Friday, June 24, 2011

Just write, damn it!

I slowed down a little yesterday, not deliberately but because the words seemed to come more slowly. I think I feel prey to a bad habit for writing a first draft: thinking too hard and too long about everything... word choices, characterization, etc. And while I felt good about what I'd written, I finished without that sense of elation that I've been experiencing at the end of the day up to now. I believe the reason for that is that I gave up so much momentum by stopping too often to think.

Still, I wrote another 1,038 words, bringing me to 18% of the first draft completed.
I've been doing a lot of reading of blogs by writers lately, looking for advice on how to build a "writer's platform," which is the latest terminology for writers doing their own marketing and promotion work. In doing this research, I came across a truly hilarious, and highly profane, website and by writer Chuck Wendig. If you are not easily offended by obscenities (I'm not), you should really check out his page on building a writer's platform, and pretty much anything else he posts to his blog. I laughed so hard reading this stuff that I was nearly in tears, and yet he consistently makes valid, practical points from which any writer will benefit.

But where I really found some advice that was very timely for me, in particular,
last night was in one of his blog posts entitled 25 Things You Should Know About Writing a Novel (Or, 'How the Lunatic Writes a Book'). It was here that Chuck very considerately slapped me upside the head for not keeping my head down and writing like a wild thing yesterday.

His first point is that the novelist's first and most important goal is to finish the damned novel. Okay, so far, makes sense. This leads to his second point, that "momentum is the key." This is where he drew back his arm in preparation for the aforementioned upside-of-the-head slapping:
The point remains: writing a novel is about gaining steam, about acceleration, about momentum. You lose it every time you stop to revise a scene in the middle, to look up a word, to ponder or change the plot. It’s like a long road-trip: don’t stop for hitchhikers, don’t stop to piss, don’t stop for a Arby’s Big Beef and Cheddar. Just drive. Leave notes in your draft. Highlight empty spaces. Fill text with XXX and know you’ll come back later.
 He was so right. Every time I stopped to grapple with word choices and microdetails about the plot yesterday, I bled energy like a pig in a slaughterhouse. I could have written twice what I did yesterday if I had simply written instead of thinking.

Chuck's next point followed through on the head-slap and reminded me that my first draft should look like a first draft when I'm done, and not like a manuscript wearing its Sunday best:
The First Draft Is The Beach-Storming Draft
It’s you and hundreds of other soldier-penmonkeys clawing their way up the enemy beach of the People’s Republic Of Novelsvainya. Most of those other poor sots are going to take a stitching of bullets to the chest and neck and drop dead in the sand, flopping around like a fish, their bowels evacuating. Your only goal is to get up that beach. Crawl through mud, blood, sand, shit, corpses. It doesn’t matter if you get up that beach all pretty-like. Or in record time. Nobody cares how your hair looks. Your first draft can and should look like a fucking warzone. That’s okay. Don’t sweat it, because you survived. Put differently, that first draft of yours has permission to suck. Go forth and care not.
Reading this made me admit that I was now writing for anybody I might happen to let read my first draft rather than simply writing to finish the story. I was dressing up for company when I should have been wearing whatever was comfortable and functional. When I started this project, I had the right attitude: just get it down on paper (well, pixels, but whatever) and leave myself a note about anything I know I skipped or skimped on. Just finish the damned draft. Now, I'm trying to write something that will look good to a reader. That is wrong, wrong, wrong, and it will delay completion significantly.

There will be plenty of time to pretty up the manuscript during the second, third, however many drafts. But there has to be a complete first draft before we get to that stage. So, I'm putting my blinders back on and resuming head-down writing mode, as of today.

Of course, this weekend, things may be a lot slower. As I mentioned yesterday, I have advanced to the second round of the NYC Midnight Screenwriter's Challenge, and I received my new prompt last night. I now have until 11:59 EST to turn in an eight-page screenplay. So I will probably not be spending much time on the novel until that task is completed. Wish me luck!

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