Tuesday, August 26, 2008


When I was younger, I used to draw pictures. Sometimes I’d get so engrossed in what I was drawing that I’d lose an hour, hunched over my desk, nose to the page, eyes spidered with red from not blinking enough. When I was in a drawing, I’d be compartmentalizing, focusing on one detail at a time, and the picture never looked very good. When I finally finished -- usually due to disgust, time constraints, or eye fatigue --I’d put the drawing away and leave the room.

When I’d come back later and look at the same drawing, standing above it, giving it some distance, I was often pleasantly surprised. I had a decent picture there.

With writing, it’s the opposite. When I’m writing a first draft, I’m in the world of the story. I can see it, feel it, smell it. I know what my characters are thinking -- I’ve lived with them you see. I know what’s in their past and I usually know what they’ll do next. With all this floating around, the piece I’m writing seems rich, layered and wonderful. The story’s unfolding at a lighting pace. I don’t want to slow down or go back and fix anything lest I lose momentum. With writing, you’re not confined like in a drawing; you can go anywhere, and you don’t have to stay for long. You never linger in one place long enough to reflect on whether it’s good. It’s a scene in a movie that has already passed, and it must have been good – you’re still watching.

But you pay for this freedom later. When I set my first draft aside and come back to it later, cold, as a reader would, without all the world circling, it doesn’t look better. It looks like shit. Worse, it’s one-dimensional -- a photocopy of shit.

From what I’ve read, this is a normal part of the writing process. You have to go back and add layers upon layers, stepping away each time to assume the role of the reader. And this part is HARD. And it takes FOREVER. I know this because I’ve been doing it for the past week. I started my class at the writing salon, and next class I have to share the first 15 pages of my manuscript with the other students. So I’ve been trying to make my first few chapters presentable.

This will be the first time I’ve shared any of my writing with “the outside.” As nerve-racking as that prospect is, I’m looking forward to getting some feedback. But most of all, I’m thankful for the deadline. Forcing me to finalize those pages has, in turn, forced me to make some decisions about my characters and plot. Completing the beginning, the setup of my whole story, has given me a foundation on which to build the rest of my book. Since I “finalized” those first 15 pages, it opened a floodgate of sorts, and yesterday I wrote more than I have in a long time.


  1. Oh yes! This is the painful part. And worse yet after you present those pages of your manuscript you will go back a year from now and think, "Dear God I cannot believe I let people read that drivel." But it's encouraging to hear that you do have the ability to step back from your work. Writing is an art, but it's a science, too. And the best writers are like the best engineers. Constantly cleaning things up, making them work better and more efficiently.

  2. Your blog makes me laugh-I'm sure it is not "shit" and that your writing is coming along quite well. I am looking forward to reading the final product!

  3. I look forward to seeing 2-dimensional photocopied shit someday soon. That actually sounds quite interesting...as a concept.

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