Progress Report: Heaps of Sand

I’ve been working steadily on my next book for the past week. It’s up to over 25,000 words, and the story seems to shape itself more with every day’s work (it also tends to shapeshift, but that’s all part of the process).

Despite this progress, it’s been hard to plow through because I’m reconciling with this being a first draft. Having completed a novel and several short stories, I figured I’d be familiar with the feeling of stumbling around an apartment looking for the light switch that comes with trying to write a first draft. I’ve even written about that feeling before.

Yet each day I open my document, start writing, and wonder why I can’t just magically have a complete story, one with all my questions answered and one without any bracket notes or paragraphs that basically summarize everything as opposed to narrating. It has all the things I see when I revisit my old drafts of Please Give. I know the words will eventually shape into the story I want. But my impatient self wonders, why can’t I have this now? I’ve done this before — I should be able to do this immediately.

But the truth is, I haven’t done this before — not with this story, at least. I think that’s what I forget when I get discouraged at my words feeling clunky or incomplete. It’s brand new to me, and I need to familiarize myself with the apartment and memorize its corners before I can just walk through and flick on the light.

I came across a quote on Twitter that helped put things in perspective for me, and helped me feel a little less discouraged at the state of writing my draft:

This is a perfect summary of the feeling I get when I write a first draft, that I’m tossing things haphazardly into Word and nothing’s making sense. But it will — and one can’t build the castle without piling in the sand first.

I want to close with my own interpretation of that feeling, inspired by one of my favorite TV shows, The Golden Girls:

Writing Piece by Piece

Yesterday on Twitter, I was reminded of a good piece of writing advice:

The advice above, from Richard Rhodes, was a sentence that rang in my head last winter. I’ve been writing off and on for years, usually in ebbs and flows. In later years, that writing became fragments. I finished two short stories in college, but usually, if I picked up a pen in my twenties (or, let’s be real, tapped on a keyboard), it was always to write beginnings of stories or chapters that never became novels.

A lot of the work left unfinished was due to time, but a lot of it was also due to insecurity. I didn’t think I could write something if I didn’t have a clear, direct story in mind from beginning to end. And the times I had that, I found the story growing beyond my set outline’s control once I started typing. The forms these words took scared me, as they were going beyond what I’d planned in terms of thought and time to create. I set the pen aside (read: minimized the Word document and surfed the Internet).

Still, the desire to write never really left. I started doing daily writing about whatever crossed my mind, just to get something down. This was good practice, but I mostly wrote random thoughts about my day; and soon, I ran out of topics. I did a little story writing during that time, but once again, they stayed resigned to either outlines or something started but not finished.

Last winter, in 2016, I came across the quote at the top, about how a page a day would produce a book in one year. It was a simple thought, one so simple that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it. I thought of some of the stories I’d wanted to write, and written notes for over the years. Maybe I could write a page a day, a simple minimum, and see where those pages went.

A year and some change later, I came across that quote again, in the tweet I posted above. Since then, I’ve written a book. And eight short stories. And have both a novella and another novel in the works. I work on them every day, aiming for a page, but often going further. Even when I have to make myself type one sentence just to say I’ve written, I do it. Because each piece written is another step towards a whole story.

As they say: Keep Writing. Your story will form itself. Your words will find their place in a story. And any time spent forming that story is time both well-spent and, one day at a time, will be rewarded — be it a page, a paragraph, or a line. As the full quote goes:

If you’re afraid you can’t write, the answer is to write. Every sentence you construct adds weight to the balance pan. If you’re afraid of what other people will think of your efforts, don’t show them until you write your way beyond your fear. If writing a book is impossible, write a chapter. If writing a chapter is impossible, write a page. If writing a page is impossible, write a paragraph. If writing a paragraph is impossible, write a sentence. If writing even a sentence is impossible, write a word and teach yourself everything there is to know about that word and then write another, connected word and see where their connection leads. A page a day is a book a year. ~Richard Rhodes