Following on from Patty's "fixer upper" metaphor for revision - and I'm thinking of calling her in as the general contractor to consult on my current manuscript in progress - I thought I would share a few metaphors that cross my mind as I go through this process of writing. Most mornings, early, I walk in the hills near my home with my friend, Kas, along with my dog, Maya, and we talk a fair bit about our work, what we're up to. She tells me about her challenges, and I tell her about mine. Then we go on about how we both need new hiking shoes because, heck, it must be these shoes that are causing the aches in the joints these days. Couldn't be anything to do with age, could it?
I am almost done with the first draft of the manuscript which I hope will become my next published book. It's been a new experience for me - for a start, it's not a mystery, so the novel has a different rhythm, as well as completely new characters to reveal. And I've had to get to know them in a different way, because there will be no series, so it's not going to happen over time and subsequent books. So, there have been some phases where I've felt very insecure. As I explained to Kas, the way I feel reminds me of a story told to me by an old friend, a skipper of rather large sailing yachts - OK, they were probably technically ships - in the Caribbean. And OK, just to be completely honest, he was my ex-husband. He had some great stories, but I often remember this one at various stages in writing a novel.
When the yacht was in dock there was always a fair bit of work to be done - classic wooden sailing vessels need a lot of attention, and often local kids would earn some pocket money for running errands back and forth to various shops and so on. One day he (the aforesaid skipper) and the crew were taking the yacht out on some sort of trial, so they asked the little pack of island kids who were hanging around the yacht if they wanted to come along. They clambered on board, and once they were all fitted with lifejackets and safety lines, off they went. But at some point these children started getting very upset. They kept pointing into the distance, and by the time the yacht was a fair way out, they were all weeping and saying, "I can't see ma island. Where's ma island gone?" The kids were so very distressed, the crew had to turn the yacht around lickety-split and get the kids back to land, where they ran off like demons, ecstatic to be back on the land they had never left before.
Writing a book is a bit like that for me. I begin the story, but as it moves along, as the characters begin to take shape, as go deeper into the narrative, the shoreline of the beginning starts to get smaller and smaller, and then I am in open water. The middle, where the water is deep, and where I feel I am drowning, and waves wash over my decks and everything gets taken this way and that, and then I hit the Doldrums and am becalmed and I'm struggling to see just any sign of wind to catch my sails.
But of course, now I can't turn back because my island is somewhere back there - and what's that in the distance? A little speck. So I write on, and the characters are with me now, and they're all playing their parts, and everything's in color, and the wind is in the sails again - and there's land. The end of the journey is in sight once more, so for a while I'll know where I'm going. Then - bump - there it is. The End
Then I become an archeologist.
"So, where are you on the book?" asked Kas.
"Oh, you know, almost finished the first draft," I reply.
"Then what?"says Kas.
"Then I have to put the skeleton together,"
When I have that first draft, it's like being an archeologist who has just unearthed a skeleton. There it is, in the dirt, a series of bones. So, it's all there, this skeleton. But some of the bones are missing - scenes that are still in my head, detail that will bring a section of dialogue to life. And some are in the wrong place and have to be moved, and sometimes making them fit is really hard - because I can't chuck them out. Oh, but this one doesn't belong here - so it has to go. And there's no connective tissue or muscle. But I'm a funny kind of archeologist, because now I have to try to make this pile of bones into something resembling a human. I have the framework, the basic story. Now I have to be an advocate for the reader and a technician of the word - I have to make it into something someone will want to read, that we can all call "A Novel."
As I've said many a time, getting to the end of that first draft is a great feeling - but it's only the clay on the wheel. Now I have to get in there with my fingers and mould the clay. It's where Patty has to do her fixer-upper thing. And it's where I have to get to work now.
Otherwise this will never happen ....
Have a lovely weekend!
Next week I'll be at the Book Passage Mystery Writers' Conference in Corte Madera, CA - great event, always. But I'll be here on the page, even if a little late again (sorry about that!)