Friday, April 18, 2014

Write the Shit Out of It

I have the best pen pals in the world. They are scattered from New York to San Francisco, from Indiana to England. Some of them I met through my prior, anonymous blog; some I met through random internet activity (like, for example, commenting too enthusiastically on the blog of a British independent publisher); some I met at writers' events, and have grown closer to them over e-mail than I did during the week or whatever I had in-person access to them.

We have great conversations, my pen pals and me. It's the kind of conversation that makes me mad that teleporters don't exist. I write absurdly long and opinionated e-mails, and in reply I get e-mails that are exponentially more interesting than what I have to say and make me want to write even more opinionated crap, and if I'm very lucky, we keep this up for longer than a few days.

Recently, one of these beloveds was struggling with uncertainty about a manuscript. I had read something for her and given her feedback, and a couple of weeks later I offered to read whatever else she was working on. What she sent was more of the same manuscript, but she'd added on to what she'd already written by several thousand words.

The e-mail I sent her in reply was well out of character for me when giving feedback - a little voice in my head was shrieking "who do you think you are?" as I typed it - but her reply was incredibly positive. She later read what I'd written out loud to a teen critique group she runs, and their response, too, was really positive. So I felt like it might be worth sharing here.

--I read the new section closely once, and then skimmed it as a second look. I owe you an apology for not reading it closely a second time - which is *always* my practice when I'm reading for friends - but I had a good reason. It's because this is what I think and feel from reading it: stop analyzing and write. Stop thinking so hard and write. Stop sending me fragments and write the whole. Write this entire manuscript, as Stephen King advises, with the door closed, and then go back and look at it and revise it and fret over it and send it to me. What I smell from your draft and from your e-mails is you getting so wrapped around whether this project is worthwhile and/or going somewhere that you're keeping yourself from getting through a first draft, which is the single most important part of writing anything at all.

You gotta write it first and worry about it later. You'll never finish this thing if you painstake it (I just made up that verb, but it applies on multiple levels) one chapter at a time. When you're done, I'll be privileged to look at it, but not until you're done. Even if it's 250,000 words, I'll read it and I'll tell you everything I think in enormous detail - but not until you're done.

If it ultimately sucks, you'll write something else, and it will be better. In the meantime, you have to write this first. And you have to finish it. No matter what happens, it will not be a waste of time. It will NOT be a waste of time.

If my instincts are wrong about all this, and you're not planning on it being a big long project, I owe you another apology, a much bigger one, and I'll go back and read it carefully again and give you line edits and comments and etc. But I'm assuming that this is the same project you mentioned in the prior e-mail. If that's right, [Penpal], baby, darlin', you just gotta write it. Put your head down, don't show anyone what you're doing, and WRITE THE SHIT OUT OF IT.

Lots of love. And also this.

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