Boy: Do you know what this Blah Blah Bionicle character’s job is?
Me: No, what’s his job?
Boy: He’s a hard-working archivist.
I suppose archivists work just as hard as anyone, even as diligently as construction workers and receptionists, but he picked up on a soundbite that I must have missed. Maybe archivists on the island of Metru Nui work harder than other archivists. (What? You’re not
tormented blessed every single day with bits of Bionicle trivia? I need hard liquor.)
Well, tonight I feel like a hard-working archivist. Or like a stuck novelist indulging a predilection for watching Ghost Hunters, while also sifting through old printed-out versions of her novel and reading editing notes from the two workshops she attended. Does digging through archives make one an archivist? I say yes.
I’m at a point in my book where I need to push through. Doubt, the writer’s curse, crept in through an open window some time back, and I started thinking maybe I’m just not a novelist. Maybe I should turn to writing something else.
But dammit, I will finish this book, is always my next thought.
What I’m doing tonight is a bit of ass-kicking. (My own.) I’m reading every comment in this stack of pages in front of me (the margins are sprinkled with hand-written workshop notes from about 30 or 40 other writers). Though I won’t necessarily employ them all, I need some perspective. I felt like it would help to go back to earlier versions to see if I’m still telling the story that excited me in the first place. Is the story still in there? Is it better now? Have I forgotten or ignored advice that I should have swallowed whole? I was lucky in both workshops to have excellent instructors (Tom Perrotta in one, and Elizabeth Searle in another.)
The editing notes from those authors are both fairy dust and grit. Here’s what is lovely and true. And here in red? It’s complete shit. (They were gentler. There are lots of ways to say this.) Writers need to hear both. The grit is what you want, because if you do what it says, your story improves.
So tonight it feels like I’m shaking grains of sand from the pages, bits of advice that come to something substantial if I smooth them into a pile and into the palm of my hand.
Turns out it’s an interesting and heartening exercise. These pages are older versions of the story, and it helps to see that I’ve made progress since then. Not enough, but it’s still progress. Some days I wish I didn’t know that Donna Tartt spent 7 or 8 years on her first novel (The Secret History) and 10 on her second (The Little Friend). It makes a handy excuse. Which I will stop using. Soon. I do not want to be one of those writers who only talks or writes about writing, without ever actually producing anything. When I think that I could turn into someone like that, it makes me think of a caught fish flopping about on the riverbank, with no nope of swimming. It’s a sad sight, indeed. I don’t want to be that fish.
So my ass is well-kicked now. 1000 words tomorrow. No less. The next day, too.
I’ve shaken the pages clean of their advice, and it’s time for my fingers to fly.
10:55 AM –305 words, and counting
11:45 AM –612 words. I’m an idiot for not doing this every day. (please keep in mind that the word count will likely decrease–and ultimately increase–once I indulge my favorite addiction…revising)
1:31 PM — 1042 words. I’m done. At the beginning of the day, I fixed a problem in my current chapter where I had removed some of the tension from the story. It’s back, and correcting the problem made it easier to go forward.