Unearthing the Path to a Finished First Draft

Bird by Bird, Word by Word - Art Journal page

Bird by Bird, Word by Word - Art Journal page

For too long I’ve been stymied by where my novel is going.  Rather than a work-in-progress it has become a labyrinthine obstacle course designed by a paranoid mouse.  There is no sign of logical design. Path-markers, once clear and distinct, are buried beneath dense tangles of indecision, prickles of fear ready to draw blood on unwary fingers.

This is what happens when doubt takes over, during times when ‘the novel’ has been put aside.  There were good reasons, for the putting aside – editing work, family and artwork commitments, life getting in the way.  At least, at the time, they seemed valid reasons.  Now, perhaps they appear more like excuses.

Recent reevaluations of priorities had me debating whether, or not, to shred almost 300 hundred pages of manuscript, along with a gazillion pages of handwritten notes.  What was the point, after all?  I’d lost the thread somewhere along the way.  Probably munched to lint by the washing machine, along with the umpteen one-of-a-pair socks, lost to oblivion.  I looked at the pile of paper, all those words, thoughts, feelings, and imaginings, representing so many hours of work. There sits a huge chunk of my life.  It’s my creation.  Perhaps more a foetus rather than as yet a fully-formed baby, but hadn’t I started out nurturing it, cajoling it into existence from a single half-defined idea?  Hadn’t I had grand hopes for the toddler that would some day take its first step out the door?

Before I’d turned on the shredder the grief of loss set in.  I couldn’t do it. So, what was to become of this child?  Surely, after so much neglect and lack of nourishment it was now deformed, even perhaps a mutant version of its once envisioned self.

In need of encouragement, and with not a writers’ group within coo-ee, I surfed the Net for words of wisdom – a book, no less, another writer’s full-term child –  that I hoped would inspire me to again nourish this stunted babe of mine.

What I found was Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.  It arrived in the mail on Tuesday and I finished reading it on Wednesday.  Now, I’m reading it again, to savour and digest, rather than gorge on the encouragement, humour and wisdom offered by this woman writer.  I love a book that makes me feel and this book does exactly that.  I barely gave a thought to the neighbours, should they spy me while I sat reading on the verandah, laughing out loud and wiping my eyes.  So much of what she wrote I could relate to – the pitfalls of perfectionism, the self-doubts that can incapacitate (resulting in allowing my novel-in-progress come to within a heartbeat of being shredded) and the absolute rightness of needing to write.

I’m taking Anne Lamott’s advice, “Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.” I’m still not sure where my novel is going, but I am nourishing it daily and giving it all the attention it once enjoyed.  Later, after I’ve finished the first draft, will be time enough to check whether my wordy child has all its bits in the right places.  For now, it’s joy enough that my fingers are dancing on the keyboard, even sometimes tripping over each other in uncoordinated steps, eager to get the words down.

This entry was posted in Motivation, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.