Another installment in the process of getting (the right) words on paper:
When I'm working on a book, my first draft tends to be an incredibly detailed, narrative outline. I don't usually actually outline unless after the first draft I realize the plot is complex and contingent up on certain mile marker events. But since I don't come up with an overall idea for a book beforehand but rather a, "what if" scenario, I tend to just start writing.
That means after the first draft I take a very short breath and go right back to the beginning for another pass while things are fresh. I might even do that after the second draft.
Then things get weird. I will feel like writing. I'll know certain things aren't right, or something is missing, or I need to go deeper, but I won't know how. I'll skim through it, I'll 'scatter-edit' (bounce around noticing things to fix or adjust but in no particular order). During this time I'm edgy about the writing. Impatient. Annoyed. The entire thing is rattling around inside me somewhere but refuses to coalesce.
So I take a breath. I get snippets. I pull out the notebook and jot down thoughts, small bits of narrative, plot points, more 'what-ifs'. This is when the notebooks starts to fill -- late night chicken-scratch by the light of my phone, two or three word reminders, arrows and circles and question marks.
It feels like wasted time in some ways as there is nothing of the book actually being written. But it's probably the most important part of the process as all that incoherent gibberish in my head fights for a way out. It is the time when the bits and chunks and random-but-critical musings must be recorded before they are lost in the whirlwind of voices and competing inspirations.
I cannot tell you how long this portion of the work lasts. It varies from book to book. Regardless, it remains in many ways, my least favorite time within the writing process because the drive to write, to grow the story is there, but I am trapped in a cage of note writing, the pressure building behind the dam.
Usually another pass at the current draft will happen then to incorporate some of the notes, to see where I can alter great swaths, where the scribbles in the notebook might apply.
Not the ideas. Not the desire. Not the unreachable itch. All of those remain and I'll want to sit and keep going, get the story out, see where it goes, open the floodgates.
But they are locked.
The guard says, "Go away, they are not ready yet. They are too young, underdeveloped, immature, unclothed, ill-prepared."
And I'm sent away, into the silence.
Like a witch's concoction of magic, the story must brew. Without interference. Without poking, prodding, the temptation to add a dash or a pinch. It must be left to simmer on its own.
So I am left with silence. And my notebook. Which fills with doodles of grape stems and infinity swirls and maybe, if I’m lucky, a thought or two.
It is a time when I panic that maybe this story is dead in the water. Maybe it's not time at all. Maybe I never even had a story, just a vague, insubstantial sense of something.
Sometimes that's true.
But more often it just needs some quiet meditative time to find its identity. Its center.
Sometimes that takes a few weeks. I've also had it take several months. It's a nearly unbearable stretch of time I equate to pregnancy; there is a thing growing, developing, and I must wait -- sometimes uncomfortably -- for it to be ready to be part of the world. I cannot force it. I cannot influence it. It is its own entity and must grow to maturity in its own time.