hooray i am a terrible writer

Good news! I have written some words. They are terrible. Right now my goal is terrible words, so this is excellent progress.

What I have found in my previous novel writing attempts is that I have to get over my need for speed. What I want is to crank out a perfect draft in a couple of weeks, and my brain is convinced I could do it. Every once in a while I have a perfect writing day where the words come straight from the muses themselves and I can get 3000 words down in two hours and it will be an absolute masterpiece. This happens incredibly rarely, and yet I somehow assume I can force it out at will. Ridiculous.

What actually happens is that after all the percolating I described last week, and all the preparation work that takes far, far longer than I expect it to (I will describe this, tediously, in a future newsletter), I have to re-establish my writing habit and also re-train my brain to make sentences. And on top of that, I have to write in order. I can’t skip ahead and then come back to the parts that I got stuck on. So I need to start from the beginning, and beginnings are the worst. Actually, they’re the second worst; endings are the worst. But it’s a very close race.

I am not actually a perfectionist; I have a big-picture brain that synthesizes information really well, hence writing novels rather than poems or short stories. I get bogged down in finicky details and then get bored and then make mistakes allllll the time. This used to really bring down my math marks, let me tell you – I always understood the assignment (well, until Calculus II, may it rest in hell) but would make a minor error and get the wrong answer. Bah. But I hate to waste time, and obviously if my first draft is great then my second draft is easy. Sadly, my first draft is never great, and the beginning is a writing exercise rather than the actual introduction of my novel.

What I mean is that when I come up with an idea, I have to start by telling the story to myself. That is the first draft. Lots of writers say this; the first draft is not for other people; it is for telling oneself the story. And in order to tell the story, I have to have a lot of backstory and information about it so that I can give the impression of a window opening on to an entire world. That is several orders of magnitude more than the information that will end up in the final draft. A lot of this information is setup, flashbacks, life stories, worldbuilding, etc, and while some of that is critical so that the story makes sense, most of it is better expressed through the plot or dialogue or in a short summary. I personally have a mandate against using swathes of flashbacks, journal entries, deep monologue thought sections, or dreams, because for me (this is only for me!), I lose the thread of the story in them, and if these things are that important, I need to either start the story earlier or rework something.

So what I do while I’m establishing my writing practice is vomit out all of this backstory into the first couple of chapters. I have to be very stern with myself about ignoring the details of word choice, sentence structure, or overused adverbs (really, very, actually, etc), because most of this will be cut or rewritten anyway. Generally by chapter three I have worked a lot of it out of my system, my brain remembers how to dump words out, and the story picks up. When I come back to this stuff in edits I will fix it. For now, it’s like the part of a relationship where you are moving into “official” and “serious” territory; the awkward first date is over, but now I have to do the hard work of getting to know the story.

It’s just 60,000 words. How hard can it be?

Currently reading: the audiobook of The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill. I read this out loud as a bedtime story several years ago and adored it, and the audiobook is excellent. I wept at the end. It’s wonderful and beautiful. Bury me in a bog when I die.

Currently listening: Lemonade by Harm & Ease – a great driving song, IMO

Currently eating: not currently, but on the weekend I will be eating my weight in Paska (Easter bread), both because it is delicious and because it’s a Mennonite recipe so every single version feeds the five thousand and even a half batch is still like six loaves. Woe, sadness, etc.


One response to “hooray i am a terrible writer”

  1. :))))))