Getting back on the story train

I’ve been on vacation with my family for a week, which for me means I didn’t work on my current novel.

Many (all?) successful (I’ve read their book) fiction writers say they write every day. I’m not one of them. This is a problem, and I’m not defending it. Just one of the things that plagues me. I’m always on the lookout for great advice about procrastination.

Tough love doesn’t do it for me. Boot camp pressure just makes me rebel. The best thing to get me working on anything, writing or exercise or parenting, is to be reminded of why I do it in the first place. Something that triggers my passion.

My current work-in-progress is a rewrite. I gleefully typed out the first draft during NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) last November. Now, I’m struggling through a total redrafting of it (new book from page one.) It’s taking me months and months, and I’m not sure it’s better.

Today I read a reprinted post by Dean Wesley Smith about rewriting:

First, our colleges and our training and New York editors and agents all think that rewriting can make something better.
Most of the time this is just wrong, flat wrong when it comes to fiction. It might be right with poetry, or non-fiction or essays, but with fiction, it can hurt you if you believe this completely and let it govern your process.

Secondly, it makes writers think there is only one “right” way of writing. And that if you don’t fit into that way and rewrite everything, you are doing something wrong. That kind of thinking kills more good writers than I can imagine, and I can imagine a great deal. And have watched first hand it kill more than I want to remember.

This are controversial statements, but only if you take the first one out of context with the second. There are some terrific writers (Jenny Crusie, for instance), who are vocal about the cream coming through in the rewrite. Their process of many drafts and many reworks ends up with a great book. But it’s their process. Read what a half-dozen famous writers say about their process and you have to acknowledge there is more than one way to create a novel you’d want to read.

Some edit so much as they go (I’ve heard this often), by the time they reach the last sentence, the book has actually been rewritten 4,552,035 times already, and they are done.

In the context of reading Dean’s post, I wonder if this is a roundabout way of some writers admitting they don’t rewrite. They work from the top of their head, creatively driven, swirling through the sentences until they finally say The End and then, to themselves, Begone Manuscript!

So I’m going to take this idea, like so many other ideas, to my writer’s heart. Maybe I’m killing my work with rewriting. I’m a visual artist as well, and the same thing happens with charcoal, pencil, and paint. My figure drawing professor made us use really cheap paper and charcoal, and we only had thirty seconds to sketch the model before she changed her pose. This forced students to work quickly, loosen up, and have fun. The sketches of a new artist are always better when done freely like that. Just imagine the unintended brilliance in the art of a preschooler, so confident and colorful and unusual. That same child, ten years later, will draw something tight and uncomfortable when their high school art teacher gives lessons in perspective. It takes another ten years to get confident again.

The influence of formal schooling in this degenerative process is another topic.

This all inspires me, and though it’s too late for me to not rewrite the book I’m writing, I can plow ahead with a lighter heart and fewer backspaces, eager to move on to the next story. One thing that seems true with all successful writers, revisers or not, is that they actually write. No way around that.