Do Overs

From Madeleine L’Engle {Herself} : Reflections on a Writing Life, p. 19

With free will, we are able to try something new. Maybe it doesn’t work, or we make mistakes and learn from them. We try something else. That doesn’t work, either. So we try yet something elsea gain. When I study the working processes of the great artists I am awed at the hundreds and hundreds of sketches made before the painter begins to be ready to put anything on the canvas. It gives me fresh courage to know of the massive revision Dostoyevsky made of all his books–the hundreds of pages that got written and thrown out before one was kept. A performer must rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, making mistakes, discarding, trying again and again.

I pulled out my stack of favorite books on writing today after doing some yoga (I’m taking that whole rebalancing thing seriously) and that’s the first thing I read. I too find that comforting and encouraging since it feels like I am writing nothing but crap lately. It’s easy to think of these great writers or artists as being simply geniuses who had beauty and truth flow from their quills or brushes or chisels on the first try. It’s sometimes hard to remember that they were human and made mistakes too.

This second book is a real challenge for me. It’s not really my second. It’s actually my fourth. But it’s my second as an adult after a long long hiatus from a writing life. My first was such a long time coming, and I don’t have years to develop a plot if I’m ever going to make a living (partial or whole) from my writing. So the need to go back and rewrite, revise, refine makes me somewhat nervous. I am in a doubting phase, I suppose. I have learned that my ideas don’t spring up as fully formed as I used to think. The plot that seemed so clear in my head turns out to be muddied and confusing on paper–or not there at all other than the main arc. The things we learn.

The wonderful thing about challenges like 70 Days of Sweat or Nanowrimo is that it forces us to push past the offensive line that is our internal editor (it’s fall…football metaphors are appropriate). That is wonderful for people who have productivity issues. Thankfully, I am driven enough that I don’t normally have a problem with that. I set my daily writing goal and most of the time I meet it. Even if I don’t manage to “win” the sweat, I will continue plugging away. The other wonderful thing about such challenges is that it reminds us that we aren’t alone. Given that writing is often such a solitary pastime, that’s easy to forget. I’ve found it inspiring to see published authors admit, as Jo Leigh did the other day “If I take off any time at all, I completely forget how to write a book. You may think I’m kidding, but I’m not. It’s as if I’ve never written one before, and my poor brain goes into some kind of shock amnesia. It’s only through diligence and being willing to put anything on the page that the tools come back to me.” Oh my God, that makes me feel so much better! Because I feel the same way. As if I have to shake off layers of rust and remember how the hell to do what I know I can do.

I think that’s one of my favorite aspects of writing…that there’s an unlimited number of do overs. That’s a luxury we generally aren’t afforded in life.

Here’s to the do over!

I’m off to take my dogs on a well-deserved walk.

In the meantime, go check out Pot’s thoughts on the subject.

5 thoughts on “Do Overs

  1. Did you sign up for NaNo this time? Neil Gaiman was the “speaker” this weekend, and since you didn’t mention it (and it’s highly appropriate) I’m assuming you didn’t see it. Anyway, he said when writing his last novel, he actually called his agent and said he couldn’t do it. The book sucked. Everything sucked. And she said, “Oh, you’re at that spot again.” He’d forgotten he’d done the same thing before. And so do many other authors. Sometimes you have to push through because the doubt is yours, not a problem with the story. Sometimes a shitty first draft is required, even when you know it’s flawed. But sometimes you have to start over, too, and that’s perfectly okay. You are NOT alone–we all fight these battles. Writing is the Hero’s Journey. This story has you in the Valley, or the Ordeal, and it might take you there again (and again). Keep writing, though, and you WILL find your way through!!

  2. Ironic that you mention that Joely (I did sign up for Nano, but haven’t much kept up with the emails, btw) because my note from the Universe was as follows today:

    “When you tough it out, hold the line, and stay the course, Kathleen, I promise you, there will soon come a day when you look back over your shoulder, shake your head in dismay, and seriously wonder what all the fuss was about.

    Just like all the other times,
    The Universe”

  3. Well, I guess it’s not really the same subject. Just what the quote made me think of. I have to agree with you about not taking so much time off. It’s hard to say if it was just because I was into the story or because I was in the habit of writing ever day that things were really moving along in Sweat 1 and Sweat 2, after a long break, has just kicked my butt. I guess it’s obvious that it’s a combination of both.

  4. Susan, it’s interesting that you say that, about the break in between Sven I and II. That’s why a friend and I started a little “1K a Day” club, because we wanted MORE than Sven. We wanted to write every day, whether Sven was dripping sweat on us or not. 🙂 We participate in Sven when the phase is going, but we don’t stop in between sessions either. That’s helped me write over 100K since 9/1. I do plan to take some breaks and recharge around the holidays after I finish NSR (it’ll take more than Nov to finish the first draft), but I really can’t imagine going days or weeks without writing a thing.

  5. I didn’t take a lot of time off from mine. I finished HOC (which will get rewritten after the first of the year) and within two weeks dove into a new project. I actually had grand intentions of allowing myself to read and catch up on movies and recharge, but when it came down to it I wasn’t happy not writing SOMETHING. Then I wound up putting Flash Point on the backburner when Til Death popped into my head and I worked feverishly to get that going for Sven. And now I’m contemplating a spin off novella in the same Mississippi town as Til Death until that one’s plot straightens out in my head. I took what was tantamount to three years off for grad school and it was like having to learn how to write all over again. I will never take that kind of time off EVER again for anything…

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