Surrender To The Process

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.

5 thoughts on “Surrender To The Process

  1. The Writer's Codex

    Awesome stuff here, thanks for sharing how you had to learn to let it all go. Letting it go is my writing style it seems. I can’t plan anything becuase it takes all the wind out of my sails but if I just sit and write, not sure of a thing and the words just start coming some really cool stuff just starts happening.

    Everyonce and a while I do have to raise my head though, stop. Postulate. and then put my head right back in and continue on.

    So far my first manuscript has been wild ride, I can’t wait to see what else it has in store.

    1. cydmadsen

      Hi Nathan! Thanks for the kind comment. I appreciate it. I am so with you on not planning things. Of course there’s the seed of an idea, and I usually know where I want to go, but having an entire outline just doesn’t work. It feels as if the party’s over.

      I checked out your blog and will be hopping over there to comment. I completed NaNo this year and intend to do it again next year. I really thought I’d learned to let go while doing NaNo, but what happened was I was writing out personal issues. That’s OK, but as dull as folding laundry.

      Thanks again, and enjoy the ride of your manuscript. And keep in touch. You’ve gotten me interested in what you’re doing.

  2. Mary

    Hi Cyd,

    How exciting to check out your blog today for the first time and the headline is–Surrender to the Process! This has been my mantra, not just in writing, but in life with those “personal issues.” I finally realized that surrendering the process is mostly about trusting myself. And that has been a long road for me…that I am still traveling. Trust does not come easy, but it is imperative for a writer. So wonderful that you had this breakthrough experience. I, too, have trouble getting past the fear.

    You mentioned that you background includes working in film. I’d love to hear more about that. I used to work in television news, so turning to writing books has been a big change for me. In news I had a new subject each day and had to have the finished produce done by 5pm. I loved that! Taught me to write. Writing books uses entirely different muscles.

    Great to meet you!

    1. cydmadsen

      Hi Mary! So glad you checked in. Thank you for doing so:-) Surrendering is an ongoing process, isn’t it? I thought I had it nailed, but then something came along that showed me how much more surrendering there was to do. I’m guessing even more will show up as time goes on, both in my writing and person life.

      I think a background in film and television is the best you can get. I know as a screenwriter, I’d write the story, then go back and strip it clean of all the writing. That taught me a lot about story and structure and keeping things in order…and deadlines:-) I had taken so many classes on scriptwriting and story and on and on and on, but I actually learned my craft when a nasty neck injury had me on the floor during months of recovery and a TV that was too small for me to see. I had to listen, and that’s when I learned what it was all about. I’ll be blogging about my experiences in that field more in the future. Right now I’ll say that I broke into the business by accident, agents called me after I won a major competition, and my work was never produced just ripped off. That’s why I turned to writing novels. No matter what happens to the novel afterwards, I always have the original work I can point to as being mine and written the way I intended. I also worked as a script doctor, called on to add humor to scripts where the jokes were falling flat. That was a real joy because I’d receive the “sides” without knowing what script it was for unless I happened to see the movie and recognize something I’d written.

      Thanks again for stopping by. I enjoyed finding your blog and look forward to visiting it often.

      Great to meet you, too!

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