Sunday, March 25, 2012

Maybe a post about writing?

Hi! I put that title up there wondering what would happen if I just started to write about writing. It's been too long since I have, which is weird because I love to write about writing! But I don't know, the last few months I've been kind of hanging on to this blog by my fingernails, posting visual content that doesn't require a great deal of thinking because I use up my capacity for that doing the actual writing.

This morning I had a good writing session and tackled -- for the bajillionth time -- a particular Major Story Event that has made its way, in various drafts, from happening early in the book to now being part of the climax. I'm closing in on the ending. I can't *taste* it yet, but maybe I can smell it a little bit. There is a new tang in the air, and maybe that tang is just the tart savor of deadline, but I'm pretty sure it is the ending. I know the scent of deadlines by now, ha ha, and this is something else. I hope I know the scent of endings by now too :-) When the wind is just right ...

Really it would have been nice for everyone involved if I had finished this book some time ago, but that is not what happened. The thing that happened is what usually happens to me to some degree or other: I kept starting over. I would get, say, 30- or 40,000 words in and think it was YAY! and then I'd have a little break going to some event like BEA or book tour and get home and read it fresh and go: UN-YAY! YAY-retraction! I would see it wasn't quite right yet, and it's a horrible spiders-in-your-brain feeling. So I'd think about how to make it YAY! again and then I'd start from scratch -- only I never really start from scratch. I'll patchwork in a lot of stuff that I loved from previous drafts, but change a lot of things too. And I did this again and again, I'm sure I've written hundreds of thousands of words on this book all told and the craziest part of all is this:

For all that drastic rewriting, it has not changed in essentials. Every step of the way, it matched right up with my idea, my concept, my plot. Even the major beats -- the happenings of the story -- have remained the same. So: what changed? 

EVERYTHING.

It's so impossible to explain this, but I was thrilled to read the exact same phenomenon on Kristin Cashore's blog in regards to Bitterblue, another much-rewritten book, due out in May. She said this: 

  • Even if you go into a book knowing your plot and your plot never changes from your plan, you still don't know what you're getting into.



Truth. 

So anyway, I kept at it until I got to feeling a [persistent] tingling sense of rightness instead of a spidery sense of not-quite-rightness and I did the scary thing of sending my lovely editor Alvina Ling (and also my lovely UK editor Kate Howard) a big chunk of unfinished manuscript. And then I waited in a state of near-hysteria to hear if they liked it because HELL. But they DID. A LOT. YAY! And I was finally able to stop rewriting the first third-to-half of the book and write THE REST. Which I am still doing.

I want to clarify that this has been pretty much the process on ALL of my books. The first third takes by far the longest. I rewrite and rewrite until the YAY! sticks, and then I finish with much more speed and efficiency and general good humor. Only when I've nailed the first big chunk of the book can I move forward. This is why, for me, fast first drafts don't work. 

[Obligatory reminder: this is just ME; many of my writing friends write brilliantly on the fast-first-draft model.]

The other day at one of my two writing cafes, I overheard one woman coaching another in writing, and she was pretty much saying you MUST: write to just get it out first, then fix it later. She was instructing her mentee or pupil or whatever as if this were a Universally Acknowledged Law of Writing. I did not butt in, but my mind sent psychic spasms through the air and maybe they felt them. I don't know. 

THERE ARE NO UNIVERSALLY ACKNOWLEDGED LAWS OF WRITING.

Scratch that. There is one:

A WRITER MUST WRITE.

That's it. All the rest is fluid and personal and crazy. Do what you must. You might not know what that is yet, so try stuff until something works. Regard any universal-law-proclaimers with one of the following three expressions:






I also want to give a shout-out to a writing idol of mine who gave me advice at a critical time last year. It was Patrick Rothfuss, and the advice was, paraphrasing: take the time you need to make the book as good as it can be. It seems like a no-brainer, no? But there's a lot of pressure to get books out in a timely manner, especially in a trilogy, especially if you have, ahem, left the reader in a place of agony (sorry!). But the other words of advice that Pat passed along were: 


It will be late once, but it'll suck forever


Ha ha! So true. And fortunately, my publishers and my agent share that view, and I've had a lot of support, and the book has come together and is still on track for Fall 2012 publication, and I am in a good place. YAY! 

