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April 2017

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Writers' amnesia

Hindsight enables me to look back on past writing projects and see how I dug each finished story out of the ground. Now that I know what I was digging up, it seems inevitable. I can see where the beginning came from, how the ending fit in, etc., the way an archaeologist might map out a buried city. Unless I revisit my early drafts and deleted scenes, I forget that at the time I first wrote it I was wandering, stumbling into dead ends, backtracking. I often had no clue where I was heading.

This becomes most relevant when I'm working on new projects, and I find myself frustrated by my inability to tear straight through them from first page to final page. It's as if I've never been through this crazy unpredictable process before.

Most laughable of all is the fact that the book I just wrote was my most difficult ever. It involved more false starts, more drafts, more rewrites, more abandoned characters strewn by the wayside, than any of my previous books. So you would think the knowledge that writing is not a straight road but a circuitous path would be fresh in my mind. To which I say: you would think that, but oh, how wrong you would be.

I suppose the delusion that This time, it will be easy! is one of the self-protective mechanisms that enables us to keep at this.


Preach it, sister. I'm experiencing exactly the same phenomenon right now. Intellectually I know first drafts are messy and rambling and generally In Need of Help, but I keep expecting I ought to be better at this by now!
I think we are getting better. The process is just naturally messy, since we're not building identical widgets but unique stories.

That's what I'm telling myself, anyway. ;-)
I have only the vaguest notions of the largest changes I make in the stories. The rest all blurs together until it seems seamless.

Which I suppose is what you want. If you could tell, the readers might.
Yes, at the end, the story seems as if it was always meant to be that way. But writing from the beginning and writing into the unknown, there's quite a bit of trial and error!
I find myself in the same place, Jenn. The "newest" project is kicking my ass. Though, to be fair, it's an OLD new project. Beyond the Gate was actually written and set aside before I ever wrote Finder.

I think it was written at a time that I didn't have the skills necessary to pull it off, and it still suffers from dips back into that time. A few new pairs of eyes and now I can SEE. Still, I've not had this much trouble getting a story revised in years!
All my projects kick my butt. I don't know why I think each new story is going to be the one that behaves itself.
I suppose the delusion that This time, it will be easy! is one of the self-protective mechanisms that enables us to keep at this.

Ain't that the truth? :)
It's fascinating looking back at old manuscripts and notebooks and seeing where the seeds of the idea first germinated.

I think it was Stephen King who said something about writers being archaeologists unearthing stories that already exist somewhere, deep and buried, in our subconscious, which I always thought was a wonderful way of expressing it.
I remember reading that in ON WRITING and thinking how perfectly it described the way I'd always thought about writing.
Frustration is definitely the name of the game - I keep reminding myself that what I'm working on is a FIRST draft. No way it's going to be perfect. No way it's going to see the light of day as is. It's a journey draft - as I'm writing, I figure out where I'm going and how I'm going to get there. Sometimes the destination changes, and that's okay. It's not easy but I think with each new project it gets a little easier. Even when it's kicking your butt.
I always seem to forget this part until I'm back in it.
Great post! I look back at some of my old writings and can't believe how bad the first drafts are. At the time I thought it was the best thing the world had ever seen. Now I'm grateful for the messy first draft. It enables me to see how far I've come.

Edited at 2013-01-16 05:17 pm (UTC)
We have to believe the first draft is marvelous. It enables us to keep going. ;-)