One Old Brown Shoe Falls In Slow Motion
Warning: long, rambling writer-porn ahead. Skip if that bores you.
Back in October I blogged some first lines; of the five works quoted there, one has sold, one I'm sending around, one needs some careful revising, one (the novel) is waiting for summer (at least), and one has been kicking my ass for the past two months.
This doesn't happen to me very often. Usually I know when a story is ready to be worked on and when it's not. But this one's been shifting under me since the beginning. Originally I thought I had it all clear in my head, and it would be a 2000-word piece that I could write in a couple of days. Right now it's at about 6000 words, and it's not quite finished. In the beginning I'd add a scene or a few lines in between doing homework or working on other, more pressing stories, not to mention the novel. And every time I came back to it I found it had elaborated upon itself, forged new connections that I hadn't expected, taken a new shape. It was exciting. But so, so frustrating. Trying to match the conception to the execution--sometimes the simple mechanics, the equivalent of getting a character across the room--has been making me crazy.
It's complicated still further by the way I write. I almost never start anything knowing how it's going to end. Sometimes I outline a bit as I go along, particularly with something long (like a novel--although with those, too, I started out not knowing how they would end). But if I start out with a specific idea of what's going to happen, all the urgency of telling myself the story evaporates, and writing becomes a chore. (I don't think I could ever sell a book based on a proposal.)
With this story, there are so many different threads moving through it (and I wish I could tell you more about it, I really do, because I'm excited about it; but I'm superstitious that way) that the struggle right now is finding a way to weave them back together in a way that satisfies. Not that there won't be loose (or frayed) ends, but that everything signifies in some way, right down to the kitchen sink. The things I don't want to lose have to justify their existence in the end, or they'll have to be cut in the revision.
So I took some advice and spent part of the weekend not writing. (I believe Meghan's exact words were: "I think you need a hobby besides writing.") Friday I messed with the guitar and watched a movie; Saturday I cleaned my room top to bottom. (It took all day. I have a lot of damn books.) Yesterday, I went to Letizia's, did my reading for class, and then did a diagram of the story. Nothing fancy, just a lot of names and arrows. I figured out which intersections were still needed for the story to pay off, and where they should happen. And now, I think I've got the damned thing figured out. I want to finish the draft tomorrow, and polish it on the weekend.
I suppose the only reason I post this is that it's amazing to me how this process changes, over time and from story to story. I wonder how many other folks have this experience. Sometimes I start from titles, sometimes from images, sometimes from first lines. Sometimes I write longhand, sometimes my drafts are completely typed, sometimes I do a bit of both. Sometimes a story takes two days to write, sometimes months. There's no consistency to it, and routines that work for one story do nothing for another. And yet as frustrating as this can be, there's nothing more satisfying that I've found. I know that some folks find books on writing useful; I never have. The best way to learn, for me, has been reading stories, and writing them.
I'll throw the question out there; do you have a set process? Do you know the ending before you start writing? Do you tell yourself the story before you write it?