible. Bravo for keeping editions of your writing that allow you to see your stretching wings!

Now off to muddle around with a character who won't introduce herself to my page...


Anonymous said...

Thanks Laini, you have given me courage to let all those old drafts go, to make way for the new

Amber said...

Who was it..? I think Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou, who tells the story of writing with her little baby boy on her lap, and he knocked over s drink on her only-- hand writen!-- draft... She dried it off, and tried to see what she had done. LOL! I can't even imagine being so talented to be able to be brilliant with a baby on your lap! LOL!*sigh*

You life will change, and yoru work will change, but you will still be brilliant, too. And knowing you, you probably have some magic in the hous to keep the baby busy. Some creepy looking trinket that casts spells of sleepy-time. ;)


Anonymous said...

What a great post to ponder about recyling the drafts. It reminds me of when I have to weed the library! I too love reading about the process of your thinking and writing.