Okay, that's all for now. I'm sorry that something a little bit more enlightening didn't escape from brain into the blog post. I hoped. But there it is. My brain is used up for the day. 

Wait. I think I'll add just one more thing. When I buckled down five or six or seven years ago (after years of dilly dallying and self-deception) and finally got serious about writing books (and FINISHING them), it would have made my blood run cold to imagine doing so much scrapping of chapters and rewriting from scratch. And it didn't happen overnight, but the honest truth is that now it is exciting to me. Why is it exciting to scrap chapters and start from scratch? Because of the shimmering possibility that is born when you do: that the next time it might be SO MUCH BETTER. I mean, it's awesome. And it's not like you're burning those other chapters. You lose nothing, you risk nothing. Do not be afraid to rewrite, to re-imagine entirely.

And for some reason this reminds me of this super-silly day a few years ago. I was at a cafe with Jim and my best friend Alexandra, and the mood was high-dingbat-silliness, and somehow we started playing this game. The way it worked was this: we would take turns in the chair with back to the window, and we'd have to say -- blindly -- whether we would switch bodies with the next person to come along. I mean, I think we *had* to switch bodies at least once, it was a matter of blindly choosing who and then seeing who you got, and deciding whether to stick with them or chance swapping out for the NEXT person, who might be "better" or "worse." (This sounds kind of creepy now!) So, Alexandra just could NOT stick with someone, no matter WHO. She might get a bypasser who was gorgeous** and well-dressed and smiling and all-around a good prospect for a body swap, and she could not be content! She would roll the dice, so to speak, and go again. For some reason, this was the most hilarious thing EVER. It makes me wonder if she does the same thing with revising :-)


** On the subject of gorgeousness, a query: is it possible to overhear someone in a crowd say something like, "On my first modeling shoot, the photograph said blah blah blah" and NOT crane your head around to see what she looks like? This happened at the zoo yesterday, and I couldn't not look. Kind of makes me want to start all my sentences like that in public and see what kind of looks people give me! Or, you know, maybe not. 

AND THAT IS ALL. GOOD NIGHT!




23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. I just wanted to quickly mention the model comment...

THIS HAPPENED TO ME THE OTHER DAY!! I sat down next to someone on the tram. She was talking on the phone about handing in photos for a model shoot, and I had to fight the entire way not to stare right into her face. I tried to get a peak when I got off the tram, but alas...

Cristina said...

Thank you for this post. I often read the "just get the words down even if they suck, you can always change them later" and I get this heaviness in my chest.. because I have a hard time doing that, I don't obsess over every word during the first draft, but they have to make sense to me, and that requires rewriting as I go along and that's a slow process. then I envy the writers that can finish a draft in a month and wonder if what I'm doing is wrong, and there's lots of doubt... so thank you for this post.

also, Patrick Rothfuss? AMAZING! I just finished reading "The Name of the Wind" and I'm so in love! I read somewhere it took him seven years to finish the first draft of the trilogy. so glad he took his time because it's brilliant!

BookishBabe said...

Speaking from my place in reader agony (sorry, indeed), let me say: Take the time you need, your brilliance is well worth the wait. Kindly point us to other authors who've taken their time, so we have a little literary opiate to dull the agony while we wait.

Laini Taylor said...

Anon, ha, and you didn't look? I did, but I couldn't see her face. Only the tall & thin, which seemed model-y.

Cristina, glad you loved Name of the Wind! Me too, so much. I can't remember the timeline for sure, but I want to say he was writing the first book for more like TEN years (could be wrong), and then readers expected/hoped for book II right away? He did it quicker than ten years, but it was still a wait, and so worth it :-)

Bookish, thank you! I know, I need to make a list of favorite books! I recently had to recommend some books for something else and it's a weird little eclectic list but: Pat Rothfuss again, the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy by DM Cornish (complete and wonderful), Angela Carter (I started with her story collection Burning Your Boats), Shannon Hale, this weird German sci-fi book called The Carpet Makers, by Andreas Esbach, Kelly Link stories, Holly Black's White Cat trilogy (book 3 coming this year), Garth Nix's Sabriel books, for some heavy historical melodrama: Dorothy Dunnett's Nicolo books. These are just some that come straight to mind. Oh, I also just read a wonderful book called Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal: Regency romance + magic, written in the literary tradition. Wonderful, and the sequel is out next month!

