The First Draft: Separating the Wheat from the Tares

I’m in the throes of my first draft, and while February was a pretty terrible month for my word count, March looks like it is shaping up a little better. It’s spring and lovely, and I’m feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle some serious word counts.

But like many writers, I have a hard time holding back the critic in my head. It’s so easy to get distracted and spend the precious little writing time I have not writing — but instead revising, reworking, reordering, re-everythinging.

I’ve discovered an analogy that is (at least for now) helping me make some sense of this messy business of writing.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

To paraphrase the parable (which can be found in Matthew 13:24-30), a man sows a field of wheat, then his enemy comes to the field and sows a bunch of weeds (tares) in it. The field sprouts and the man’s servants see there are weeds growing. So they ask if they should go pull out the tares and get rid of them, to which the man answers:

“Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”

Now, this parable was meant as a metaphor for allowing the sinners to live alongside the righteous, or something. But! BUT!

Doesn’t it also make a super great metaphor for writing a first draft?

At some point we sit down and start sowing our wordseeds, working through a plot, adding to the wordcount. As the story starts to sprout, we might recognize some problems, see some elements that seemed like wholesome wheaty stalks at the start but have only turned out to be obnoxious weedy things. And we’re tempted to stop the whole process to rip those weeds out of the draft, to get rid of everything that isn’t COMPLETELY PERFECT, DAGGIT.

But what if in that process we pull out good elements with it? When we’re in the middle of a first draft, we don’t have the perspective to be able to neatly excise what’s bad without also sacrificing much of what’s great.

It’s not until the draft is done, has sat for a while, and is ready for revision that we can have the clarity to recognize what is good and what is not. And even then, it takes the help of countless other eyes and minds to take the words we’ve harvested and turn them into a digestible, delightful, nourishing and complete story-book-loaf.

But the revising can’t happen until the writing is done.

Letting the words get on the paper is difficult for me, because revising is the stage I love. It’s the part where I start feeling like, “Hey, maybe there’s something here that’s not completely embarrassing. Maybe I’d actually let someone else read this.”

So I’m going to let my little wordseeds grow and flourish. Some of them will have to be thrown out or burned. But I have to hope that maybe, just maybe, there will be some weedy little bit that will flourish into something wonderful and surprising.

Because I love surprises.

Do you find it easier to draft or revise? How do you overcome the inner critic when drafting?

Try it: Visual Inspiration

Has February been a crazy month for you? Because it’s been a lot of insanity for me. Some of it good, some of it not so good. But most of it time-consuming. Which is my way of making excuses for the fact that I’ve probably only written about an eighth of my word-count goal for the month.

Pathetic much?

I’m need inspiration, peoples! So I’m trying something new: I’m going to conduct a “writerly experiment.” Yeah! EXCITEMENT!

The Experiment: using visuals!

For my first experiment/challenge, I’m going to utilize visual inspiration to get the creative juices (and the word count) flowing. I got the idea from Nova Ren Suma, author of Imaginary Girls and writing blog Distraction No. 99. She mentioned using a Pinterest board to make a collage of inspiring pictures, and after checking out her hauntingly creepy collection (from which I borrowed the above image; click on it for the source), I was excited to try it myself!

The Parameters:

Spend a good five minutes at the start of each writing session looking at visuals that represent an aspect of my work in progress (setting, character, theme, mood, etc.). This will take the form of a Pinterest board. Write for at least twenty minutes, trying to hold onto the feel of the pictures as I’m writing, referring back to them as needed.

Hypothesis (benefits+/setbacks- I anticipate):

  1. + More detailed/textured setting, characters, world-building.
  2. +Visuals may provide inspiration, kickstart writing sessions.
  3. +Holding onto visuals may help my brain stay focused, and I can refer to them to get back ontrack.
  4. -Visuals may present a distraction.
  5. -I’ll probably get sucked into a mindless Pinning session at least once. Probably more.

I’d love to hear if/how you use visuals in your writing. Have you tried something similar before?

Trusting the Plot

plotting a story can be a scary headache.

Plots are tricky beasts, aren't they? Visuals can help. Sometimes. Image c/o flickr user HJ Media Studios.

The past week of writing has been both hard and great. I made a LOT of changes to the plot of the YA fantasy I’m working on. But I’ve also had some breakthroughs and I feel much more confident about the direction I’m going in.

But I’m still having a hard time letting go.

I miss the plot points that have been wiped away. Some of them had to do with the essential premise of my story. Saying goodbye to those also means I have to rewrite, retool and rework a LOT of the copy I have so far.

Plotting is probably one of the most difficult parts of writing for me.

“What if?”

It’s the question that drives so much of my writing, thinking of weird premises and possibilities, brainstorming impossibly awkward situations to put characters in and so on. But it also holds me back. As I was looking at my plot, the whole of it, it was hard to commit. What role will a certain secondary character play in the climax? I couldn’t decide between heroically saving the day, getting fatally wounded, or a dozen other possibilities. As soon as I’d settled on one, my brain would answer with a, “But what if… what if…?”

A lot of being able to move forward with writing is learning to TRUST THE PLOT–that is, finding the strand of storyline grabs me, sticks to me, and gets me excited. To have faith that when tugged, that plot strand will stay firmly attached rather than coming loose or flying apart. Trusting that following the storyline may lead somewhere different than I expected, but that it will still be wonderful and exciting and worthwhile.

While I have been plagued with indecisiveness, I am making progress! I’ve managed to meet my January 2011 writing goals:

  1. Plot the whole story.
  2. Write 7500 words.

And I’ll be starting on my February goal, which is simply to write 15k words. Which will hopefully put me a third of the way through my novel! Woooo.

