February 27, 2007

The End: Eventually

The eclectically -brilliant Yuji Morales spoke this weekend about her way of writing, and of editing. She talked about making choices in her characters and styles as one must make choices about life partners: you just hone in on the one, and find out how to love them, then love them as if they were your only choice.

As I am currently facing the last two (three? Four?) chapters of my current work, and A.F. has just finished a first draft (cheers!) this strikes me strongly. Can I write like that? Can I just ... go with what I've got, and not be forever going backwards and forwards all at once, fixing, tugging, arranging?

Frankly, I don't think so.

I wish I were Ms. Morales -- no, I mean, aside from wishing for that 0 dress size, fabulous wardrobe and sense of style -- I wish I could write and draw and create with that single-mindedness of devotion to my own choices, with that belief that I have chosen rightly all ready, tidied up, and central to my mind. But I tend to question my own questions, even, which makes editing and revising with my agent like pulling leg hairs with rusted tweezers. One. By. One.


Apparently, revision neuroses abound: we all do it so oddly, and so much our own way. Cynthia Leitich Smith was recently interviewed about her way of doing things, in the wake of the release of her vampire novel, Tantalize, which I am DYING (no pun intended) to read. Her discussion about editing gave me hives:

Not Your Mother's Book Club: How much of your early work changes with revision?

Cynthia: Jeepers. Every time I say this out loud, I hear millions of writers screaming in the distance (and a few in front of me in workshop). But it is a regular part of my process to write a full novel draft, print it to read once, and then I throw it away and delete the file. Really. It's my way of just getting to know the characters and their world. If I were to build on those first, fumbling efforts, my stories would have pretty shaky foundations. I'm not saying this is for everyone. Some folks can fully envision their work right out of the chute. But me, I figure whatever survives when I open the new document deserves a fair shot. Whatever doesn't...doesn't.

World: "Aaaargh!"

Even other writers -- really, REALLY, really good writers are hyperventilating over this. But now, I am reconsidering... Is there some combination of steering by your one star and then tossing everything into the wind that could... actually ... work? Is it indeed trusting, like the swan in the ugly duckling, that what you are meant to be will out, because it is written in your bones, in your head, in your hands, on your heart? Does it matter if you toss it all out? Would it actually make revision easier not to try to dodge the bits and pieces that you are trying to hold on to, but to throw it out wholly, raze it to the earth, release it, and recreate it out of the dust?

Hm. Hmm, hmmmm, hmmmmm...

Yuyi Morales closed her keynote address with the prayers of Señor Tlalocan (know to many as Tlalocan Tecuhtli, Lord Tlalocan), who is one of the gods of creation in Mexican mythology. She told us that he, as many creators do, sometimes has trouble believing in himself and finishing the tasks set before him. He has candles and altars to his hands, to his pencil and eraser, to his impulses, and to his backside. (Perhaps Señor Tlalocan invented the famous Butt In Chair?) I leave you with this thought:

Mighty Impulses of mine, give me the courage to follow you always.
Might I remember that there is no right or wrong decision, but only commitment to what I choose. Help me stick with my favorite option, and work on it with conviction and passion so as to make everyone believe it was the only choice I had.

Now, go and light a candle on your altar, and then... revise, reverse, refresh, repeat.


Sarah Stevenson said...

Cynthia's comments about first drafts are almost exactly what one Mr. LaValle said. It gave me the shuddering flashbacks to what was one of the scariest things Victor ever uttered in Craft of Fiction. Yikes! Yikes!!

My reaction to that is exactly what Justine's was--"What if I just wound up writing another shaky first draft? Do I throw that one out too? And start over again? Couldn’t that go on forever?" I'm almost positive that's what's happening with Olwen. Though I am sort of trying the "disregard-the-first-and-second-draft" thing, I can't bring myself to actually throw it away. I'm just forbidding myself to look at it any more than is absolutely necessary (e.g., if I want to make sure I've retained the wording on something I can't quite remember because I wrote it two years ago).

tanita✿davis said...

Victor actually said to delete files?


Well, here's the truth:
When I first started writing, we had a rickety computer and temperamental electricity in our rural town, and I LOST things -- big things -- more than once. Utterly. Totally. I learned how to scour my hard drive for pieces of fiction, but there wasn't automatic saving with Windows back then (was there Windows? Okay -- kidding) and I was just a consistently forgetful person. I still am not cured of that, but most of the time it's okay.

Once I lost an entire novel, something like 103 pages (back when I considered something that short an entire novel - boy, times have changed!) and Mac was so upset on my behalf, I realized I needed to rein in my hysteria, because two of us freaking out completely wasn't helping. I told him that since I already knew the story, it'd be okay. I just sat down... and rewrote it.

Not that it was easy? But it worked.

Sarah Stevenson said...

He didn't say specifically to delete them, but he said that if you throw away the first draft, and then you rewrite from memory, you'll remember the good parts if they were good enough. Something like that.