Lynda said...

This is why we love your books so much Laini because you don't give up until its right. That was so evident in Daughter. But yes, you did leave us in agony at the end of Daughter so please finish soon. We are chomping at the bit waiting to get our hands on the next piece of soul-satisfying joy.

Stephanie Perkins said...

This is so good and wonderful and funny and smart and everything I need to be reminded about! Thank you. :-)

Kimberly Sabatini said...

Thank you!!!! Because I feel horrible sometimes about having a very similar process to yours. The process feels right, it's just the expectation that makes me a little crazy sometimes. I need to write this down...

It will be late once, but it'll suck forever.

Thank you!!!!

Kate said...

I also have a similar process - I really need to get the first 30k words (give or take) right, and sometimes it takes me a lot longer than I want it to. And sometimes I have to write it out of order and then piece it together in rewrites. I know every writer has to figure out what works best for them, but it's nice to know I'm not alone. :)

Alysa said...

hahaha, I adore skeptical hippo!

Helen Peters said...

As someone who took ten years over her first book and is now panicking about the deadline for the second, this was exactly what I needed to hear right now - thank you!!

Daisy Whitney said...

I have a one track mind when it comes to Daughter Laini. And this is what I want to know - will I get my hands on the sequel this fall still??????

Laurence King said...

Thank you for this post, Laini! I feel so much less alone (and crazy) when I'm taking wayyy toooo looong to finish my book, which will never see the light of day because I keep changing it and changing it and changing it until I get the Ah-ha moment. So thank you indeed. I needed to read this. xo

MonsterAteMy said...

Love the writing posts! I've been secretly hoping you might get back to the Not For Robots blog. :-)

Satnam said...

Very informative post. Get to know something new and very informative. Love to read more posts like this.
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Holly said...

It's been very encouraging for me to discover that i really am not the only person who has to nail that first portion of the book down before i can finish. Thank you so much for continuing to share your process!

I also know what you mean about the changing attitude to scrapping and rewriting. I told someone the other day that i had gone back to the beginning of the book, cut about 15K and rewritten pieces. They gave me a mournful look and said, "It's so hard, killing your babies, isn't it?" And i blinked at them for a moment, and said, "No, not really. It's better now." It used to be hard, but now it's simply necessary. (Though i admit to wishing i could get closer to perfect in the first 3 tries...)

Melanie said...

Thank you for another writing post Laini! I do love all your other posts too, but the writing ones are my secret favourites ;)

Like so many others said already, this is a timely reminder. Me, yes I rewrite, scrap, and rewrite constantly. I don't have an issue with that. I have an issue with not finishing. So for me, the best reminder in your post was "a writer must write". Right, off to stop reading about writing and actually, er.... write.

Liza Kane said...

Thank you so much for the simple reminder that "writers must write." That's it. Whatever gets you to The End, go with it!
And, I feel so much better about my reimaginings of my current WIP...because I still feel it's the same story, even though I've rewritten the first third about 5 times. I still need to rewrite the second half and all, but at least that task seems a lot easier than fixing the beginning.

June G said...

Thanks. This is so timely. I'm taking an online writing course and some participants strongly advocate writing a fast draft. I tried. I really did, but I just can't do it. I can't relax knowing the first portion is a mess. Thanks for making it okay to take my time and nail that beginning--again and again if necessary...

Robin said...

"It will be late once, but it'll suck forever."

As someone else who is fighting a deadline monkey of mammoth proportions, I cannot even tell you how much I needed to hear this! Thank you!

The Bookwurm said...

Hi Laini,
I LOVE YOUR BOOKS. If you could check out my blog, I have done reviews of some of your books there. But I'm sure I haven't done them justice! 8D
...
You are probably going to ignore this.
BUT, if you do take a look, you won't be disappointed.
http://tinybookwurm.blogspot.com/
You're a great writer!

Julie Maughon said...

Laini, your writing-about-writing never disappoints. =]
Much internal happy dancing, because this is exactly what I needed to hear, and I didn't even know it.

Treatment of brain cancer said...

Interesting blog and nice design template. Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh! I'm such a fan of kirstin cashore. -Adele

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