Let me expand on yesterday’s remarks about the suckitude that often pours onto the page in the early stage of a writing project.
I’m going to use the writing of WINTERGIRLS as an example.
When I was first fumbling around with the first draft, I knew that I wanted to write about what it feels like to be trapped in an eating disorder. That was all I knew. I did a lot of free writing – letting words trickle down my arm and drip on the page. This is one of the first things I wrote, exactly as I wrote it:
“One graham cracker, broken into four pieces.
Sixteen grams of dry, yellow cheese.
What did that mean? I had no idea. I was at the Suckitude PLUS Confusion stage of First Draft Writing. Earlier in my writing career, I would have obsessed about those four lines and tried to squeeze them into dialog or develop a scene around them, or waste several hours rearranging them on the page like Christmas decorations on a tree.
But it was an ever-so-slightly wiser me who wrote those four lines. They felt like they were getting closer to the voice of the main character, but I knew that I wasn’t there yet. I kept writing. And then this popped out of my brain:
“They say, “Eat this Camille. Eat this please eat please just this please little bit.”
They are vultures stalking me, wings folded neatly behind them, pink throats studded with white hairs like porcupine quills, thick beaks built for tearing flesh.
They want to snatch a bite – from my calf, maybe, or the inside of my arm – tug the meat from the bone, rip it free and fly away with their treasure.
It is very hard to kill a vulture.”
Except for the fact that I still hadn’t nailed down the name of the main character, and that the last line was unnecessary chicken poo, this felt better. But there was a problem: I had absolutely no idea what it meant or what the heck was going on with the character as she whispered those words to me.
I was confused. And quite sure (again) that I couldn’t write my way out of a wet paper bag. But I kept scribbling. A lot of what I wrote was awful and every once in a while a few lines would appear that felt real. Eventually, I had a bunch of pages that I called the first draft. Here is Page One:
Meh. Underwhelming, tho’ it has many of the elements that made it in the final book. I kept muttering to myself and writing. The second draft wasn’t much better than the first. But the third draft had some life in, enough so that when I reread it from start to finish, I could finally see the direction the story wanted to go. I scribbled all over that draft. See?
A lot of this material wound up moving to the second page in the final draft, but it was at this point – months and months after I started work on the project, that I finally felt like I knew what I was doing. Those lines about the graham cracker and dry cheese were thrown out. The section about being surrounded by stalking birds, hungry to eat her (I changed them from vultures to crows) wound up belonging on pages 264-265 in the final book – about 10 pages from the end of the story.
My point is this: judging your work early in the process or being afraid to write or quitting because you know what you’ve written is chicken poo, or you have no idea what any of it means is ridiculous. Part of the fun of writing is figuring out what it means. It is exciting and gratifying to revise chicken poo into strong storytelling.
Pablo Picasso said “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
Turn off your phone and television.
Choose one of Picasso’s images to study. Write about the person that he painted in the image. Don’t try to make sense of what you write. Just listen to the still, small voice inside. Go weird, dear friends. Venture outside your comfort zone.
Scribble…. Scribble…. Scribble!!
19 Replies to “WFMAD Day 5 – Suckitude plus Confusion”
Thanks for this! I haven’t been doing WFMAD – I had twenty pages before Aug, spent the past couple days shoring up an outline and plan to continue drafting today – but I’m reading all your posts. This is exactly what I wanted to see. I want to see how my favorite books evolve into the amazing thing I receive, how they started.
I wrote today about two lovers, confused about their feelings and uncertainty regarding the feelings surrounding love and if what they were doing was the right thing.
This didn’t mirror any life experiences, but it helped because I had a visual of what was happening. I can see how visuals and life experiences help shape us in our writing. This entry may be something I come back to later to revise and edit.
I’m starting to have a little more confidence in what I’m writing.
THANK YOU! I needed to read that…”Part of the fun of writing is figuring out what it means.”
So many pictures to choose from. The pages go on and on . . . all thought provoking. I close my eyes and point. I do this a second time.
Now, I have two pictures. Two characters. Both in pain. Both in solitude. Both wanting to be loved and accepted: a young girl and an old man.
I set my timer for twenty minutes and when it goes off, I jump in the swing, having been so deep in these characters’ world. Both of whom let go a second before my twenty minutes ended.
Yet, they haunt me. And I want to go back. Back in time, to follow their story before they ran from me. Before they escaped to a better place, where cruelty and pain do not exist.
Never had I thought to venture out on this ledge. And while I teeter on it, I now have the confidence to return, knowing I will not fall.
Thank you, Laurie!!!
Okay, I didn’t follow the prompt today, but I sat a bunch of characters in a big circle and had them play “I Never”. Fun!
