I am realizing that I probably won’t be posting much this month because I am also writing a novel. Typing words that don’t go towards my word count just doesn’t feel right; in fact I’m eying these words right now and wondering if I can work them in somehow. I can’t because there is no typing and, so far, no novel writing in the little world that I’m making.
It’s a liberating format. I don’t have to care about quality. I know that some of my scenes are really weak and lots of my dialogue is rotten. I don’t care that I have no idea where the story is going. I haven’t had a clue from day one and it seems to be chugging along pretty well on its own, so that’s OK. Editing is for the rest of the year; November is for getting words on the page. This is fun. It’s lovely to have gotten permission to do awful writing, and I think it’s actually making what I do go better than it possibly could have otherwise. I have this one scene where my heroine says goodbye to her family. It’s awful; it’s flat; there seems to be no emotion or affection there, but I had her family set up as being loving though not all that close. Still, if your seventeen year old daughter who has never been more than a few miles from home, told you she was leaving home to be a fortune teller with a traveling caravan, you would probably say something more than “Oh, well, be careful out there and have a nice time.” No, there would be strong emotion or at least some level of surprise. But that’s what her family did, and I don’t get to go edit that to conform to my expectations and now I’m realizing, 5,000 words later, that there was a reason her family behaved that way. Once I know the reason (I don’t yet) I can re-edit the scene to do its job better, but the fact is that at the time I had no idea what was going on. I’m not qualified to edit the damn thing until I get to the end.
This insight would not have occurred to me if I hadn’t been more focused on word count than, you know, content. I think I get why my attempts to write fiction almost always fail. It’s so easy to procrastinate. “Oh, I have to do character development before I start, I have to make a plot outline, I have to think of a perfect first line” There’s a name for all that sort of activity – it’s called “NOT WRITING.” It might be helpful for some people but for me it’s a form of procrastination, a way to avoid the blank page. 1,667 words a day is a real goal. Once the story is done, then I get to go back and work out story arcs and themes and maybe find that great opening line.
My husband is an artist. I asked him to teach me how to draw once, and he said, “Make a bunch of lines. Erase any lines that aren’t the right ones. If some are still missing, make some new ones. There’s your drawing.” It’s OK to make mistakes, to scribble and make a mess. The right lines are in there somewhere. He wasn’t just being metaphorical; it actually works pretty well as a drawing technique. Hold the pencil loose and just keep making lines. If you try to do it perfectly all at once you will have something that looks stiff and awful – make lots of mistakes and something graceful and true can emerge from the mess.