Thursday, December 18, 2008

I've had a tough week. Pass me those metaphors.

My book is after me.
It was limp and pale and feverish.
I made it better and now it wants to thank me.
Everywhere I go, there it is.

It’s a metaphor day, I love those. I try not to say writer-things to non-writers who care for me because it means they'll have to work so hard not to tell me I sound like a pom-poms arse. But I lost power for five days. I had a post-concussion headache for three weeks. And the whole time, even with a headache in the dark, I let everyone go first at intersections because it's the holidays. So I’m going to have a metaphor post because I’ve been very good.
Without further ado:

I’ve compared this process of finishing and rewriting a novel to labor and delivery (like 4978675 other writers) but it is, it is, it is like that. Minus the feeling that one’s body is splitting in half, there is the same panicky feeling that comes toward the end when there is:

No turning back. You don’t want to turn back, but if you did, you couldn't.

Because I began the book with the ending in mind, I wrote toward it, bringing the first draft right up to the penultimate scene. Then I went across the street and looked at it from there and realized…it wasn’t going to work.

It wasn’t a girl, it was a boy! Not a Francesca after all, but a Frankie. If I was going to Do Everything, I would need all new t-shirts and onesies, in different colors. And a blue frame around the giraffe picture, not pink, or that lame, not-sure-yellow. This is why people keep boy names for their girls. It's just too hard to change Everything and make a new picture. It's a lot of work.

Writers who are unpleased with an arc are never bored. In traffic lines, in supermarket lines, we’re near the page we left open at home. We’re writing still. It’s like having a round the clock dilemma to work through. You can’t make it happen, you can only wait. So you wait and wait, and get frustrated with all those false breakthroughs, until finally at a light, in the dentist chair, while you’re looking at your cat, the awful/thrilling question comes: Would this be better? Then you say, Yes. It would be a lot better. It would be perfect.

And it’s time. The “real” breakthrough has arrived.

I was writing a scene a few nights ago that had been coming together for a while in my head, and then zip, zip, zip - there it was. I looked at it and said, "Of course. He gets custody of the teenager. Of course he does."

It is a page long, about 400 words, and the sentences are sparse, but it lays out the chemistry, history, and motivation between two characters better than any short story I could write. What was there before was maybe a B, adequate enough. What is there now is a 4.0. I realized…this works. Then I realized…it will change Everything.

I thought about the rest of the book, the things I could push around a little, maybe reword, edit out, but that only seemed like writing with make-up on. Serious writers don't turn their backs on writing that can be truer. The only choice is to embark on some ruthless, Serious rewriting until the day comes again when you can sit at a red light without staring into space and getting honked at.

There is no turning back. It's mine, I asked for it, and the book will not be what I imagined originally, but wonderfully better; rich with life, love, feeling, meaning, and spirit.

Like my life after my children were born.

(I had to. This is a metaphor post and that one is the truest of all).

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