Thursday, December 13, 2007


At the beginning of a new project, I’m in love.

The idea is not only brilliant but emotionally gripping. The main character…oh, I could swoon over her, she’s so alive and complex and unique. Snippets of dialogue and scenes start writing themselves in my head. The settings are Technicolor bright. Everything is exciting, busting with possibilities.

This euphoria lasts until I actually start writing.

When the project is contained entirely in my head, it’s perfect. The moment I sit down and commit words to screen, though, that sense of shiny-apple newness wears off faster than the bath I just gave my dog. Because once the work actually starts, problems start poking their ugly little fishy snouts into my vision.

Exactly how was I going to manage the—? Which point of view—? If you have main character X doing this, then she can’t go there, because—No, maybe she can, if I just—Why was she doing that to begin with? Wait a minute, now I’m confused. Where are my notes?!

This is never going to work. This idea is stupid. Whoever said I could write, anyway? Oh, look, Star Trek is on. Aliens with funny foreheads, now
that’s a good idea! Maybe I should write science fiction instead. Yeah, science fiction, that’s it.

Get. Butt. Back. In. Chair.

Stare at computer screen. Type a few words. Delete them. Hunt for my notes. The notes don’t help. The vision in my head is still there, but trying to capture it feels like catching butterflies with a sledgehammer.

This is when a writer is confronted with Two Choices.

1) The sledgehammer.

2) Hold onto the dream of perfection forever.

If I choose 1), trying to club this thing onto paper, I know that my perfect dream of a book will sprout warts and grow twisted limbs and disappear, for long stretches, only to reappear looking like something out of Tim Burton's nightmares. But…it’ll be real, it’ll be out in the world. It will exist.

If I choose 2), the vision stays in my head. Forever perfect, and never taking on a life of its own. And I get to go back to work full-time.


Where did those notes go, again…?


Walter said...

Presumably when Ten Cents a Dance first entered your mind it was "brilliant and emotionally gripping", Ruby was "swoonable, alive and complex and unique". You clearly elected to sledge away at that particular story rather than "hold onto the dream of perfection forever". I have read Ten Cents a Dance and it most definitely did not "...sprout warts and grow twisted limbs." Get your butt back in that chair.

Christine Fletcher said...

Yeah, I did go through the same thing with Ten Cents a Dance. Although somewhere in the middle of the first draft, it sure did have some warts! Big green 'uns, too. But that's all part of the game.

We just went through another round of final edits on Ten Cents a Dance. (For all you at home, Walter has an advanced reading copy...a sneak peek, as it were.) Unbelievable how many typos we caught, even at this late stage.

Melissa Marsh said...

Can I borrow this line?

"The vision in my head is still there, but trying to capture it feels like catching butterflies with a sledgehammer."

You said it PERFECTLY.

I'm getting close to the writing stages of my next novel and I gotta admit - I'm scared that I won't do my vision justice. This is ridiculous as there is no such thing as perfection, but man - getting through that original stumbling block is quite difficult.

Christine Fletcher said...

Melissa, borrow away! :)

I came across a great quote from Ann Patchett...something about how avoiding writing her fifth novel had become the goal of her life. (This was after she published the bestselling Bel Canto. That's just how I feel now. Housework has never been so appealing.

Then again, the fact that it's scary means it's a challenge worth tackling. Great risk, great rewards, etc. Right? (At least, that's what I tell myself!)

Anonymous said...

I usually stay in love until the middle. I always hit a snag there, and lose momentum.

I find the sledgehammer approach works for me. Once I commit to a project, I put my butt in the chair and do my daily quota, whether I want to or not.

If I keep it in my head too long, I get migraines. I have to get it on paper pretty quickly once the idea springs.

Christine Fletcher said...

Devon -- I don't get migraines (thankfully) but I agree with you about getting ideas out on paper quickly. Besides, once the writing begins, possibilities unfold that never would have arisen in my head. That's where the real fun begins.

Walter said...

Wow! Seven comments! Isn't that a record?