We’ve all heard the lessons about letting the first draft just flow and go where it will, then come back and polish it, smack it into shape, work it into something that makes sense and is entertaining. That’s the message for both “pantsers” and those who work with an outline. I believe in this lesson, but I’ve never really trusted it. It’s the way I work, but my work has never been a smooth ride.
This is my futz-around day when I try out new things, doodle new projects, and just see what comes from this writer’s playtime. Sunday = Funday for me, and I thought I had this business of flowing with the first draft thoroughly incorporated into my habits, especially on Funday.
Today I learned how much I’ve been fighting it all these years.
A new project has been floating around my head, an epistolary novel updated to include modern day social media. It was much more difficult than I thought. The first Fletch novel, written by Gregory McDonald, was not epistolary, but it was 99.9% dialogue and done so well the reader hardly noticed the impossible trick he was pulling off. Well, that’s how a social media epistolary novel was turning out. Right there I was flustered. I’m not bold enough to attempt what McDonald did, and I’m not sure I’m good enough to do it, either. I’d gotten myself into something that was a shape-shifter.
Getting knocked for a loop like that was probably a good thing. It distracted me and gobbled up all my fear, leaving none left for me to worry with when the story took off in its own direction. The best I could do was mutter, “Ah, screw it. So what if you don’t know who this person is that just sent an email to your protagonist. You’ve got bigger things to worry about. Surrender and move on.”
Which is exactly what I did because I was anxious to see if a novel written as an exchange of letters could be pulled off these days. Pulled off by me.
An odd thing happened as my fear was distracted. The word “surrender” took over, and I became the body with the hand holding the pen and writing what the Smarter Mind wanted written. It was amazing how characters and events (a.k.a. plot) took shape in ways that made sense and captured my attention, sitting at my own desk and reading as the story was being written by someone not under my control.
What a rush!
I’ve had plenty of stories take wild turns in the past, and characters have always said things that perplexed me, but my response has always been to back away from the writing, pace back and forth as I thought about it, wondered how I’d work all the surprises into something coherent, then make frantic notes and continue onward, those hasty notes rap-tap-tapping at the back of my mind.
I’ve retreated from those moments of creation and tried to control them instead of surrendering. Most of the time it’s worked, but always with a lot of sweat and knots tied in my gut. It hasn’t been pleasant, and there’s always been disappointment with the completed project. Even when the project has won the favor of others, I’ve been dissatisfied.
But this was fun! Every minute of that run-away story was an adventure with surprises at every turn. The speech patterns, expressed as written techno-speak, came across with clarity for each of the characters. I usually have to work my butt off checking and double checking to make sure each character is distinct. The story still concerns me because I have no idea where it’s going to wander before it ends up where I know it needs to go, but I’m not going to worry about that right now. I’m too busy worrying about the epistolary thing.
There’s a strong possibility that the product of this Funday will be filed away for another day when my skills have miraculously gone through the roof, or that both characters and story will be tossed as garbage. That’s OK. Right now I’m on a high from the experience of having surrendered.
When I was finally forced away from the writing, I felt odd. I had to get busy with my body to snap out of what felt like a trance I’d slipped into, but maybe that’s what it’s all about. Maybe that’s been at least one source of my frustration, and sometimes stalled engine, with my writing.
I’ve had “letting it flow” confused with surrendering. And for good reason. It’s a little spooky being out of control and not giving a flying rat’s behind what happens. That’s not how life works. Well, it does work that way at times, but that’s usually when one has stepped through the open doors of booze, sex, and spending like a maniac. But writing out of control? Surrendering to the elusive muse?
That’s Twilight Zone stuff.
Surrender. It’s not natural, but it just might be what makes me the writer I want to be.