Oh, the process…

It has been a long time since I’ve posted here. I began my blog with the best of intentions. I would write every Friday as a report to the New Hampshire community on my State Council Fellowship. I would write about my creative process. I just realized that it has been over a month since I returned to this site. What in the world could be keeping me away so long? It hasn’t been because I’ve not wanted to write, but that my writing energies have been directed toward the manuscript of my novel, and not the “process” of finding reporting on my writing life. Process is a funny word with writers. We all have a process. When people go to see writers read, they ask, “What is your writing process?” When we talk to students about writing, we say that it is, “process” oriented. When we sit down to write, we work with drafts, and when we are struggling, we say it is part of the “process.” But there is no way to adequately define the process. When I say that my writing is process oriented, I think that is just code for “I don’t really know how I get from one place to another. I don’t really know how one draft is built on the bones of the last draft. I don’t really know how I suddenly have three hundred and thirty pages of a messy, first draft of a novel.”

Process. How’d I get from point A to point B? Process. How am I going to clean up the messy manuscript I’ve been working on for nearly four years? Process

In my last post, I described how I came to set my characters onto their raft in the middle of the a flooded world. My apocalyptic event. My Great Flood. Two people. Adam and Eve. Well, that’s the chapter that I’ve been working on for the last week. Part One. In fact, the main reason for my delayed blogging routine is directly related to the work I’ve been putting into the novel. After writing the last quarter of the manuscript long hand, I translated my writing to the computer and printed out the pages. It was a nice moment to see the pages stack up in the printer, but only a moment. After I saw the paper sitting there, warm from the printer cartridges, it hit me how much work was ahead of me. I’m not one for believing my first drafts are any good. For some people, maybe. For me, the first draft is far, far from finished. Like many writers, I’ve felt the draw of the energetic nascent draft. There is a power to the new creation, but not a lasting power. Plus, I think my eyes lie to my brain. They tell me sentences are sparkling, images clear and orderly, characters believable and fully developed, even when those things are far from the truth. Revision, the process, is all about slowing down. I’m forty-two now, and I think I might be finally getting that lesson burned into my consciousness. 

So I printed out the manuscript and read through the pages. Will it hold together? I don’t know. I have to trust the process. I always tell my students to risk something when they are writing. What should we risk? they often ask. Risk is taken on a per-writer basis, I answer. There is no one way to risk. Some writers might write something embarrassing about their families. Or themselves. They might write something honest that they promised a dying loved one they would never write. They might write mean, or gentle. They might write toward God, or away. They might decide to risk point of view, tell a story from across the gender or age divide. Or they might drop a reader down a rabbit hole and trust that the reader will follow. My manuscript is of the “rabbit hole” variety. I hope readers will follow. So, what about part one,  the part I’ve been working on?

I couldn’t believe how horrible it was. No, seriously. I teach writing, after all. I should be able to tell a story with some degree of proficiency. In the first part, thirty six pages, give or take, I stumbled across every writing problem I’ve ever struggled with my entire life. This is process. I’d like to think I’d grow into a more able, organic form of story telling, but I have not grown. If this work ever sees it through to the light of day, it will be because of work, plain and simple. Process. In the first thirty six pages, I used the word “was” one hundred sixty four times. I used the word “up” fifty eight times. I actually wrote this sentence: “He looked up at the sky.” This, to me, seems like writing 101. I saw the phrase “up at the sky” and laughed. What other direction would a person look to see the sky? There’s only one way, jack, and it’s up. These are the sorts of sentences I have to work against. Process. Now, I’d like to believe that part one of my manuscript is smoother. In fact, it’s pretty concise, shorn of any excess. I cut away all those sentences that sounded good for the sake of sounding good. I got rid of needless chatter and noise. I now only use the word “was” nine times. I refined what I thought was already refined. How did I do all this? Work. Work. Work. Avoided blogging. Stayed up way too late. Got up way too early. That’s why I’ve been away from this little web-thingy. I’ll try to do better. But I can’t make any promises. I’ve refined the first part of the book now. The shortest part. I only have three, maybe four more sections to go. Next time, I’ll be writing about part two. My two character from part one will be long gone. I’ll be about two hundred generations into the story, nearly two thousand years distant. How am I going to get there? Process