Thursday, January 3, 2013

Retrospective Headdesk

I just noticed something that is funny and terrible about the writing of DAYS OF BLOOD & STARLIGHT. It's a grand 'headdesk' moment but I have to share it because it is kind of my writing "process" writ plain, in all of its "don't try this at home" glory (because you too will go crazy).

Those little "You might also likes" at the bottom of each post led me to make this connection. 

There's this post.

And there's this post

The first claims:

"I am put in mind of . . . because of where I'm at now in my work in progress. I have come upon the Big Things that were on the story horizon -- the things that make me most excited about writing this book (the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone). Big Things. Big Ideas. Big Plot. Back when I was brainstorming it and plotting (in the fall) I had a "OHMYGODTHAT'SSOCOOL!" brainwave that made the whole thing click into place, and now I am upon that thing! Yay!"

The second claims: 

"Right now I am in REALLY good spirits about the whole thing because the last few days have been great. Two 3000-word days in a row (a VAST LOT for me!) and the realization AT LAST of the scene that was the A-HA! moment for the whole book, way back when it was first germinating in my brain well over a year ago."

Okay, so I'm talking about the same scene, the same a-ha! moment in both posts. If you've read DAYS, I'll tell you: the thing I'm talking about, and which absolutely was the plot "snick" of the whole book, toward which I was driving the plot the entire time, the thing that made me know I had a book in my head, was ... well, without spoiling anyone who hasn't read it yet, the deception. Or the Deception with a capital D. And in both of the posts referenced above, I believed I was writing that scene, or almost writing it. 

The thing is ... look at the dates on those posts.

Yeah. They're a year apart. A YEAR. So what was happening in that YEAR??? The thing is: the first post, I was wrong. I was not almost there, and in fact everything that I had written up till that point was wrong. Well, not entirely. I was able to use bits and pieces, but really, it was months of scaffolding, all that writing: the stuff you need to write in order to find the story, and which will get torn down later, leaving no trace of toil? Months of work that did not make it into the book, but which were not for nothing. They were a necessary part of the work. From the outside, it makes me crazy a little bit, that my process is like that, but I also accept it. 

Well, it's not always like that. Sometimes the story rolls itself out like a carpet and there it is. DAUGHTER did that, at least after the first section was written and everything was figured out. (Beginnings are always hardest for me.) But mostly I have to struggle with a lot of "Nope, that's not it eithers" before I find the form of the story that I'm looking for. It's kind of a bitch. But on the bright side, when a story does manifest easily, it's like the greatest gift of the gods, unbearable beatitude. 

What happened with that scene/idea/plot-point was that at first I thought it would be a turning point early in the book, but as I wrote, I discovered that it was actually a critical part of the climax. It had to be built up to and earned. You know the "terror of the middle"? Most writers I know experience some terror over the vasty middle of the book, and having to fill it up with things happening, awesome things that move the plot and hold the reader rapt. It's hard! And for me the big work of writing a book is creating a story and set of characters in which that vasty middle becomes an organic thing, where the things that fill it feel "true," like they're what "really happened" in this alternate reality I'm cooking up. Where it doesn't feel like I'm struggling to fill anything up, but like this story is growing and racing and expanding and there is so much life it's difficult to contain it all in the pages. That's what I'm always seeking, and it takes a fair bit of work up front to make the characters and their situations real enough that the middle begins to unfold itself organically. So that's the scaffolding. That's why the two above posts exist, because back in May of 2011 I didn't realize I was still building scaffolding. It was a bit of a hard road, when that became clear, and what was happening for that year in between was that I was actually writing the book

This puts me in mind of one of the Writing Tips I did for Publisher's Weekly. Did you see that? Full post here. The one I mean is this, part of #4:

Cultivate the attitude that every word you write need not end up in the book. Some things are just exercises, part of the process of discovery. Be willing to do more work than will show. The end result is all that matters. Be huge and generous and fearless. 

Also, from #2:

Never fall still, and don’t be lazy.

So there you have it. Now, enjoy some further headdesking ...

And ... hey, is that JOHN GREEN???

Good day, friends. Back to work!


Novv said...

Laini That's great, thank you very much for sharing it, I never believed get to think that way.

Emy Shin said...

Your posts about writing are always my favorite. I always, always learn so much and get so inspired and am reminded that even if what I'm writing is now terrible, it's a necessary part of the process.

P.S. I'm currently reading DAYS and loving it loads. :)

Jenn said...

Ohh! I think I know the moment. I can totally relate, in my writing as well it's taken awhile to get that 'Oh Dang That's it! moment' Happy New Year and Happy Writing, cannot wait for the conclusion, or maybe I can because then it'll be over, over. Sadness.

Robin L said...

Ha! That is MY PROCESS EXACTLY. Months and months of scaffolding and false starts that ultimately lead me to the actual story. But man, what a laborious process it is!

Jordan said...

This is great (with a gif cherry on top), thanks! It ties pretty nicely into another article I read today where painter Chuck Close says "Inspiration is for amateurs -- the rest of us just show up and get to work." ( Like you said, the work you tossed wasn't for nothing, because it led to what you wrote after.

trendy clothes said...

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Charley Robson said...

Haha, this post is so comforting right now, what with my co-author and i currently spazzing over the final edits of our first book! Good to know the awesome professional types head-desk too!

tone almhjell said...

And earned it was, to the fullest! I LOVE your process posts. They're just the perfect mix of comforting and inspiring. I long to be limber like that, climbing around the scaffolding, tearing it down at the very end to reveal a perfect structure. I tend to cling to every bone of my story skeleton. It takes a serious whack over the head before I'll let go. Sigh.

Brenna said...

I must admit I'm trying really hard to come to terms with the fact that the first time I write something isn't going to be anything like the writing that I will end with. Plot points need to change, the language needs to get better. Whole parts (or entire drafts) must be deleted and reworked.

Sometimes it feels impossible, I admit. I sometimes fall prey to thinking that I don't know how to change things and make them better. But, I've been getting better at it.

Melanie Conklin said...

I finally discovered journaling with my latest MS. As in, I get a journal from Target. And then I fill it up with any damn thing that comes to mind, because I need to get the things out before I can WRITE the other things. I'm using the journals for revision right now, after the first draft, but am considering journals before the next novel. Usually I just sketch and write like a torrent. The journals are a welcome respite. The pages are free :)

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