Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Writing In the Dark

"To fall in love with a first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing." ~Richard North Patterson

I recently read in Alice Orr's No More Rejections that Philip Roth wrote more than 180 pages before he got his opening paragraph of his memoir Patrimony. And that Ann Beattie gave a friend her Chilly Scenes of Winter and he discarded the first 59 pages of the manuscript. Can you imagine what we would do if our crit groups discarded our first 59 pages? I know what I would do. Not a pretty picture.

Barbara Kingsolver once stated that she writes at least 100 pages to trash before she finally begins to work. I don't. I sit down and plug away. I wonder why I think I can get away with that. I'm not so bold as to believe my writing is so fine it can't be discarded. I'd rather blame it on those pack-ratting idiosyncrasies I inherited from my dad. I never throw anything away. C'mon on over to my house -- I'll prove it. :)

Most writing books tell us we should look at each sentence carefully and discard everything that doesn't strengthen our story. That makes perfect sense, but how do we know what strengthens and what doesn't? Five writers can look at the same paragraph and come away with five different suggestions for it, much like the American Idol judges respond to their contestants. There's not a helpful comment from any of them.

1)The song is too big for you.
2)That was pretty boring.
3)When you sing a song by Whitney, it better be good, baby.
4)You are a mediocre singer.
5)I don't like your dress.
6)Pitchy.
and then there's the judge who says:
7)You're a beautiful sweet girl/a handsome guy -- you have talent. I love you.

Isn't this similar to our critiques or feedback from contests?

1) You have too much story here for a novice. Quite an undertaking.
2) Boring.
3) Mary Higgins Clark wrote a similar book. Hers worked.
4) Face it, you're a hum-drum writer.
5) I don't like this kind of story.
6) You haven't found your voice yet.
And that bone of hope they toss us:
7) I see a lot of potential here. I love your plot and your characters, you just need to . . .

Experienced writers tell us that revising becomes easier the longer we write and the more we engage in the process. I don't know about that. It might be an old wive's tale. However, I've noticed in my own critiquing and judging, that beginning chunks can often go. Maybe our first words are just warm-up words. Okay, with that in mind, I challenge each of us to take a close look at our first 59 pages. But I want us to remember - whether we cut them or live with them:

"Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world." ~Tom Clancy

Write. Complete the book and bask in the victory.

1 comment:

Christa said...

These sharings are right on. So when's your "coming out" party?