No melodrama today, promise. Though I can’t speak for tomorrow.
Today, I’m going to tell you a little about my current writing project. Well, to say “current project” indicates a singleness of projects, a lack of multiplicity. Not so for this girl. I’ve been working on multiple projects since I began writing. Well … perhaps that’s hyperbolic. I began writing in first grade, where I wrote a series of one-page stories (illustrated, of course) in a wide-ruled journal with a black Labrador on the front cover. I wasn’t talking about “writing projects” back then.
But these days, I’m usually working on more than one project at any given time. Readers can read multiple books at a time; what limits a writer? Nothing but the space between the ears. So I mentally multi-task and hop from 1930s England to today’s Midwest to futuristic Neptune, and back again; whatever tickles my fancy, I take on as my adventure for the day, the week, the month, however long it lasts. I kill off heroes and adopt orphans and blow up planets and rewrite history with as much aplomb as Lady Frankie shows in literally gatecrashing the Nicholsons. All in the security of my adorably Wonderland-like cardboard-box-sized bedroom, with windows facing nowhere and piles of books I keep meaning to read languishing around on the floor.
The project I’m focusing on, though, is something I wrote during NaNoWriMo* last year. It started off as a social satire, focusing on one particular family and their fascinatingly disgusting social snobbery (towards each other, as well as towards “outsiders”), but, in my mad rush to reach 50K, I bleeped over the biting verbal swordplay and, instead, spewed Melville-fatiguing descriptions of people and places and things. Whatever it takes to hit the word count, right? Come 30 November, I hit the word count (O joy, O rapture!), but what then? All through the bleak 5-month midwestern winter, what to do with a potentially-brilliant someday-best-seller (yes, mothers like to make their children sound better than they really are)? Ah, you guessed it. You’ve been through this before, too, haven’t you? So, current step towards published-authorship: editing.
Confession #1: I like editing. I mean, I actually, legitimately, enjoy the process of tearing a piece apart, correcting grammar, changing commas to semi-colons, replacing “who” with “whom” (or vice-versa, for overly-enthusiastic yet not-quite-accurate writers), turning a sentence upside down in an effort to shake out unnecessary adverbs and misplaced modifiers. Problem: I like editing other people’s writing. You know, newspaper articles and online forum comments and poorly-printed cheap copies of favorite books. When it comes to my own writing, editing proves difficult, to say the least. Pulling teeth sounds like fun, compared to this. Let’s try amputation. Or performing open heart surgery on yourself, for example. You see, it all makes sense in my head. When I write a character’s line, I write it in the voice of that character. I can hear the character’s insinuating snarl or awestruck monotone. Trying to put that into words is like painting a sunset in black and white. It’s just hard.
But do let me tell you about my book. — I must warn you, I talk about my stories like mothers talk about their children. Not that my preciouses poop and vomit and cry all night, but they do rather preoccupy my thinkage (I love real live children, too, just not their runny noses. If my children’s noses run, it’s in ink, so I don’t have to invest in tissues). So, as I take up this darling little manuscript and flip through the pages and try to distance myself, the task is to distance myself from those little lines and phrases I particularly enjoyed writing, and read with an objective eye. Daunting is the word. But in editing, in “killing off the little darlings,” I realize the potential strength of the lines left, the tautness of structure, the firmness of plot. During writing, I knew more or less who my characters were, what was going to happen to them, where the story would go. It flowed; it spewed; it ran and swirled in psychedelic colors.
Now, in pruning and structuring, the story has gone where I could never have imagined. It’s gone dark; it’s gone deep. What was once a playful social commentary is taking on distinct markings of a full-blown drama. Reading through some scenes, I think to myself, “Woah, is this my story? Did I write this? Do I know what is going on here?” I have had suggestions from friends (and one excellent editor!) about plot twists and settings and character development, but even as I adopt some ideas and discard others, the story continues to shape itself. Just as some characters walk into existence on their own two feet, some plots seem to run their own courses. It’s fascinating. I have no idea if it works like that for other writers … it has only begun doing this to me for the past couple of years, so I hope that’s a sign my writing is improving! Thoughts? Give us a shout-out: How do you write? Can you control your plots and characters? Or do you merely unleash the Hydra and watch it grow?
* If you’re a writer and you don’t know NaNo, you need to know NaNo NOW: nanowrimo.org. GO. Write. Win 50K!