Do you have trouble “making decisions” about your story/book/plot? How do you move forward with confidence?

Listening to Music While Writing: a Necessity or a Distraction?

This is what happens more often than not when I'm listening to music while writing.

Image courtesy of flickr user The Smurf.

I know that for many authors, listening to music is a great way to get into the “zone,” to fade out the real world and focus on the one they’re creating. And I’ve had moments when listening to music while writing really did seem to get the words flowing. But I’ve also had a lot of times when I’ve used music as a distraction.

You know what it looks like: “Ugh. This dialogue is messy. Wait, what is this song?” Followed by a complete disruption of writing to find out the song title/artist before skipping it — which often devolves into spending the next three hours devising the ever-elusive PERFECT WRITING MIX.

Does music help you write?

My answer is: it depends. It depends on my set of mind, what I’m writing, what I’m listening to. Whether the words are flowing or I’m fighting to get them on the page. I’ve noticed it tends to help me more with writing that I find easier (blog posts, journal keeping, proofreading), rather than writing that is more challenging, creative or slippery (plotting, trying to get a scene right).

I’m a bit torn about listening to music, because I love it and my first instinct is always OF COURSE when the question of, “Music?” arises. And when music works with my writing, it works really well. But when the writing gets hard, the music I have on tends to become an out, a distraction I can latch onto to avoid facing the challenge in front of me.

So, what do I put in my ears while I’m writing?

I’m always looking for alternatives to music. Some things I’ve tried or that might work better than just putting iTunes on shuffle:

  • Putting on instrumental music that matches the mood of my work. Jazz and classical are my favorites.
  • I have a couple of tried-and-true mixes full of songs I’m always in the mood to listen to. If I’m feeling like I want music but don’t want to be left with a “WTH am I listening, Pandora?!?” moment, I’ll pop on one of these babies.
  • Ear plugs. Jussayin’.
  • I heard (though I can’t find a source to confirm this) that early Stephen King used to write at a desk next to the washing machine. A nice, out-of-the-way space with built-in white noise! Personally, I love writing at laundromats.
  • Listening to a white noise generator has proved helpful for when I need to focus/block out my surroundings. I’ve tried White Noise Lite on my iPhone, and it’s quite satisfactory. You can even mix different sounds—I love the idea of creating tracks similar to what my character might be hearing (people talking on a train, or crickets chirping on the beach). What a perfect way to put myself in the scene!

Does music work for your writing? Do you have tips for listening to music while writing?

In Defense of Twilight (& Stephenie Meyer)

why twilight doesn't suckI remember when I first heard of Twilight. I was but a young lass, a senior in high school, and a friend of mine (who was as avid a reader as I was) rolled into class reading a book. On the cover was the now-iconic image of hands holding a red apple.

Interested, I asked her about it and if it was good. She gushed. She enthused. She spewed praises. She informed me that this was her third time reading this book.

And then she told me about the hero:

“Edward Cullen. He’s a vampire. But he’s like, the perfect guy. I’m so in love with him,” she said.

I borrowed the books from her (I believe the first two were out by this point), and I enjoyed them. They were a fun read. And I was interested enough in the Twilight world that I also read Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, which I also enjoyed, though I was still far from a Twi-hard fangirl.

But something has happened in the last two years or so.

As trendy as the Twilight books are, it’s now just as cool to mock and smear them.

They are openly held up as this great evil, a symbol of all that is wrong/stupid/annoying about society, literature, the publishing industry, women, the bastardization of vampire mythology, and so on.

Look, I get it. The Twilight saga is not for everyone. It wasn’t really for me (though I really, really enjoyed Meyer’s novel The Host). But does that mean the books/Meyer deserve all the hate? I admit to joining the ranks of ridicule and throwing jabs at sparkly, baseball-playing vampires who are 107-year-old virgins. And there are a lot of elements in Bella’s and Edward’s relationship that still bother me (pairing sexual desire with violent impulses, anyone?).

But I’m tired of the hating.

Baseball playing, sparkly, 107 year old virgin vampire: Edward Cullen

Baseball playing, sparkly, 107 year old virgin vampire: Edward Cullen.

Stephenie Meyer’s saga has become an easy target simply because it’s gotten so big.

I am bored with poking fun at the rock-hard Cullens (seriously, I have like four jammed fingers).  Some of the hateful things I’ve heard people say about the books and even Stephenie Meyer have been cringe-inducingly cruel and personal. And the Twilight-abuse is showing NO SIGNS OF SLOWING.

So I’m raising a voice of reason. For all their faults, there is plenty to admire in the Twilight books—no matter how begrudgingly I admit to my admiration.

The main thing I admire about Meyer’s series? The Twilight saga connects with readers.

Granted, the series mostly connects with teenaged girls and women in their 3os-50s. But, though they are full of flaws (a fact Meyer is the first to admit), the Twilight books have something in them that readers, mainly female readers, cannot resist. Sure, some of this has to do with the fact that it’s trendy to like Twilight. But even before it was popular, my friend was ready to sell her soul to enter the world of Twilight and steal Edward Cullen from Bella Swan.

If the Twilight books have elements that make for good escapism, if they create a world that’s worth visiting to escape the angst of teen years or the exhausting bustle of being a busy mother of four or whatever else life holds—I can only congratulate Stephenie Meyer for having accomplished such a feat.

Ultimately, Stephenie Meyer is probably not on the list of writers I aim to closely emulate. But I do respect her ability to create a world and characters that readers care for so fiercely. There is something to be said for that as a writing talent, and it’s one I hope to one day prove I have in my arsenal, as well.

What about you? What do you think of Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight series?