Sunday, February 06, 2011
from the BRG archives: Sometimes it's easier than you think
Last week, I sent in a ms. for a children’s book – my name won’t be on it, and I’m not getting royalties, and the publisher probably wouldn’t want me to name it here anyway. So I won’t. It’s the second book I’ve ghostwritten for this artist and publisher (and of course, but I better say it anyway, the artist is not one of the BRGs! They write their own books!).
My usual method is to procrastinate and agonize about that and (once I finally settle down) write most passages over and over – but for some reason I didn’t do that with this project. I just calmly did the research at odd moments here and there (well, maybe it wasn’t quite THAT effortless, but that’s how it seems now)….and when I was ready to write, I did. (I put that in bold because I think it’s important.) I didn’t fiddle or fuss, when I knew something I wanted to say, I poured it into my laptop or Neo. Once, I think. Maybe I wrote some parts a few times, and I did a clean up at the end, but the point is that I didn’t agonize over any of it. I thought about what was interesting in the research and then wrote it down when I was in the mood to do so. I alo told the artist the main idea I had for the fictional part of the story and she loved it – and it was fun to talk about it with her, too.
When I was done with the ms., the artist and I went over it together (I thought if we did it together it would be easier and go faster. It did!), and amicably crossed things out– my goal had been to get rid of half. But:
“I LIKE the page about Lincoln!” she said. I said we could at least take out the fact that the statue of him in the Capitol is missing the left ear (that was its state when Lincoln died and the sculptor decided to leave it unfinished.) “I think that’s really interesting!” she said, sketching it. There were a few conversations like that, but we did take out a third of it.
I went home, rewrote a few things the next day, and the day after that, rewrote a little more and sent it off. I liked it; but had a (slight) sense of unease. It couldn’t be THAT easy, maybe it was all garbage, was I deluding myself? (etc.) But about a week later I got an email from the editor saying she loved it and thought kids would be “really excited” about it.
I’m going to remember this incident. Maybe it can always be this easy – and even if it can’t, agonizing doesn’t help! So, I have some new rules (as if I need more rules!). But these may really HELP me and I believe in the almost-magical power of writing things down or saying them out loud. This blog is both. So – although these may be incredibly obvious to others, here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Don’t wait to write until I have “enough time,” or a long stretch of uninterrupted time. That will never happen. (Until I really get into it and then no one CAN interrupt me, because I won’t hear or notice them.)
2. DO wait until I know what I want to say and am sure it’s interesting to me.
3. Don’t rewrite as I go along – just keep going and clean it up at the end.
4. Don’t worry about what other people will think of it: just please myself -- at least until the first draft is done! Don’t even worry now about what I will do then -- hey, maybe I’ll read it over and like it a lot!
5. Maybe when it’s time to take things out, get someone to sit with me the way this artist did? It made it SO much easier and more relaxed to just sit there in a café together, crossing things out and talking as we did it…
I hope I remember these things and act on them – it really boils down to trusting myself to know what I want to say and then just saying it.
Once ( a long time ago!) I made a list of things to avoid in future boyfriends and showed it to a new friend who, instead of commending me, started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“That you would have to remind yourself of stuff like this.” (I don’t remember what was on the list but I can imagine). Maybe these writing rules are equally obvious to others….but I DO have to remind myself of them – WANT to remind myself!
This is a really long post…but no one has to read these things! And I do promise to make my next one shorter. But I won’t edit and rewrite: I’ll just pick a shorter topic.
Originally published Aug. 23, 2006