Feb 25

Want to Be a Brilliant Writer?

I have the answer.

Brilliance is revision and revision is brilliance.

Brilliance doesn't come in the first draft. Brilliance is accumulated over drafts.

Writers are very lucky because we can take our first drafts and over time develop and craft them. A first draft is like Adam's rib. We add the muscle, nerves, flesh, hair, and breath of life. Editors, publishers, and fellow writers help us polish the work until it shines and communicates perfectly, and keep us from making public our inevitable misjudgements and mistakes. That's why your favorite writers dazzle you. How do they do it? Revision. That's why years pass between their books.

We all want to write brilliant first drafts and be done with it. That's like wanting to climb Everest right this minute without a base camp or a team, or have a baby right now without a pregnancy. That'd be brilliant, but it's unlikely. Don't pressure yourself with the belief that you can or should write brilliantly immediately and all by yourself all the time--that you must be superhuman. That will be unproductive. Revision is very human. The humanity which soaks into the work through revision is what makes it brilliant.

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Nov 17

Night of Scribing Recklessly

"I'm NaNo," I told the librarian. It was 4:30 p.m. on the National Novel Writing Month's ("NaNo" for short) Evening of Scribing Recklessly, which had started at 2. About 30 fiction writers were packed into the library's conference room, including teens and two children, with not a single seat open. Wedged into a corner I used a chair as a desk. Junk food was available and pizzas brought in. I was surprised that talking and banter were allowed ("Hey, anybody, what's a good family name to put on a mausoleum?").

After the library officially closed at 5 we NaNos were "locked in" (one could leave the library but not re-enter). Until 9:00 p.m. we could sit anywhere in the library and I set up near the front window and then moved back into the conference room for the final hour. I missed some of the "get up and stretch" moments and the raffle that repaid the leaders for their outlay on food. Participated in some five-minute "timed writes" during which everyone wrote as quickly and as much as they could.

I wrote 7,252 words this evening so my novel draft is at 24,111, almost half of the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words during the month of November -- and there is less than half the month left! One should be writing about 1,700 words daily (about 75-90 minutes' worth) or, alternatively, attending organized write-ins all over the city to write in concentrated blocks of usually three hours. The seven-hour Night of Scribing Recklessly is one-tiime event. I just had to be there.

I value the pressurized and communal NaNo novel-writing experience, although the draft so far lacks shape and like most NaNos I have no idea what might end up in the book. NaNos (thousands, nationwide) are drafting, writing for quantity, bypassing our inner critics -- for now. We update our word counts on the National Novel-Writing Month website, nanowrimo.org. It's nonprofit and free and open to all. And, contrary to what I had imagined, it's not crazy: The discipline is sobering and sane.
Jul 21

Crazy

8 January 2009

This past week I drafted new work that I think is crazy: way, way off my usual path. This is the good kind of crazy for a writer.

That was during vacation time. Now I'm back to being mentally healthy, according to the standards of this culture: A clock wakes you, you shower and go to work and earn money, and try all day not to destroy your body, bank account, and relationships. You never tell your co-worker or boss, "I need time to myself" or "I'm busy writing a poem; go ask somebody else to do that" --that's so seriously nutty that they call it career suicide. If they catch you working on your novel or memoir (or blog), they won't listen when you explain that you are DRIVEN to do it by unknown forces and that you were born that way.

So we writers lead two lives from the start. One is crazy (according to non-writing mom, stepdad who wanted me be a court reporter because they really rake it in, boyfriend who thought writers get thousands of dollars when they complete a book, etc.). The crazy one is the fun one, the one with the starry dream world and infinite potential. That's also the one with the workshop that is happy, even thrilled, to read each other's crazy writing.
Feb 10

Mental Monsters - Vanquished

How creative is the art of worrying! A largely baseless concern was filling up every corner of my mind, like poison gas, with worry and fictive worst-case scenarios, making me feel both jittery and paralyzed. My options at these times are 1) petition God, the Tarot, horoscopes or therapists for answers and peace, 2) take a pill, 3) make myself write the Absolute Truth about the concern. Often the resulting draft is an accumulation of put-downs, childish rage, obscenities and rudeness, and if it has potential I try pounding it into shape. If it's a poem I may impose a form on it. I took one such draft and turned it into four-line stanzas of two couplets each, and every stanza had to mention the name "Richard" (a pseudonym for the real name) or a derivative thereof (such as "Keith Richards"). This took all evening. Now that it's polished and disciplined, I lick my chops with delight when I read it.

Baseless worry and catastrophizing are byproducts of a creative mind, so artists often suffer from these mental monsters, which are made up of backed-up, souring creativity. If such a thing is bothering you, write the absolute Truth about it.  No one has to see it. Or you may want everyone to see it.

Jan 22

Go Easy On Yourself

I've been fiercely disciplined lately. I'd love to go easy on myself today. So:

I will think highly of myself and my accomplishments. In fact I will list them.

I will finish a piece or leave it unfinished, as I please.

I won't wish I were another writer. I'm who I am, and I'm where I'm at. World, you can just deal with it.

I won't wish I had been born with an Anglo surname. I won't notice that the new issue of Natural Bridge, #17, features six "emerging writers" from around the U.S. Their surnames are: Boyle, Garrett, Fenton, Williams, Kohler, and Merrifield. (This issue was edited by John Dalton, who is a nice guy.)

Just for today, I'll puke up a draft of something new, maybe even something totally "out there," without caring how good it is and where I will publish it and how people may shun me when it's published. I may write as badly as I want, or as badly as I can. (Fun.) How about a poem about a dragon and a princess...