Friday, November 14, 2008

No man was ever wise by chance. (Lucius Annaeus Seneca)

Writing is a lonely enterprise which can often feel akin to groping blindly in the dark. All the great characters of books of reading past rise up around you, all the writing advice floats through your head, and you wonder over and over again why any of the pain and suffering is worth a novel. My answer: Because I’m not that good at anything else. I have to keep hitting my head against the brick wall because if I don’t, I don’t know what else I can go do. Oh yeah, I could teach. I could bartend. I could be a stripper. But no other legitimate career, other than farming of course, gets my blood boiling the way that putting words down on the page does as seeing my characters grow and fight, love and hate, fuck and apologize.

The art of self-editing is one of the most difficult talents that we ever learn as writers. And we never stop learning it. It requires patience (which I have less of than I should, but I train heelers. No patience there.) It requires grace (ha!) and it requires a detachment from the work that can be difficult to ascend to. And if I had any idea how to achieve any one of these states, my book ideas would all be done. It takes time. It takes patience.

I don’t know who said something to the effect of you get the book you write, not the book you set out to write. That’s very true in many ways. I, for one, can never make the prose match the video in my head, let alone the pacing. Kind of like the movie never lives up to the trailer, in my mind. But perhaps that just means I still have a better book in there somewhere. I’m not sure that if I succeeded in writing the book I set out to write, if it wouldn’t leave me disappointed somehow, as if I’d achieved nirvana. What pinnacle is there to reach for after that?

Regardless, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy writing the first draft. The devil is in the rewrites.

The best help I’ve found for the draft process was Writing the Breakout Novel and workbook of the same name by Donald Maass. I think my book had gone a little too far to make fixes easy, but, for me, the book broke down all the aspects of a good novel and helped me target where my problems were in the narrative and fix them. It takes a lot of work, but, I feel, was very worth it.

And on that note, it’s deer (beer) season and I have more laundry to push through, a lunch to scratch out, a workout to get in, and pages to get made. Can anyone tell I’m feeling better today? Dad said I looked less like a frosted pea plant today.