Monday, June 21, 2010

Me on Writing, circa 2000

I stuck my finger in my annals this weekend and managed to dig this out, from circa 2000. This was me in the cave, speaking to myself, writing on the wall in blood and wondering if anyone a thousand years from now would read it, and not really caring either way. I'm still not sure being inside that cave isn't the best thing for my writing.

See, when you're alone, you can blasphemize and butcherize yourself and your story and not worry about a dadgum thing but the story itself.

I am absolutely certain, for instance, that at the moment of conception, when that spark of thought first hits us, and before it we are tainted with language and learning and bombarded with extrasensory movement and perception, that in our fetal state we know God and God knows us and we get it.

It's only after we pop into the light that we begin to unlearn everything we already knew. That's the power of the cave. Even bloggerville is noisy and blinding compared to the darkness of the cave.

My wife's pregnant. Can you tell?

And I still agree with this, ten years later.

Here you go, world. See if the light blanches my words.

Begin Cave Thoughts, ~2000
Seems every writer’s got something to say about writing. Well, I’m not a writer. (I’ll settle for being published, though).

But I’ve read quite a bit on the subject of writing (big eff-ing deal, right?). And muddled through the first draft of a novel, a horror-fiction, packed from first to last with mediocre verbiage (and absolutely no horror). So, in the tradition of pumping out a ton of mediocre verbiage—like so many authors today—here are some words on writing. We’ll see how long I agree with what I write.

It’s simple—just unravel the story like a ball of string and you have it. Every person has it; you don’t need to be a Dr. Crichton or a lawyer Grisham or—gasp—an insurance-man Clancy to pull a story out of your ass. And that’s just where it came from. If you need help, eat some paint; that’s what King did (I bet).

First, start with the ball. It’s a tangled mass, and can be anywhere from the car-sized Gone With the Wind to Jack London’s rat’s nest To Build a Fire; your choice. Okay, so you have the ball, either in the palm of your hand or parked pacing your garage like an un-caged lion. Somewhere in between lies ninety percent of your (wannabe) authors.

Second, look at the string. Decide what it is. Is it a horror string? Romance? Fantasy? Don’t even think about porn—your wife’ll kill ya, and if it’s a husband you’re worrying about, well, he’ll probably wonder why you know so many ways to stroke a man’s thingie. All that aside, though, figure out your string. If you get to the cork in the middle and find out it ain’t what you thought it was, you probably need to start over.

Third, find an ending. And a beginning. You need both ends. Now realize the beginning may not be exactly the beginning you eventually go with, and neither is the ending, but you must must must start with these ends. If you’ve ever tried to unwind a mass of fishing line, you know what I mean.

Fourth, I’m getting tired of counting; if I keep going, we’ll get to tenthly and seventeenthly. So, onward sans counting. Good. That’s settled.

Tug some on the string. Unwind it from beginning to end as best you can. Don’t worry about the knots along they way—those’ll come out later. Keep going. Get to the end.

When you reach a spot—and you will—where you have your knife out, ready to cut, don’t. Don’t do it. Skip the knot. Screw the knot. Let the knot stay right where it is. Keep going. Find the next smooth spot in your string and go from there. Forget the knot.

And don’t fret the bigger knots, either. Let them be. They’ll look like frazzled old ladies waiting in the salon, tapping you to do them next, they aren’t getting any younger. Resist the urge. Move on. Forward. To the blasphemous end.

You’ll get there. To the end. Finally. And guess what?—it sucks. The whole book. Full of these twists and holes and God am I ever going to get a book published? Hemingway said, “All first drafts are shit.” Remember those words.

So here you are, sitting at the end of a mangled script, bent, frayed, creased, tangled. And, yep, it’s shit. Get out your working gloves, ‘cuz it’s re-write time.



- Eric


Patti said...

I totally agree with you. All first drafts are crap.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I would like to have read Hemingway's first draft of THE SUN ALSO RISES. Like you said, Eric, about the cave experience : that draft might have had more life and art than the refined and sifted product that got published.

Congratulations on your happy news about the coming baby, Eric.

Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving such a great comment. Roland

Anastasia V. Pergakis said...

I have an award for you at my blog!

LAF said...

this is excellent advise. thanks!

Andrew Rosenberg said...

I love writing metaphors because they never work.
For me, I'm trying to take a nice straight string and add knots, the more complex the better.
I don't want my story to go from A to B. I want it to twist and turn in ways the reader never expects.
My plotline should have dreads by the time I'm done. :)

Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

Eric, I did not want to hear about you sticking your finger in your annals, but after such a compelling first line I had to read it anyway.

I like your analogy. It works. And I like the visual of King eating paint.

I'm 20 to 25% of the way in to my manuscript and it occurred to me today that I need to sit down and plot out where I've been, so that I can keep track of it, get a handle on it, or whatever it is that I need to do this for. But it feels like I must. Or I'll die or something. Or explode. Or, more likely, my story will.

I'm sure seasoned writers know all about this stuff. But, I'm tackling my first novel and learning as I go.

So thanks for the writerly advice. Annals and all.


dolorah said...

Oh Baby! "Second, look at the string. Decide what it is."

What if I can't figure it out? What if I'm stuck? What if . . .

I hear that so often from my clients I want to puke. Yet, here I am; same damn litany.

When do you toss the last 4-5 years worth of work and say, "F-it; time to move on. This is, not my bag."

I know it time to go to bed when I get maudlin. Have a good night Eric. And thanks for the thought provoking post. I'll read it again when I'm a real person.

Oh, yeah. E-mail. Look for it.


Lola Sharp said...

First drafts are shit. So are second drafts. (and so is a lot of the crap that's published)


You went with 'thingie'.

Eric W. Trant said...

Patti: Someone beat me to it, but second drafts are usually shit, too.

Roland: I always love stopping by your blog, and thanks for the congrats. I'd love to find an unedited version of the better authors. Then you could hear their true voice.

Anastasia: Thanks for the award!

CL: I don't know if this is excellent, but it's food for thought.

Andrew: You saying my metaphor isn't working? And your string has a ton of knots to untie. Seriously, your summary sounds like a great book, bro. You gotta finish and unwind those knots and I will absolutely hit your Amazon site and buy a copy.

Olivia: 20-25% into the manuscript. That's a good place to be. You're in the woods, keep going.

Donna: I say, "It's not my bag, man," all the time. Nothing wrong with that. I have so far put two novels on hold, both of which I believe are the more publishable works I've attempted. Fear, maybe, of commitment? Perhaps...

Lola: Leave it to Lola to focus on a man's "thingie." Go figger.

- Eric

Raquel Byrnes said...

I actually ground my teeth when you told me to leave the knot...I am so type A.

You are right, of course...I would never finish anything if I let "Perfectionist Raquel" be in charge.

I usually just write out the scenes that flash in my head and connect them later. It seems to work so far in getting me to actually finish something.

Congrats to you and your better half on the bundle...mazel tov!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Olivia, a disgusting but affective hook but Im not sure I want to know more about your annals. I also like the metaphor and like Andrew I am trying to put some knots in my string!

Anonymous said...

"Tug some on the string. Unwind it from beginning to end as best you can. Don’t worry about the knots along they way—those’ll come out later. Keep going. Get to the end."

I love this. It took me a long time to get here. I always wanted to tinker as I wrote. Finally I learned to let it go and untie the knots later.


Dr. Mohamed said...

Did Hemmingway really say that? Wow; he must have been reading my drafts :)

Happy 4th!