Wednesday, February 1, 2017
The Insecure Writer and Slogging Through The First Draft
Today is February's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.
What makes me an Insecure Writer this month?
The realization I’m an inherently slow writer and that there’s nothing I’ll ever be able to do about it.
I’ve whined before about being a slow writer and have posted on the tricks I use to increase my writing pace, but thanks to last month’s SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting, I now realize there’s something fundamentally different between myself and other writers.
One of our guest speakers was Kristen Bartley Lenz, a writer who discussed how she wrote her debut novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go. One of the exercises her editor gave her for getting deeper into her characters’ minds was to free-write a scene for each character, a scene that never appears in the book. So after Kristen showed us the before and after versions of her first chapter, she read one of her free-writing scenes out loud, explaining how she’d used it to improve the chapter.
All well and good—that is, until I heard the words. The free-write scene centered on the main character’s uncle, who was holding the main character in his arms in the hospital room right after her birth. It was a simple scene, full of introspection by the uncle; emotional, but not melodramatic; quiet, yet powerful. The kind of scene I’d love to be able to write.
But then it hit me. Kristen had free-written this scene. No notes, no outline. She just imagined a scene and wrote down her thoughts as they came to her. She hadn’t edited any of the sentences. She hadn’t added words later. She hadn’t rearranged the order in which the sentences came out. And yet the words were already of publishable quality. Basically, she’d been able to write the whole scene as if it were happening in front of her, knowing exactly what to say and when to say it.
I was absolutely dumbfounded. If I hadn’t already known her, I might have suspected she’d lied about it being a first draft. That maybe she’d read us a heavily revised version, not something that spilled out of her brain in perfect order. And that realization staggered me, because I know that no matter how hard I try, no matter what tricks I use, I'll never, ever, EVER be able to write like that. It’s just not in my writing DNA.
I’ve read of authors who write 3 or 4 books a year and always wondered what their secret was. Turns out their words just jump right out of their brains in pretty darn good shape right from the beginning. I’m not saying these words couldn’t use some tightening here and there, but those are almost cosmetic changes compared to what my drafts require. I have to slog through my scenes over and over again, adding stuff I left out the first time, throwing out stuff that’s unnecessary, rearranging the order that stuff is mentioned. And that’s just to get the words in good enough shape so that my crit partners understand what’s going on.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for writers who have this ability. Heck, if words came that easily for me, I’d probably have taken up writing years ago. But the concept that someone can write a first draft in which less than 80% of it isn't thrown out or changed in subsequent revisions seems like fantasy to me. Fortunately, I’m passionate enough about my stories that I know I’ll keep working on them until they’re done, no matter how much time it takes.
But it can be damn frustrating sometimes.
This month’s IWSG question is:
How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?
Not much really. Sometimes I pay attention to how an author does certain things in order to improve my writing, but usually I read the story without thinking too much about it. Movies, however, are another story. I find myself searching for the various plot points during a movie, almost to the exclusion of the story itself. And if you read my previous post, you’ll know some of this habit has rubbed off onto my family members. I guess it’s one of the dangers of being a writer.