Thursday, August 01, 2013

Wonder Girl

Did you ever see the movie “Wonder Boys”, with Michael Douglas, based on the book by Michael Chabon? It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, and here (besides the Bob Dylan theme song) is why: it’s about writers. On top of that, it’s an excellent film about writers. Douglas plays a university professor of creative writing who once upon a time wrote a novel which won the Man Booker Prize for Literature.

Seven year have passed, and he is still
unable to finish his much-anticipated second novel. What this has done to his psyche is pathetic. It’s not that he has writer’s block. Just the opposite. In one scene, he puts a blank page in his typewriter (yes, he still uses a typewriter), and at the top types in page number 2121. In a later scene, one of his students goes behind his back to read the MS and says to him, “You know how you tell us that writing is all about choices? Well, this reads as if you didn't make any choices.”

Boy, can I relate. I’ve been on the verge of finishing my latest novel for the past two months, but the darn thing keeps getting longer. I just keep writing and writing, and I can tell plain as day that in the end I’m going to have to get rid of half of what I keep writing. But I can’t stop. I like my murderer and how the murder was accomplished, but dang it, I can’t figure out how my sleuth is going to figure it out, not in a logical, uncontrived manner, anyway. So I keep writing. I’ll try this for a while, then I’ll try that. Maybe it’ll work better if I do this. I have a bunch of great scenes which may or may not go together. Probably not. But I keep going.

It’s not like this has never happened to me before, and I must remember that miraculously it always works out. As I write the first draft, my beginnings never do match the end, for somewhere in the middle of the story, I changed my mind about this character, or this action, or this story line. And I didn’t waste time by going back to the beginning and fixing it to fit my new vision. No, no, that way lies madness. I can get (and have gotten) caught up in an endless merry-go-round of fixes and never reach the end. I just kept going until the book was done, with every confidence that I could repair all the inconsistencies when I was done.

The first draft is eked out of you like bone marrow, but with the rewrites, you have something to play with, to refine, to remodel, to put makeup on and make beautiful. You reread and adjust, and eventually the the beginning matches the end.

Then years later, as I reread the story, it’s interesting to see how it all turned out, to remember what I originally had in mind and see how the tale changed as I moved through it.


Judith Starkston said...

I'm guessing you're cooking a good plot up with all this writing and confusion. I don't think good writing (good anything thoughtful) comes about in a tidy linear fashion. I'm suspicious of writers who outline and then follow it. Really? you didn't come up with anything better along the way, I want to say. But maybe that's just my excuse for painfully meandering around in the most inefficient possible manner as I write.

Donis Casey said...

Judy, every book I write is different from any of the others. But I guarantee none of them have ever been tidy or linear.

Charlotte Hinger said...

I started a new book today while waiting for my ARCs. You're SCARING me Donis.