The fresh start. The off-the-wall idea. The skewed approach. I think there is something to be said for a change of scene, a new location that forces creative energy simply on the vibes of being in unfamiliar territory. Lately, I have had trouble psyching up my energy to work on my book, From Mountains High. It’s been an abnormally hot and dismal summer in Portland. I have no air conditioning at home, and I am easily distracted by sports on TV, by household tasks, and by my cat. I come home from work tired, and it’s so easy to plop my briefcase down, cook dinner, then fall asleep on my living room chair as a baseball game unfolds on HDTV.
Zzzzzzzz. Huh? Wait! I have a book to write and it’s already time to get ready for bed! Another blasted evening wasted!
Discouraged, I walked around my neighborhood and suddenly realized there’s a coffee house near me! And they have coffee and WiFi and acres of tables next to electrical outlets! I raced back home, grabbed my laptop, and headed over to this magic castle. I’ve been going every night for two past weeks, writing at least five pages of my book during each visit. This is awesome! Why didn’t I think of this before?
I’m not saying where this coffee house is. It’s not a franchise, and people from my parish do not hang out here. In fact, I do not recognize the regulars at all. Good! Change of scene, privacy, and incognito, to boot. Who could ask for more?
I have already staked my claim to a regular spot. My table is in a corner and facing a wall! No distractions! Sure, there are lots of overlapping conversations here, but all I have to do is turn down my hearing aids.
Facing a wall? Yes! Alex Haley wrote Roots in the cabin of a tramp streamer. Maya Angelou rented a hotel room furnished with nothing but a chair, a bed, and a bottle of brandy. If it’s good enough for these successful writers, it’s good enough for me!
I am often amazed at the perception that some people have about writers. Many think that authors write their books in complete sentences, with plot or timeline in pre-meditated sequential order, snappy prose and, if called for, a dry wit. Nothing could be further from the truth! To be sure, after the necessary research, there is a first draft, but that is hardly in a ready-to-publish state. Remember the term papers we wrote in college? After we wrote out our quotes on index cards, we lined them up in some semblance of order and then typed out our text on easy-to-erase onion paper. Most of us simply typed the research from our cards almost word for word, connecting them with expositional sentences that we cobbled together in elevated prose that we hoped would impress our teachers. The C’s and D’s awarded for such efforts attest to how unsuccessful many of us were. One of my professors used to write his comments in Latin! And he stung me with this gem: Ualens, ad somnum mihi. (It sings me to sleep.) Ouch!
But there were a chosen few who took those research cards and re-expressed them in a fresh way, connecting seemingly diverse ideas in a unique manner that indicated original thought and passion. The A’s and B’s awarded to those papers only encouraged us to keep at it, well after graduation day. And so we became writers.
That’s a rather long-winded way of saying that my first drafts always suck. Always! But at least I have something that I can shape. Think of a sculptor, who starts with a nondescript block of marble but sees some potential there. And so he or she chips away ever so carefully until a beautiful figure finally emerges.
My first draft is like that block of marble. The raw material is there. The fun begins when I start chipping away, removing unnecessary verbiage until something concise, beautiful and even poetic emerges. With my new book, I am still in the raw material stage but I’m beginning to see the beauty, and it excites me and keeps me working through the night.