Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Getting from here to there

Maven Carrie RyanSo I admitted to Maven Erica the other day that I'd started working on Book2 and the first thing she asked was "What's the first line?" It's pretty well documented here, on my blog, and on my friends' blogs that I can't start on a new project without the right first line. I've talked before about how this was a myth that I'd created (unintentionally) and how I wanted to bust it. Once I'd turned in final substantive edits on The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I knew it was time to start on Book2, but I didn't have the first line.

I tried all sorts of things: thought about the same things that brought me the first line to FHT, tried to feel inspirational when walking in the same place where I came up with the first line to FHT, stared into space trying to clear my mind of the pressure. None of that worked and I was getting fed up.

For anyone who hasn't heard Nora Roberts speak (or read an interview with her), she pretty strongly believes that there's no such thing as writers block. And here I was, not writing because of one stupid line. It's always been clear to me that if I wanted to be a professional writer, then I was going to have to get over things like this myth.

And so one day (when I was at work, sshhhhhh) I wrote a first line. And a second line and pretty soon I had about 300 words. I was terrified and elated and I sent them to JP and then paced around my office until he got back to me. His response: awesome! but I doubt that ends up being your first line.

Which made me laugh, because I agreed with him. But suddenly, it didn't matter that the first line wasn't perfect, because I was writing again. What did matter is that the words that followed were pretty darn good. And they led me to more words and more words.

And then I hit a scene that I knew wasn't cutting it. I just didn't "feel" the scene. JP read it an he agreed (I love him for his honesty) and for a while I was upset that it didn't work. And then I figured out a fix and I wrote the scene that way, but again... wasn't working. I waited for the despair -- for the fear that maybe I wasn't going to be able to do this writing thing after all. But I kept pushing (which isn't usually my writing style) and the thing is -- as I wrote the last paragraph I learned something new about the plot. Something I didn't know before. And then I was on fire -- 2k words in less than an hour (that's my writing style :)

The thing is, that scene that wasn't working? It's still not working and I'm still not sure if I want to keep it, if I want to revise it or cut it or whatever. But the thing that I DO know is that it got me from one point of the story to another.

So what's the moral of the story? Sometimes you just have to write something to get from here to there and sometimes what you're writing isn't the best but it does the job. Maybe the first line isn't perfect, but if it gets the story going, what else can you ask for in a rough draft?

What about y'all? What gets you from here to there?


B.E. Sanderson said...

Sometimes, like you, I just push through. During those times, I know even as I'm typing that the words coming out aren't all that great, but sooner or later, I'll get to a scene that flows. After I get the first draft done, I'll fix the crap scene or delete it. Either way, it served it's purpose by getting me from point A to point B. (Sometimes by way of Albuquerque, but I still get where I'm going.) =o)

Carrie said...

Yeah, I never thought of myself as a "just get something on the page" kind of girl. This was really the first time that I just pushed through and I was really quite excited about the plot point that came about!

Bill Clark said...

Sometimes I know the second line of what I want to write, and I'll just begin there, leaving an ellipsis or a pair of brackets ([ ]) to which I can return later. Meanwhile, as the words flow apace, my subconscious is working away on the first line, and by the time I'm ready for a break it has started to take shape, if not in fact reached full completion.

Another approach is to think of the last line first, and work backwards. I used to do this on papers and exams in college, and it worked like a whiz. For example, if your last line is the equivalent of "And so they lived happily ever after," your first line should be something like, "Happily ever after exists only in fairy tales, and I'm stuck up to my *ss in real life." Then just write the stuff in between and you're done! :-)

Carrie R. said...

Haha, Bill! The problem is I don't even know what the second line is or the last line :) I totally write in the dark... no idea what's coming next! But that's a pretty good idea I'll have to keep in mind...

Patricia W. said...

I had a similar epiphany, which got me through a complete first draft on my last story. Then I wilted at the prospect of revising nearly 300 pages.

So this time, I'm do a bit more prework to know my story and characters before I write but I'm still writing too. I'm pushing past the weak or uncertain spots, and writing. I'll stop at key points and revise along the way.

Patricia W. said...

I had a similar epiphany, which got me through a complete first draft on my last story. Then I wilted at the prospect of revising nearly 300 pages.

So this time, I'm do a bit more prework to know my story and characters before I write but I'm still writing too. I'm pushing past the weak or uncertain spots, and writing. I'll stop at key points and revise along the way.

Carrie R. said...

Yeah, Patricia -- it does result in a LOT of revisions. I was just talking to a CP about revisions and how much things have changed since my first draft. Honestly, I don't think I realized how much I was changing with each version until I did a redline comparison of the first draft to the final draft -- almost 80% of the book was marked! It was crazy! But it never felt like that much!

Darcy Burke said...

This post title reminds me of a Dr. Seuss book, Red Fish Blue Fish I think. Great, great post. And I'm beginning to agree with Nora. It's not so much a block as a time to noodle what you want to do next and how to get there. I often write scenes as a way to get to point B (because I can see it in the storyboard!). And those connector scenes often show me lots of great things about plot and character. True gems. Writing through and just getting to that next big point - whatever it is in your mind - is a skill you learn, I think. I've done a lot of it in the past month as I work toward my self-imposed deadline. And I've had some of those 2K in an hour situations. Okay, maybe not quite that fast, but over ten pages a day at least.

Alex Andronov said...

Pushing through is very important, but it's a hard thing to accept at first because you know you're going to have to come back.

But I've come to realise that you're going to have to come back to everything. And as others have wisely said you don't even have to keep the scene later.

A trick I've been using for years is this. I always feared writing the first thing. After that I was fine. So what I did was have my first thing be writing a big number 1 in a circle in the top right hand corner. Once I did that I knew the paper was in use and I had to continue.

Jackie Barbosa said...

I am *not* a Nora Roberts style writer. I believe in writer's block like I believe in love. But I'm probably that way because I have a strong aversion to revision/rewriting.

More and more, if something I'm writing doesn't "work," I cut it and think of some other way to get from A to B. Because once it's really written, I find it hard to rethink/reimagine another way to get from A to B.

My scenes often come to me as a starting line and an ending line. Then I just write what comes in between. I'm not sure it's made me a better or more efficient writer, but I certainly seem to be able to find my way to the end of a story better now than when I just let myself write whatever came to mind.

Do what works, that's my motto. Even if sometimes it doesn't LOOK like it's working at all, lol.

Anonymous said...

I hate to cut out parts of my story, but in the end I'm usually glad I did. Maybe that scene served its purpose: to get you writing again, and to teach you more about your story. You can always put it back in again if you feel the need.

Erica Ridley said...

Great post, Carrie!

And Alex Andronov: great idea on "defiling" the page so that whatever happens next doesn't matter so much. I'm going to try that...

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