Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Writing a Hot Mess (in 14 years or less)

"Born from the Mess"
by jb0xtchi on Etsy

The story I'm working on now is one I've been working on - well, on but mostly off - since I was 18. It began as a short story - my best friend from my high school days said to me in the summer right after high school, "Hey, I found a short story contest and the theme is 'Magic.' Let's enter!"

To which I replied, "OKAY!"

Well, me and short stories aren't really friends. Oh, I love them - reading them is a bit of an addiction of mine - but writing them is a different story. Every short story idea I have tends to fizzle into nothing or blow up into something much bigger (like my newly finished and currently being queried book, SLEEP, which began as a short story almost 3 years ago)

After about 6 pages of writing my 'magic' short story, I knew I had something much bigger on my hands. So, in usual Marisa fashion, I grabbed a notebook and worked on it through college when I was supposed to be listening to my teacher's lectures. I even brought it to England with me when I studied abroad, with big intentions of finishing it and finding a crit group and finally getting my dream of being a real live WRITER started.

(but the cute Welsh boy I met was too distracting, and I only managed a couple pages before I packed my book up and decided to finish it when I got home.... But then came love, and then came marriage, and two little babies in the baby carriage...)

I picked the book up for NaNoWriMo in '08, and my awesome blog readers cheered me on as I wrote the world's sloppiest pre-draft. (Which blinds me whenever I attempt to read it, because it is just. so. AWFUL, and the only fate it deserves is being stabbed with the tooth of a basilisk)

And then I picked it up again during NaNo '10. And ... well, the first couple chapters I managed to write weren't AWFUL, but they certainly weren't as good as I wanted them to be.

So here I am, back together with these characters who I have LOVED for almost 13 years - and their story, which has changed a lot in 13 years, but which still follows the same magical backbone I imagined for it when I was 18.

And I figured that all my experience in the last couple years would make all the difference - that I would pick it up and suddenly know exactly how each scene needs to go, and exactly what every character is thinking and saying when they are tossed together in the bathroom of a taqueria, or the basement of a crack house (two of my favorite scenes. Yup).

But writing it now makes me feel just as awkward and stumbly as I was when I first attempted to write it back in 1999. Which has brought on all the "WHY do I think I can actually be a WRITER?!" angsting I have been doing for years now.

-insert head banging against keyboard HERE -

Today my friend Dianne Salerni, author of We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks 2010) and The Caged Graves (coming from Clarion), blogged about her latest project, saying:

"If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past couple years of writing, it’s that my first draft is usually a rambling, maze-like monstrosity. Kind of like the Winchester Mystery House in California."

And it made me think that maybe I'm not too terrible at this after all. That maybe it's just the way writing is for some people. I thought I accepted long ago that I'm not a writes-a-book-and-snags-a-top-agent-in-six-months-TOTAL kinda gal, a la Stephenie Meyer.

I'm more a writes-a-rambling, maze-like monstrosity kinda gal, like Dianne. Only instead of accepting that part of my process, I've been pretending that I have, but really angsting hard.

There's a little thing called the internal editor that I have been advised to turn off while drafting. But I also think the internal self-hater needs to be turned off, too, because that's the one that keeps me from turning the hot mess I've been working on for years into something finished I can pass on to my crit partners - who I KNOW will help me turn it into the shiny, queriable gem I believe, deep down, it will one day be.

In the words of Joseph Chilton Pearce, "To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." - a quote I love, love, love. Not a quote I always live by, but hey - it's a new year.

And maybe if I lose my fears, if I can turn off the internal self-hater who tells me often that I'll never make it as a published author, I just might have a finished first draft of this sucker - in 14 years or less!

Only then will this hot mess be the story that made my fingers itch to write when I was a teenager, with visions of magic dancing through my head.



Farmer*swife a/k/a Glass_Half_Full said...

:-) Keep going, you'll get it there.

A. McBay said...

Keep at it, M! Your a great writer, you just need a little faith in yourself and your writing! Give me a holler if ya ever need a mooping partner :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I was reading this and enjoying it and totally surprised to find myself in it. It makes me really happy if that post helped you at all!

I loved this:
(Which blinds me whenever I attempt to read it, because it is just. so. AWFUL, and the only fate it deserves is being stabbed with the tooth of a basilisk)

Keep going, Marisa! And don't worry about the mess you leave behind. (Don't stab it with a basilisk tooth either.)Get to the end of the story. THEN make a list of all the things you need to work out/change/fix/delete/add.

My first draft of The Caged Graves didn't even include 1 important character and 1 important mysterious element that the whole darn story hinges on now! These things showed up in Draft#2, when I realized what was so awful about Draft#1.

First drafts are allowed to be awful. It's my motto, and the only one that keeps me going sometimes.

Jessica L. Buike said...

Great post! I linked to it in my blog today:

Marisa Hopkins said...

Gal and Any - thanks so much, you guys!! :)

Dianne - seriously, reading your post was EXACTLY what I needed this morning. I have been so afraid of messing up in this book and creating a set of stairs that lead straight to the ceiling, or a door that has a sheer drop on the other side... and forget that those are my favorite features of the Winchester Mystery House! They might be crazy, but they give it a fun and funky character - and I'm so ready to have fun with my scenes, rather than worry about them being terrible!

Jessica - wow, thank you!

Melissa said...

Having read two early versions of SLEEP, I can definitely see how it (and your skill) has improved.

Writing and revising a book is like trying to iron a linen shirt. It seems impossible at first, but with each swipe of the iron it becomes a little less wrinkled, until, at long last, you finally have a very pretty and wrinkle-free shirt. (excuse the awful metaphor - it's the first that popped into my head! - but you get the idea)

The first version of The Spirit Keeper was awful. Just awful. And at the time I actually thought it was good. Oh, what a difference four years and A LOT of revisions makes!

You're a great writer. Keep going!

Tina Laurel Lee said...

I feel this post. Thank you. Some of the writing process seems to be embracing the struggle instead of struggling against the struggle. Not that I'm good at that at all, mind you.

Thanks for struggling out in the open where it helps me feel like I'm not so alone. Thanks to you and to Dianne for this. I'm gonna work on appreciating the mess like a mystery house instead of dreading it. Or at least try...

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