Friday, April 23, 2010

Key to Getting Writing Written -- The Drowning Process -- A Few Notes.

I was talking on the phone with my good friend SHEILA CURRAN (novelist), and she said she'd started writing daily again and it felt good. She'd realized that if she waited even two days between writing, she was so critical of the last bit she'd written that she couldn't bear it. She'd scrap it or rework or simply pine.

I agreed. People often ask me how I produce so much. Daily writing has been my response -- in a much much longer discussion of time, muse, the damning inspiration myth, etc ... -- but it wasn't until talking to a grad student later that night at the kitchen table (with one kid cooking in a towel, another in cleats storming in starving, a three year old wearing my boots and pushing a shopping cart, and a third poking at the other three, add roaming collie...) that I realized a few things.

I have what I call back-burner novels -- I usually have three or four of them at a given time. They linger for years. I work on them in my down time from other projects that -- for whatever reasons -- are front-burners. I love these novels (irrationally sometimes) and yet it dawned on me yesterday that I've never published one of them. In fact, I've never FINISHED one of them.

And for each one of them, I have an average of 15 files -- all with different approaches in point of view, narrator, time, cast, focus, era ... I never lined them all up and inspected them. But with Sheila's words drumming in the background and while talking to this grad student about knuckling down and drowning himself in one of his multiple works, it hit me. Every time I come up for air -- abandon a novel for a stretch -- I break the dream. I lose my vision of it. I return to it as a critic. I question every approach.

I've known for a long time that a work will punish you for your absence. But not until yesterday did I realize that I WRITE SO MUCH BECAUSE I WRITE SO MUCH. The act of sticking with it -- staying under water -- not coming up for air -- keeping the dream in tact -- the drowning process -- makes it possible for me to write and FINISH.

Once I have a full draft, then I can and should and do let it sit. I return and the critical voice can HAVE AT IT!

Do you see the slight difference here? It's not simply that writing daily produces pages -- although three pages a day adds up. It's that daily writing can keep you pulled under and that is, at least, what I need to not lose the dream of the piece and (more importantly) to not lose my nerve.

For me it's necessary to be daily.

I hope this helps.