Friday, July 27, 2018

Waiting for It

I don't have a long post today because I need to get back to writing. I'm moving back and forth between two first drafts. The nonfiction book about dress and appearance is almost done. The 1939 historical finally feels do-able.

This comes after days, months, years of struggle with both books. Books that simply refused to be written. This breakthrough on both fronts seems to suggest that some books can't be written until we believe they should exist. I started out with two ideas that I thought were good, that I thought would be great books. I wanted -- really, really, really wanted -- to write both books. I did research. I wrote. I edited and revised and tried again. I tried to pin down the elusive themes in each book. I kept telling myself and other people that both were coming along.

And I kept pulling my hair out. Then this summer both came together. That happened when I looked at the world and realized what it was that I needed to say. Once I knew that -- once I stopped playing it safe and making it pretty -- I could see both books as if they already exist. It isn't about outlining. It's about tuning in. I'm finally in flow.

For example, on Wednesday, I was at the ATM. Directly across the street, a blind man was walking into a restaurant on the arm of a younger man. That evening, I had a twist for the 1939 novel that fell into place because I had happened to re-watch a 6-minute documentary the day before. And then I saw the blind man going into the restaurant. I don't know if I will use the scene that I wrote and that now opens the book. But I now have the twist that will get me through the middle of the book.

With the nonfiction book about dress and appearance, I kept telling myself there was no reason I couldn't finish the last three chapters and the conclusions. Both were outlined. I had done the research. Why couldn't I write? And then I was watching the news. And I realized that I couldn't finish the book -- as much as I had struggled -- because I needed that moment when my theme fell into place. If I had finished a year or two ago, I wouldn't have understood what I needed to say with such clarity.

I'm sure I'm not the only writer who has had this experience. Anyone else have a story of struggling even more than usual with a first draft. Then finally having a moment of clarity when it all fell into place?

Back to work.


Donis Casey said...

Best of luck, Frankie! I have a couple of books that have been aborning for decades. Then again, even the books I manage to get written wait until the very last minute to come together.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thanks, Donis. If I can get both of these done by the end of the year, I am going to treat myself to a major celebration.

Anna said...

Frankie, this post is very timely for me. I have been fighting with my urgent nonfiction WIP for years, telling my fiction not-quite-WIP to shut up and remain in second place (meanwhile taking notes for it without letting it know). Recently I've been asking myself whether I can alternate between the two projects, keep both happy, and move ahead with both while still keeping my day job. Is the ideal possible? Maybe it is. Thanks!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Hi Anna,

I finally decided it would have to be possible. I kept thinking about one while working on the other. Sometimes I even got ideas for the novel while doing research for the nonfiction. And I have always done that with the books in my series.

But this time, with the standalone, I kept thinking I needed to focus. But it turns out -- especially now that I have momentum -- that it actually helps to go back and forth. I don't work on either to the point of exhaustion. I can start with the fiction in the morning, write a little, do some plotting and research. Then in the afternoon and evening, I go back to the nonfiction. Sometimes I literally move to another location when I'm ready to switch.

Give it a try, and let me know how it goes. I'm always happy to hear someone else is writing both. It's a challenge.