FIVE THINGS I WISH I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT WRITING, PART II
TWO: THE ONLY WAY TO IMPROVE IS TO FAIL
Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
I wish there were another way.
You have to put—through an effort and expense of will—your precious thoughts, emotions, and hopes into words. Then have people reject them.
Then you rewrite them; and they’ll probably be re-rejected.
Then, once again through an endeavor of sheer will, they will be rewritten, published and, if not ignored, scarcely noticed. It is impossible to muster up the requisite resolve and energy to write a book without dreaming of praise and splendor and remuneration but the fact remains that your first efforts won’t be good enough. Sol Stein says, Writing is rewriting and his words are gold: the truest sign of a rookie is to be satisfied with a first draft. I recently found, in the bottom of a closet, the manuscript of a comic mystery novel I wrote when I was 22. I remember feeling so accomplished and hopeful when I finished typing the first (and I thought, at the time, final) draft of The Jung and the Restless. These are, indeed, the emotions one should feel after completing such an intimidating task. The Jung and the Restless will never be, nor should it be published.
It is dreadful.
All the characters talk the same; the plot is linear; character descriptions drag on-and-on-and-on. The murder scene reads like a recipe for steak-and-kidney pie; the love scenes like assembly instructions for a porch swing. It sucks.
But this doesn’t make it worthless.
I proved to myself, at a young age, that I could mismanage unbelievable and underdeveloped characters for 63,000 words. I could go the necessary distance: you must be able to run a marathon before you begin training to race a marathon.
Please write, please try; and please realize that each failure is actually an infinitesimal victory. It means you’re still in the game. If you click TOOLS, click WORD COUNT and there are more words today than yesterday you are a writer.
You are a writer because you wrote today.
This may seem a naïve and simple-minded goal but I need to tell you so I can hear and believe it, once again, for myself.
THREE: YOU’RE NEVER AS GOOD AS YOU THINK
Nothing you ever write, if you hope to be good, will ever come out as you first hoped.
This is a toughie; as are most true and unavoidable things—death, for example.
Writing is such an effort that the initial results should be worthwhile. But they aren’t; I suspect that if they were it would be violating some fundamental, universal law.
Childbirth, I suppose, would be a likely analogy. (DISCLAIMER: As a mere unworthy male I immediately, humbly, sincerely and in advance apologize to all women—living, dead, and yet to exist. The tiniest hint of a pang of a labor pain would make me shriek like a sissy. There.) Childbirth, to continue, is a two-pointed analogy: Anything worthwhile comes at a cost; and despite the pain we’ll willingly endure it again for the same result: another baby or another book.
First drafts are bad, but they are necessary. They are the ore, the raw materiel from which you must work. Accept this fact by resisting the urge to proofread and correct and make everything in Chapter 1 perfect before proceeding to Chapter 2. There is no surer way to murder that ineffable something inside you that might actually know what your book is about. Mark Twain said: The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.
This is true.I’ve killed several novels by going back and rewriting before the first draft had been finished.
Bring the first draft to full term (see DISCLAIMER, above) pointy-head and all, then begin the real
writing: rewriting. The bad news is nothing you write will be as good as you had hoped. The good
news is it can always be improved.
JOKE OF THE DAY
Why doesn't Smokey the Bear have any children?
Because everytime his wife gets hot he throws dirt on her and beats her with a shovel.
Although he owns several shovels, Rob also has eight children. Check out his jokebooks (and free downloads) at: