I’m fighting something germy today. Head is filling with barbed wire, throat with slugs, body is bruised as if a hit squad of ghosts beat on me all night long with tennis racquets. I’m supposed to run a race on Saturday, so this is not allowed to happen.
I’m almost through the final plot overhaul of my WIP. If I don’t pass out from an overdose of tea, I should finish plowing through the last quarter today. This is an extremely detailed outline – about 120 pages long. I guess it’s a cross between an outline and a first draft. I don’t write my YA novels this way, but this is a historical middle grade, and I had to make sure that the story lines of the personal story of the main character and the historical events mesh perfectly.
The mailbag is bulging, so I must start dealing with it again. And this is a totally excellent question, so here goes.
A. F. writes: I’ve just made the decision to face my fears and actually tackle a novel. It’s been my secret wish since I was a little girl, but it’s
the one thing I’ve been scared to try. But as Mr. Freeman says, “Fear is a great place to begin art,” so here I go.
My question is this: How do you thwart self-consciousness when writing prose? All of the fiction I’ve attempted has either been over-thought that it’s dead on
the page, or so naked that it’s all but unreadable. I want to tame the latter to defeat the former, but I feel like the words that I write are judging me. I’ve outlined the crap out of the story I want to write, so it’s already over-thought, and I’ve only written a few pages and it’s already trying too hard to be Literary. Does that make sense?
It makes total sense to me. The danger in being a sensitive, well-read, thoughtful, intelligent person who wants to write a novel is that you are sensitive, well-read, thoughtful, and intelligent. My guess is that as you write, the gremlins in your mind start yelling at you, laughing at you, and saying nasty, spiteful things about your prose, your ambition, and your passion until you are ready to flee the keyboard in tears and get a job at the local widget factory or office pod. Am I write? I mean, right?
You have a form of Writer’s Block. You have Imploding Expectations Writer’s Block, which is a truly sucky variation of the beast.
I will quote She Who Is Wise, Anne LaMott, on this one: “… awareness is learning to keep yourself company. And then learn to be more compassionate company, as if you were somebody you are fond of and wish to encourage. I doubt that you would read a close friend’s early efforts and, in his or her presence, roll your eyes and snicker. I doubt that you would pantomime sticking your finger down your throat. I think you might say something along the lines of “Good for you. We can work out some of the problems later, but for now, full steam ahead!”” (p. 31, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. The chapter is called “Perfectionism.”)
Here’s the deal – nobody writes great stuff in a first draft. And if there is someone out there who does, she can’t be my friend. I write crap in the first draft. A LOT of it. And the second. And the third. And usually by the fourth draft, I start to get a clue, to understand the character deeply, to be able to hold all of the narrative threads in my head at the same time. Writing is not magic. Writing is work and it always takes us longer and is always harder than we want it to be. Take control over those gremlins. Use their power to write strongly-worded letters to politicians. But do not allow them to beat you up anymore. It’s a draft. It’s only a draft. You will make it better later.
One more idea: label this draft the Over-Thought, Literary Draft. There is nothing wrong with that. Write out a note to self, that when you revise, you’ll take out all the pretentious stuff to uncover the story underneath. Then write it. And be gentle on yourself, please. The world is harsh place. Your writing can be a place of serenity, humor, and kindness. You can do this work.
BH and I had a date last night. We went to see An Inconvenient Truth. I tend to be suspicious of politicians and am as cynical as they come, but this shot me through the heart. Go see this movie. Ask for the DVD for a present. Start talking about what you can do to make our world healthier. (The movie was shown as part of the Oswego Film Group series. If you live up here, check them out, too.)
Looking for more great quotes about the freedom to read and the dangers of book banning? Check out today’s Shelf Life column.
Now I will go ask BH to construct a sling for my head, which feels like it’s the size of a weather balloon and is wobbling on my neck in an alarming manner.