I’m happily absorbed in rearranging and polishing the third Kate Clifford novel. The first draft of a novel is always a journey of discovery for me: only after I’ve followed the characters through the story do I see the patterns, the connections, the emotional journeys. Then I dive back in, reading it with curiosity, making notes toward the next draft, what to rearrange, what to rewrite, how to polish it. I love this part.
Clearly this process is shared by many, if not most, writers. Here are two examples that I came across this week.
- In the last paragraph of Marilynne Robinson’s essay “On Finding the Right Word” in Friday’s NYT she warns against forcing the topic:
“Writing should always be exploratory. There shouldn’t be the assumption that you know ahead of time what you want to express. When you enter into the dance with language, you’ll begin to find that there’s something before, or behind, or more absolute than the thing you thought you wanted to express. And as you work, other kinds of meaning emerge than what you might have expected. It’s like wrestling with the angel: On the one hand you feel the constraints of what can be said, but on the other hand you feel the infinite potential. There’s nothing more interesting than language and the problem of trying to bend it to your will, which you can never quite do. You can only find what it contains, which is always a surprise.”
Exploratory, a dance, always a surprised. Exactly!
- This reminded me of a short video I discovered a few days ago, George Saunders on Story. in which he “deconstructs what makes for an effective story, and describes his personal strategies for writing, revealing the importance of conversing with your characters, the pitfalls of fixing your intentions in place, and why good storytelling is a bit like being in love.”
Conversing with your characters–I find that essential. I’ve learned to let go of my intentions as soon as a character balks. Instead, I follow their idea and see where it takes me. Sometimes it’s a dead end and I abandon it, but even then I’ve learned something in the process, and I know the story is better for having listened.