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Down Drafts

After years of editing (and avoiding editing) Children of Guerra, it’s strange to be writing a first draft again. In some ways I love this part because it’s so freeing to be allowed to wander with the plot instead of feeling tied to what’s already on the page. But of course, in other ways it’s awful because it’s like being handed a ball of clay and being told to make something pretty. Where do you even start?

It’s easy to get paralyzed by the prospect of writing an entire book, especially after you’ve been at it for a little while and suddenly look back on what you have so far and think, Wow, this is crap.

But one of my writer friends reminded me the other day of a quote from Anne Lamott’s glorious book, Bird by Bird (see cover image below). There is no other book about writing that I love as much as this one. She touches on the concept of self-doubt so perfectly. It’s well worth the read for anyone who even dabbles in writing.

I could quote probably 100 lines I love, but the one that M mentioned to me was this (and I’m paraphrasing): The first draft is the down draft. You just get it down. Then you can come back and clean up your shitty first draft into an ok second draft later.

She says it a little more eloquently than that (though she does call them shitty first drafts), but you get my point. So this is my mantra these days: Get it down. And don’t pick at what’s down until it’s ALL down.

I will eat this elephant one bite at a time.

And try not to visualize that image.

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I stand corrected

Last week my husband took it upon himself to point out (as many spouses are wont to do) that I was wrong when I said in an earlier post that I didn’t think there was any symbolism in my book. There are several passages in which Milena and Damien discuss the character Julia from 1984, and isn’t Julia’s betrayal of Winston symbolic of what Milena is facing as she decides whether to betray Damien?

Well, ok… yeah.

And this is what I’ve learned about writing (and what I’m rediscovering over and over again): Sometimes things just happen. You don’t plan or expect them; they just present themselves, and they veer your course either a little or a lot. Then it’s up to you if you want to just ride it out and see where it takes you, or claw your way back to the course you were determined to be on. I can’t explain why or how this happens (I guess one possible answer is that our imaginations are constantly straining against their leashes), but I do know that this is why I write linearly. I may have imagined a scene I want to write 200 pages from now, but I can’t write that scene yet because I don’t know what’s going to have happened in every moment leading up to that scene, and I fully expect I’m going to be driven off course and discover something new about a character or place that I didn’t know before.

And Julia is one of those unexpected things that happened. She showed up when I started writing the English class scenes, and she just worked. So I kept her. And when I think again about whether I planned any symbolism, I still believe I didn’t. But a symbol presented itself, and though I didn’t stop to view her that way, she certainly does represent a lot of the struggles Milena is facing throughout the book.

So yeah, I was wrong. And it’s in writing. Double win for the husband 🙂

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What symbolism?

My sister, a high school English teacher, asked me today if there’s any intentional symbolism in my book. Apparently she’s teaching her students about symbolism in The Great Gatsby, and they think she’s a little full of it. I have very vivid memories of thinking the same exact thing in high school. Who decided everything has to MEAN something? Can’t the green light across the bay just be an annoying green light?

I stopped to think… and couldn’t come up with a single example from my own work. I was a little worried because isn’t that what good writers are supposed to do? They’re supposed to have allegory and symbolism and themes and whatever else we learn about in every English class ever. If the classics have it, “it” makes good literature.

I continued to muse on this until I met up with my writing group tonight, and asked them the same question. And they nodded, knowing without a doubt that they write intentional symbolism. But Miss N made a very good point about the things we focus on when we write, and different writers focus on different things. Plot-driven writers focus, obviously, on plot, while detail-driven writers focus on making their details meaningful (often leading to that thing called symbolism). If you can do both you’re probably the greatest writer ever, and we all hate you. But most people have a preference for one or the other.

Does this mean one way is better than the other? (Commence a lot of people saying, um, yes). I say no. I have read books that are rich in detail and transport you to that other time or place. And I have raced through the page-turners that waste no time drawing us into emotions and dialogue and action. It’s like the difference between sweet and salty. Let’s stop and pretend for a minute that you’re a rational person who loves both sweet and salty. Though really, we shouldn’t have to pretend anything… it’s undeniable that they’re both delicious. Sometimes, though, you only want one or the other. (For the time being, we have to forget there are things like chocolate-covered pretzels, which just implode the universe).

The point of this food-based tangent (of which there are many in my life) is simply to say that symbolism, and its sister concepts, can be used beautifully, but don’t need to be used all the time. You simply have to decide what kind of writer or reader you are. Do you generally prefer stories with vivid detail, or those with a whirlwind plot? Does your preference change with your mood? Or do you insist on having only the best of both worlds? I think this is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself as a creator or a consumer of books. Knowing yourself in this regard, and knowing that there’s nothing wrong with the way you feel, can lead to more positive experiences with reading and writing.

So yes, symbolism is real, and it’s colorful, and lyrical, and ripe. But it’s not always around. And that’s okay.

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Small Joys

I would just like to share that during the first day or so of COG being available on Amazon, searching for the EXACT title yielded this as the first result:

I think that might be the ultimate assertion of obscurity: typing in your own book’s name and having Amazon ask if you meant a Spanish book that roughly translates to The Lemonade Wars.
I’m sure it’s a lovely book. But no Amazon, that’s not what I meant.
However, I needed to grab the page link tonight, and while we’re not to autofill territory yet, typing in the exact title brought up my book as the first result! 
It’s possible that the site was just taking my search history into account, but I’d like to think this is a step in the right direction. This is what I mean by small joys. It’s about on the level of looking into the kitty litter box and thinking, hey, that’s not as full as I thought it would be – I’ll clean it tomorrow.
Life can be beautiful if we let it 🙂