Friday, May 05, 2006

LS: You Gotta Go Forward to Go Back

Willie Wonka was right when talking about his chocolate factory and the words stand true in regards to writing a book.

Of course, there's more than one way to write a book. Let me admit that up front. And for every 80 writers that commit words to paper the 'normal' way, there are twenty who've found their own course.

One thing all working writers will tell is that you must begin to actually write the book. You can research, outline, plot, plan, dream your life away and without actually pulling up a clean file, or laying down a clean page and writing that first word, you will never have produced a novel.

So we all agree. We have to begin. And because I'm the one writing this blog entry, I'm going to encourage you to do what I did this last time around, what so many writers do, what I've said is bunk for so many years, and heavens above (!) they were right!

Just get it down. John Steinbeck said, "Write as freely and rapidly as you can and throw the whole thing down on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with the flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material." Sure, you can already have an outline on hand. I outlined my last project and it worked beautifully, enabling me to more quickly first-draft the piece. Whether you're an outliner or a pants-seater doesn't matter. Write, write, write. Exhale those words onto the page, spray on scenes, blast them on with a fire hose if you have to!

Ray Bradbury, who probably, if I can judge by how prolific the man is, has some of the most rapidly written first drafts ever, alerts us to another advantage. "The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping."

Now I have no idea what deadfalling means, but tiger-trapping? I get that. Don't you, as a writer, feel like you are stalking a beast as you write your novel? It's somewhere in the brush nearby. At times you can glance a flank, or a giant paw. a golden eye, an ear. A fang. Mysterious, and ever just apart, the only thing you can do in the end is jump on that thing, laying a trap that catches it in one fell swoop. I mean really, who wants to actually wrestle a tiger?

But beware. Your first draft will stink.

In the Modern Library WRITER'S WORKSHOP, author Stephen Koch says, "I once heard Philip Roth tell a crowded roomful of writing students that, when it came to sheer stinking lousiness, he would match his first drafts against those of any writer in the place.

"My first drafts stink. But they speak to me, not always in nice little words. As Koch goes on to say, "Your own first draft will probably be ragged and inarticulate, blundering, dull, and full of gaping holes and blank spots--a mortifying mess. Use every mistake. The inarticulate parts point to where you must make the words say exactly what you mean. The ragged parts point to what you must polish. The gaping holes tell you what has to be filled. The dull parts tell you unfailingly what must be cut. The blank spots tell you exactly what you must go out and find. These are infallible guides, and though they talk tough, they are your friends."

Nobody on this blog writes with pens filled with gold ink. We all struggle to trap our tigers, to breathe life onto the page. It's no shame to us or to you if the first offerings of our work aren't ready for the printing press. But we've created a blue print, a map that will point us toward our goal, a publishable novel. If your first drafts aren't what they should be, take heart and join hands with the likes of Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Bradbury, Roth and well, me if you want. If were you, though, I'd rather hold the hands of those other guys. In fact, read one of their works and know that at first round, it was probably pretty bad. Writing a novel isn't easy for anybody.

So give yourself a break, let it all hang out, be stinky. In the end, it's better to have something to go on, than nothing at all.

lisa samson lives in Lexington KY with her husband and three children. You can find her at . Her next book, Apples of Gold: a Purity Parable, releases in August.


At 6:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lisa. This post was meant for me, if nobody else. I'm going to practice writing without thinking today. ;)

At 9:32 AM, Blogger michael snyder said...

Amen. The first draft is four days behind and the revision starts tomorrow.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger shanna said...

I'm stinkin' away over here, and after your post, I'm thinkin' "Praise God! I'm doing something right for once!"

Thanks for the permission, Lisa!

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Amy A. said...

Thanks for the encouragement.

At 6:36 PM, Blogger Christy Lockstein said...

I needed this too. I've been thinking about asking what to do when you're stuck on your first draft, and this was exactly what I needed to hear. I can worry about inconsistencies later. Thank you Lisa!

At 12:08 AM, Blogger Suzanna said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12:10 AM, Blogger Suzanna said...

Thanks for this, I am encouraged. I've got something in me burning to be written and I am way too worried about whether it's good.

At 9:34 PM, Blogger C. H. Green said...

Wow. Goes right along with my thoughts today. I've been thinking I was moving along too fast, that what I was putting down couldn't possibly be readable. But I'm taking a deep breath and forging ahead. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.


Post a Comment

<< Home