Sunday, December 08, 2013

Noticing Where You Are

The way I’m revising my work-in-progress is different than in the past.

I’m content now to stay in one place in the story for as long as I need to stay there.

I won’t allow myself to move ahead until I feel that I’ve finished a section—a sentence, a scene, a page, a chapter—and only then will I let myself take another step into the story.

In the past I couldn’t wait to reach the end of the story. I thought if only I could reach the end, I’d have accomplished something. I’d have “finished” a book, even if the book needed a good deal more revision.

I treated the revision process as if it was a race. First to reach the finish line wins!

Racing to the end of the story made writing a lot easier, that’s for sure. It allowed me to skip past “problems,” overlook them, and avoid elements of the story that didn’t fit well together or which weren’t altogether clear in my head.

Treating the revision process as if it were a race prevented me from noticing important details which might have made the story more compelling. Moving too quickly through the story, I was unable to stop and notice these details.

I was writing, but writing with speed through the scenes and chapters didn’t help the story. It simply helped me get more quickly from plot point A to plot point B. It didn’t help me understand how—or why—the points were connected.

But I couldn’t slow down. If I slowed down, I felt as if I’d fall off the high wire and stop writing, or I’d topple off the path and lose my way and look foolish.

Now, though, after slowing down, I no longer worry about falling off the high wire.

Nobody’s watching—no editor or agent or critique partner—so I can give myself permission to make mistakes. Sometimes those “mistakes” are the most interesting part of the process and lead to an unexpected path, a doorway that might reveal something new about my story.

Instead of running, I crawl slowly on my hands and knees now. I sift the sand through my fingers again and again, examining it for evidence of a story, interesting tidbits, marks: broken shells, slivers of bark, small stones, silky pine needles, spider webs, dead moths, butterfly eggs, tiny footprints left near the water.

When I feel the urge to pick up speed, I remind myself to slow down.

I have to stop if I want to see and hear and savor what’s around me, if I want to notice where I am.



Pat McDermott said...

Incisive observations, Bruce. I've tried the suggestion to "blast out the chapter, then go back and edit." Doesn't work for me. I like to contemplate as I write, fleshing out details as I go. I've learned that even writing this way, there'll be plenty of editing later. Enjoy your WIP!

Bruce Black said...

Thanks, Pat. Me, too. Sometimes it works to blast through to the end--especially when I'm unsure where the story is heading--but for the most part, like you, I've come to savor the chance to flesh out details along the way. The difference is like driving through a small town at 15 mph vs driving through on the interstate at 80 mph.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

I appreciate your perspective, Bruce. If you're not writing to deadlines, you do have a lot of freedom, and I don't think writers appreciate that enough.

Bruce Black said...

Lynn, you're right. It's hard to slow down if you're writing under deadline or under the pressure of a writing class or MFA program or such things as parenting responsibilities. And sometimes, such as in free writing exercises, slowing down is what you don't want to do. Speed is key in getting the words down. Writing involves an ongoing balancing act--getting the words down and then revising the words. And each of us needs to find his or her own pace. For many of us a deadline can be helpful just because it's a way of saying "You're done." (For now.)