Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"What you had planned will not do"

Among the many writing-related books on my shelf, one of my less favorite ones is The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.  While she offers many dazzling insights into the writing process, her overall tone is one of bewailing the grueling labor of writing. According to Annie Dillard, "Writing a book, full time, takes between two and ten years."  For me, writing a book, part time, takes between two and ten months.  For Annie Dillard, much strong coffee and many cigarettes are required.  For me, just some nice creamy hot chocolate and the occasional Hershey's cherry cordial kiss. And Annie Dillard says that she hates to write and "would rather do anything else."  It's tempting to retort, "Well, why don't you, then?"

But sometimes I have to admit that Annie Dillard gets things exactly right.  Wrestling with the first draft of a new chapter book this month, about halfway through the writing of it, I've become stuck; it's been hard to force myself to go on, even trusting in the process, trusting that sooner or later there will be some life and sparkle to my story.  Suddenly I remembered the following passage from Annie D.  She says that when you are stuck in this way,

then the trouble is either of two things.  Either the structure has forked, so the narrative, or the logic, has developed a hairline fracture that will shortly split up the middle - or you are approaching a fatal mistake. What you had planned will not do. If you pursue your present course, the book will explode or collapse, and you do not know about it yet, quite.

Suddenly I realized that Annie D. was completely right.  What I had planned would not do! And, Annie D. says that once you realize that, "Acknowledge, first, that you cannot do nothing. . .  Something completely necessary is either false or fatal.  Once you find it, and if you can accept the finding, of course, it will mean starting again."

Correct you are, Annie D.! So rather than trudging through the rest of that doomed draft, I abandoned it, and yesterday I started over again.  At least I had wasted only weeks, not the better part of a decade. And at least I could fortify myself with hot chocolate and candy while starting over, instead of with coffee and cigarettes.

1 comment:

  1. That book drives me nuts, too. But I'm glad it helped you! SW