December 3rd, 2008

Secretly, she thought . . .

This week at the 'Booth is all about secrets.

My secret is this: No one knows for sure what they're doing until they've done it.

That's, I think, why writing is so hard. We work from ideas, from glances, from nothing but words. I'm reminded of something I remember Kate DiCamillo saying when she visited Vermont: "I hate writing. I love having written."

I think that's all about the secret. As writers, we're all the time trying to figure out what the heck is going on in our story. If we don't know, who does? There's the rub. Only we can get our own story to the point of being understood, and there's a period of writing when new bits pop up at us, and the others we know are lurking out there will evade us. We just have to keep at it.

We build whole books, whole worlds, whole people, from tiny inspirations grown to show something bigger, or huge inspirations distilled to the most vibrant bits.

Novels, picture books, whatever. They rarely come to the writer whole.

The good news? We can catch them. That's the magic of writing. The more we wander with a story, the more it comes together, even when we feel as if it's just some amorphous thing that'll never make sense to a brain other than ours -- even when it's all we can do to hope to put the puzzle pieces together.

This echos what others have said so far this week: keeping a journal may help you catch your story, so might gathering quotes and reminders. For me, it's all about spending time in the story. I just threw out a complete draft of my next novel. But the time I spent on it wasn't time wasted. Because it's all in the wandering. And my new draft is stronger, as a story. I know more than I did when I started, than when I finished the other draft. This new draft is still a wandering draft. Eventually, it will become a book.

When it comes time for the work to be read, it'll look like I knew what I was doing all alone.

The secret is, we usually don't start out with a map. Just with what little light we can shine on the words that present themselves.


Somehow, an Elvis made of Post-It Notes seems appropriate to this secret. I'll bet there was a time in the process when it looked like nothing but a mess of sticky notes. And now? The King.




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A Writing Suggestion About Secrets



        I did a twist on the idea of writing secrets here yesterday. We've been blogging this week about our

writing secrets, or tips, this week. There have been good ones.

My twist wasn't intentional, it was just that the very word conjured up the fertile material we all keep

locked up tight in our minds and hearts.

The Pandora's Box of our lives, if you will.
While some of the memories are sweet     


the chances are good that the more interesting secrets 

                                                       aren't.   


While thinking about this yesterday, I was reminded of a writing exercise

the inimitable Jane Resh Thomas often suggests to her students.

Many of us on the tollbooth worked with Jane. We all know about her ironclad certainty

that nothing good will come until a writer plumbs to the very

depth of her basement ... 

                                                                or the cluttered mess of her attic.

   
      Jane asks her students to do an exercise:

               Set a clock for 20 minutes. Without stopping, start listing PEOPLE.

               It's important that you not stop and that you write names for the entire time. You'll be amazed at the people from your childhood you are forced to dredge up.

               Jane then asks you to write a sketch about one of the names on the list. The farther down

on the list, the more forgotten the person tends to be.

               She also assigns the same exercise with PLACES and THINGS. (I'm not a thing person, so that was the least successful of the lists. Everyone gets something different out of the exercises.)

              
               So. What I was thinking about yesterday (at last! hurrah!)

                            was that the same exercise could be done listing SECRETS.

              You might want to write them in invisible ink.

              You definitely shouldn't write them in a diary if anyone else lives in your house.

              But if you set that clock for 20 minutes,

              and forced yourself to remember back to all of the

              mean-spirited, sad, kind, loving, hurtful, traumatic ... I could go on ... things

              that either happened to you or that you did to another person,

              you might unearth some rich material.

             
              And that's my writing secret for the day.