26 March 2011

Pouring Concrete

I was so excited, last weekend, to hear Jason Wright talk about the idea of "pouring concrete" when it comes to writing. He said that, more often than not, our beautiful, shiny muses will not be sitting beside us as we write. Sometimes, we just don't feel inspired, we hit a block and we don't have the perfect words for what comes next. Those are the times when we just need to "pour another square of concrete."

Picture your story as a sidewalk. You know where the story starts (the first square of concrete) and you know where it will end (that's the last square), but you have to finish the story by pouring concrete into all of the sections in between! In other words, when you don't feel absolutely inspired, just fill in the blanks to finish that first draft. You can't really fix and polish the story until you have the full story, so don't worry about getting it perfect the first time through. Just put in some work and get it done. You can fix and make it beautiful later!

It was perfect, timely advice for me. I've been working for more than a year on my second book (while still revising and refining my first novel - I know I said it was ready for publication a while ago, but it really did need more tweaking... it's much better now). My first manuscript took less than a month to get through the first draft. I carried it with me everywhere and made time to work on it, even when I wasn't sure what really came next. It was fun, I was excited, so I did it, and I didn't worry about making it perfect as I was writing that first draft. The finished product, as it stands now, bears little resemblance to the first draft - and I couldn't have written this story without first writing all that came before it (including that first, not very good draft). I knew the importance of "pouring concrete," so to speak.

So why is it taking so long to write the first draft of this second novel? Is it just that the story doesn't resonate with me? No. Am I trying to write about something that I know nothing about? No. Is it a story I shouldn't even bother to tell? Absolutely not. If anything, this story (about a young girl whose mother dies) is more personal, more compelling to me, than the first one. And I feel more driven than ever before to tell this particular story.

But I guess I forgot the importance of "pouring concrete." I've been waiting until I could tell the story perfectly in my first draft. Instead of carrying my story notebook with me everywhere I go, I've been waiting for those rare moments of inspiration, telling myself I would write when inspiration hit, and work on other (mostly non-writing) projects in the meanwhile. And I've never felt so empty!

This week, I pulled out my story notebook and my special stash of writing pencils. It's not coming as quickly as that first draft of my first novel, but I'm making progress. And when I'm finished "pouring concrete" and I get to polish the sidewalk, I'm sure I'll find that this path is more beautiful than the first.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a "sidewalk" to construct!