Saturday, January 16, 2010

Learning to let go

The first things I wrote with an eye to publication weren't creative, they were academic. (Okay, maybe they were a little creative. When you write an article arguing for a broadening of the first amendment right to freedom of speech and you title it "Lex and the City," it is, to some extent, a creative endeavor.) My point is, the process of writing was an entirely different one. There was no question that research would be involved, only of how much. There were footnotes. Entire many-legged creatures worth of footnotes. Headings and subheadings. The writing process was a rigid one, full of rules to be followed and formats to be honored.

And so when I started writing stories, I followed the same process that I was used to. I didn't have footnotes and subheadings, but I had control. I agonized over word choice and sentence placement, and didn't move on until I knew that what I had could support what happened next. Which meant that, on a good day, I'd write about 300 words. 

Now, writing 300 words a day, every day, means you've written a novel and change a year. So that's great. But those 300 words were a good day, and the days weren't all good. 

Thankfully, my process has evolved. The first major change was Clarion. I learned that if I wanted to get a story a week in, and keep up with the critiques for my classmates, and have time to be social, and to think about eating and or sleeping, I needed to write more when I sat down to write. And I began to let go of the idea that perfection, or at least a close approximation thereof, was necessary before I could move on to the next sentence. And yes, it helped that I was in the environment of a writing workshop where everyone else was under the same pressures, where it was acceptable to turn in a story with bracketed scenes because you knew what had to happen at that point, but not how to write it yet.

The other major thing that has helped me, is that I've learned to trust my writing. I can recognize when a scene is almost there, and move to the next point, because I know I can turn the almost into there in the revision process. And I've begun to be able to cut myself the slack I need to go off down the wrong road, or at least to take an extended frolic and detour in search of the right one. It's not quite a shut off of my internal editor - my internal editor speaks in the voice of a Benedictine nun, and has not taken a vow of silence - but it's an understanding that if I jump, the story will be there to catch me.

And, oddly enough, the coolest thing about relaxing the need for perfection in the first draft has meant that, not only am I able to get more words on the page when I sit down to write, but it's also a better story, one that's more honest and less concerned with being anything other than what it needs to be.

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