Sunday, December 27, 2015

Taking the time it needs (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Orson Welles was a highly respected filmmaker, but for years I didn't know that. When I was little, I knew him only as the guy on a Paul Masson commercial who said, "We will sell no wine before its time."

And I've been thinking about that catchphrase because of how it relates to my writing.

(Yes, I can relate practically anything to writing.)

One aspect of novel writing that has been extremely difficult for me to accept is the time required.

What I mean is that I’m not a person who can bang out a novel in a few weeks. My brain needs time to build a long story.

I can write nonfiction on short deadlines. But there’s something about the world-building, theme-building, and character development of a novel that dictates a slower pace. With nonfiction, the facts and circumstances already exist, and my challenge is to express them coherently and insightfully. But with fiction, I must create everything: the plot, the characters, the conflict.

It takes a long time to write a novel, time during which my daily progress is barely measurable. Some days, all I do is delete. Some days, all I do is think.

Many writers work more quickly than I do. Maybe even most writers. I have had to accept the fact that I am not one of them. I can put lots of words on paper (or a computer screen) in a short amount of time, but they aren’t good words. They aren’t worth reading. My attempts to wrest control from the muse and speed things up have been utter failures.

I wish this process weren’t so slow for me. Many times, my friend Kelly Ramsdell Fineman has answered my frustrated emails by reminding me, “It takes as long as it takes.” And so I’ve been working to accept it, to work within my pace, rather than fight it. Some days I’m more successful than others.

As Orson Welles might have said if he'd been speaking for me instead of Paul Masson, "We can write no book before its time."

16 comments:

  1. I'm a slow writer too--often comparing myself to other writers who seem to be able to bang out novels so quickly and easily. You're right: novel-writing takes time for some of us and we each have to accept our own process.

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    1. It's so hard not to compare, but that way lies madness!

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  2. Once I truly know where I'm going, I'm a fairly fast writer. But some stories hide from me. Some characters, too. And then, it's painfully slow and some days I, too, delete more than I move forward. So yeah, it's a process. Also, I remember that commercial!

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    1. It would be great if the story would just plop into our brains, fully formed.

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  3. I was thinking about this today. Once I get an idea I can get going on it, but lately have nixed one idea after another and I, too, worry about how long it's going to take.

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    1. It's natural to want to control the process, to drive the bus. I find that forcing hasn't helped me, though.

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    2. I'm the same way when I try to control the process. The words on the page sound forced. It just took me 14 months to complete a first draft of a middle grade novel -- 100 pages -- because I wound up taking it apart and putting it back together again over and over. This relates to Courtney's comment about false starts too. But I think you're right, Jenn. False start are part of the process sometimes.

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  4. I hear you. I've been thinking about and making false starts on my current project for about eight months, and it's so frustrating. But this, THIS, is the month I will finally get a full first draft! (I hope.)

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    1. Maybe the "false starts" are even a necessary part of the process, frustrating as they feel at the time!

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  5. I am the same! It takes me a LONG time to write a book. Years. I can get words down fast, but that doesn't mean they're good words or that they're moving the story in the right direction. For me, ideas need a lot of time to develop--with thinking and with false starts. It's frustrating, but I guess it works? I'm still envious of the fast story-developers, though.

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    1. I'm envious, too! But I'm glad to see there's quite a few of us whose pace is different.

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  6. This has been one of the hardest personal lessons I've had to learn as a writer. There is a timeline for the business of publishing that is very different from my art. At the point where I am ready to sell a book, these two time lines can successfully converge, but prior to that, I need to get out of my head and concentrate on letting the writing process deliver a book that's good enough to sell. And yes I'm super envious of those folk who can vomit out fabulous books on command. LOL!

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  7. I'm a fairly fast writer, but I'm a FAR faster idea-er. CONSTANTLY distracted by new ideas.

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