Rough Writer Up San Story Hill

This last week was an interesting one for writing.  Tuesday was pretty much devoted to catching up from being away.  Wednesday, Jim went to his office in Santa Fe, and I settled in to write.

My Faithful Assistant: Kel

My intention before I left had been to take Wolf’s Search (aka Firekeeper 7) to the end of a key scene, then switch over to working on my Weird Western short story, which I had been encouraged to expand.  Pre-trip planning had taken more time than I’d anticipated, and I’d left that scene in Wolf’s Search uncompleted.  Happily, upon our return, it remained very vivid in my imagination, so I was able to slide in and write what I needed.  The scene is rough.  The prose will definitely need polishing, but it’s there.

Thursday’s plan to get back into my short story was going well until, literally between one breath and the next, my throat prickled and became extremely sore.  Within an hour, I was sniffling, sneezing, and coughing.   My head became very, very cloudy.

(Aside: In case you wonder, the problem turned out to be smoke from myriad wildfires in the area.  I have asthma that’s managed most of the time, but sometimes air quality becomes an issue.)

One of the problems with being a writer is that it requires having a clear head.  Okay.  I’ll clarify that. (Pun intended.)  I need a clear head.  I’ve never understood accounts of writers who function when drunk, stoned, or whatever.  I don’t even like to function too hyped-up on caffeine.

But one thing I will say for me: I’m determined.  After making sure I hadn’t forgotten to take my asthma meds (I hadn’t), I made a pot of lemon-ginger tea.  While it was getting good and strong, I drank a cup of coffee (caffeine is a bronchial dilator) and went back to work.  At the very least, I figured I could refamiliarize myself with the short story and work on lesser points that would lead into the expanded portion.

It was a battle, but I managed.  Eventually, I did retire to the sofa to stare at the ceiling and think, but at least I hadn’t given up.

By Friday, my throat was no longer as sore, but my voice had dropped into deeper octaves and was distinctly croaky.  Although my head was not as clear as I would have liked, I decided I could think, so I returned to my story.  I had the expanded plot arc firmly in mind and was concerned that I might lose it if I waited.  I did a lot of backing and forthing, but when I shut down, I had all the main points written.  Even better, I felt very enthusiastic about the story’s new shape.  Now I was to the point where taking a break was the best thing for the story.

Thinking back over the experience, I’m glad I’ve trained myself to write rough when I must.  This doesn’t mean that I’m not picky about my prose.  I am very picky.  As I said on one panel at Congregate, even when I’m writing a long novel, I write lean.  Some writers delight in having their effort show on the page.  I’m the reverse.  I want to vanish from my stories.  I don’t want readers to say, “Oh, nice phrase, Jane!”  I want them to feel the story has taken them somewhere else, where I don’t exist except as a the doorway that took them there.

So, this week one of my jobs is reviewing what I wrote, smoothing and grooming.  I’ll read extra carefully.  If my still-croaky throat will let me, I’ll read my final draft aloud, because that’s the best way to catch any lingering problems or limping prose.  Is this a lot of work?  Sure.  Might I have written faster if I’d just waited?  Maybe.  I also might have lost the inspiration, and finding it again might have taken a lot longer – if it happened at all.

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2 Responses to “Rough Writer Up San Story Hill”

  1. Alan Robson Says:

    Lovely pun in the title.

    I find it hard to write rough — I revise sentences as I type them and paragraphs after I type them. I can’t move on to the next paragraph before the previous one is finished (though it will probably change again when I do the final spit and polish; so it goes).

    This makes me a very slow writer sometimes…


    -Alan

    • janelindskold Says:

      What you do is completely valid. I’ve known writers who do something between. They write rough one day, polish what they wrote the next. That has the double benefit of getting them back into the flow of the story.

      As with so many things about my writing, I’m not locked down to one technique. I prefer more polished to rough, but if rough is all I can manage, it’s better than not at all.

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