So…if I’ve spent the first 5 days of WFMAD submerged in copyedits, does that count? Clearly it’s writing-related, but even when I’m tweaking a scene it doesn’t feel like “real” writing — it mostly feels like clerical work. At the end of a day of copyedits, the last thing I want to do is compose something new, and I end up rationalizing for waaaay more than 15 minutes:
This is necessary work, real-live-published-author-work. The deadline is Friday; that takes precedence. You’ve been at it for hours, give yourself a break. (ad nauseam)
Maybe I do need to quit being so literal and give myself a break. Pirate Code of Writing, and all that. But the daily rationalization bugs me — isn’t that exactly the sort of procrastinatory baloney that WFAMD aims to conquer? Isn’t rationalizing a signal of guilt? Because for the record, I KNOW DARN WELL ANOTHER 15 MINUTES WON’T KILL ME. I just don’t *want* to….
Such awesomeness for you to share your drafts like that. Wow! It helps me feel better about my own writing and boosts my testimony in editing.
I attempted my fifteen minutes after breakfast, with all three kids up and about. It turned into thirty minutes but I think I actually got a total of fifteen plucking at the keyboard.
You might need to add a step in your Ready, Set, Scribble… something along the lines of using quick drying cement and duck tape on all minors in the household. 🙂
I just went through the confusion stage today.
I had no idea what to do with my characters. What to make them say, what they should think…it was all a mix of chicken poo in my brain.
However I did make it through fifteen today. It’s not very solid, but that’s for later drafts right? 😀
Now I must leave my coop of imagination and writing power for an eyedoctor’s appointment. I think I can quote Laurie on this: “This is just like stopping in the middle of a delicious bowl of macaroni and cheese to brush my teeth with cow dung.”
I may try to write more today. Maybe time at the doctor’s will give me time to think.
Thanks for this – it did me a world of good to see some of your process. World of Good.
Your blog topic today is wonderfully appropriate to the thoughts coursing through my mind today. I was thinking about all the reasons I give myself to avoid writing. At the top of the list: I am almost always disappointed in my early attempts, so disappointed that I stop. Today I broke through this and free wrote, allowing my ideas to hit the paper free of my usual self-judgment and mid-stream corrections. Today, I got a lot accomplished!
I just jumped in today. Writing prompts have always scared me, but I finished my latest round of revisions and have sent wip off to my agent, so now I have no excuse. I did something that scares me. I wrote.
Wow! Great post today, Laurie. i love-love-love seeing snippets of a work-in-progress by an author I admire from a book that blew me away. My protag in the YA I’m writing is similar to Lia’s, so this was especially cool to read!
I just snuck in under the deadline last night, writing for about 20 minutes from 11:21 to 11:41. Earlier tonight, for sure, like…right NOW!
Thank you for sharing glimpses of your writing process. I jumped in with the prompt which led me to asking questions about one of my characters.
Can I just say that my WFMAD experience should be on Failblog? It’s not that my writing sucks. I just need to actually write!!! I’ve only written twice. I suck. The End.
Been gnoshing on this all day…it’s my creation period. Just a quick check-in to confirm the presence of my pulse and will.
Now to the book–time to “tell the truth out loud.”
psst…thanks for today’s coaching. I needed that. Yes, yes.
Thank you for WFMAD.
I am running a bit behind, but since a deep-seated need for perfection is what usually stops my writing in its tracks, I’m working on getting past that and just writing–even if I have to double up some days because the baby makes it rather difficult to do my full assignment on the day it is assigned.
That nasty bugger perfectionism is slowly moving away—it really does help to see that even fantastic published authors whom I greatly admire don’t get it perfect the first time either.
*sidebar: I KNOW this to be fact; but it really helps to SEE it. Makes it more real and less like something your mother told you after a particularly embarrassing incident on the playground, you know?
I’m working on inner conflict for my main character. What does he think he wants? what is the opposite of that, and why is it pulling at him? What makes these things mutually exclusive, so that there can be no compromise between them? He has had his family ripped away from him. He wants to break free of that, declare his independence. Be a man. But, on a deeper level, he really longs for the connection of family. He tells himself he doesn’t want close relationships, but he sees them all around, and they are a siren song to him. They draw him, pull him like a magnet, but he wants to resist. It must take a crisis and a startling realization to break his resistance.
This whole week has been filled with rewrites, submissions and the business end of things, and yet I have given myself the gift of 15 extra minutes each day to create fresh words for a new novel—my favorite part of the writing process. Problem is I’m in revision mode and end up rereading the three pages I’ve written and line editing. I resolve to move forward with this first draft and not worry whether it “works” yet. Thanks for sharing a bit of your process—it helps to remember that it takes time to uncover what’s really happening in a story.
I loved doing this writing prompt. The visual I chose was of a child holding a pencil and the experience of writing about this little person seemed to dust off my soul from everyday life. At the end of the fifteen minutes I had the fun beginnings of a picture book. It amazes me that this visual image had such an impact on my flow of writing.
Thanks so much for this idea.