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Author Topic: Composing  (Read 2422 times)

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Bob Mueller

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« on: October 15, 2006, 01:06:27 PM »

Date:         Thursday, December 17, 1998 12:03 PM

BookMarc #6

We're not really writing yet. Just getting the words strung out for the first time. It's more like composing, creating the story. For those of you starting out, and those able, I urge you to compose your story right on a computer. If you do this from the beginning, you will work with words as they are in the finished story. Printed words look different than written words. Eventually someone will have to key them in, introducing errors, a page missing or misplaced will lead to a lot of head- scratching, so why not start out on the computer? Time spent now in a learning-curve will pay big dividends in the end.

Okay, some people can't. I have a friend who uses a battered old typewriter for composing and rewriting, which makes it even harder, but she has a phobia of computers and eight published novels. I have another friend who can only compose in long hand on a yellow pad, and then has to type it in. In fact, Elmore Leonard uses regular yellow paper that he has made up for him. I also have a friend, Cyndy Mobley--Pilots Die Faster, Rites of War--who dictates into a recorder and has published ten books in two years, but she's phenom. Whatever works--but it's easier if you can go from start to finish using the computer.

Another thing about composing, I know of very few novelists who complete a saleable first draft. As Anne Lamott said in her great book on writing, BIRD BY BIRD, no one she knows "writes elegant first drafts. All right, one does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her." Most beginners plan on one draft, the best they can, then wait for the publishing world to offer them big-buck in a bidding war. I know I did. But very, very, very few people have publishable first drafts. By the way, ‘very' is a word that really says nothing. If I were going to rewrite that sentence for my second draft, I would say: If you compare the population of No Trees, Texas, to New York City, you'd have the ratio of those first drafts that are publishable to those that are not. I'm in the "not" class.

So what are we trying to do with the first draft? Just get it down. Some people rewrite as they go along, but for me, just let me get the words between the title and the closing sentence. I hate first drafts. Every page and chapter is a major decision, stepping into the unknown. You may have had an outline, but now you are working with people that should be coming alive to you. You have to figure how they interact with one another. And everything has to have a story logic to it. I am always tempted to quit part way through. I have to steel myself against that, and sometimes only dogged persistence keeps me going when my inner voice is yelling--this is all vulture dung.

I keep a journal of these stumbling blocks with dates and things, so that when things get tough I can look back and see I've been there before and overcame it. Sometimes, when really discouraged, I read an early chapter and usually decide--hey, not too bad. I can fix this.

Lary Crews--EXTREME CLOSE-UP, OPTION TO DIE--said, "Every time I begin to write another book I'm scared that I'm no good and that my early success was just a fluke."

It's a bit like running up a hill. This first time we're puffing and stumbling, sweating, out-of-breath, with gravity enticing us to turn around and go back down. But if we hang in- -and don't expire on the spot--we'll make it to the top. The next time we'll know we did it before and have a good chance of doing it again. The running may not get any easier, but each hill we climb gives us confidence for the next.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch, BookMarc February 13, 1998

Sometimes it takes therapy to put the past behind you. Other times, it takes a 20 gallon trash bag and a couple of cinder blocks.
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