Oof, I’m starting a new chapter; always squirmy on these days. I have very rough stuff as a starting point–the result of a couple of years of jamming on this book proposal has given me a lot of outtakes that didn’t make it into the proposal, and I have a long list of other ideas of things that I’m supposed to write about. It’s not a blank slate.
But still. Since one of the things that I’m doing with this book is using my own story as a starting point for the more essayistic/analytic pieces, I not only have to do the usual figuring out what to write and attempting to determine what, exactly, I actually think about whatever issue at hand and how to express it and (etc), but I also have to go through this very personal process of excavation–figuring out what stories are useful to the book project, and how I would want to share with the world this or that experience. I’ve found that there are more than a few surprises, even already, on this front, that the stories that I thought would be important aren’t always the ones that turn out to be so–and then I discover that my analysis has to change, or that the thing I had intended to put over there isn’t the right thing but rather I need to get into a totally different issue altogether, and back and forth and around again. Such being the creative process, I suppose.
All of this means, of course, lot of writing that doesn’t make it into the chapters themselves–I have pages and pages of outtakes from the proposal that were basically just a big nostalgia trip for me, remembering how fun it was to be young and stupid and 16 and to go to punk shows–great fun to get on paper, but ultimately not as central to the points I was trying to make as I would have hoped. And, eg, in order to get one necessary sentence out about something required writing several pages (cut eventually, obviously) on the backstory before I could maneuver my way over to what I actually was trying to say. Not to mention pages and pages of analysis that have hit the junkpile.
A lot of the issue is that, though I’ve mapped each chapter’s content and themes pretty thoroughly, the real writing doesn’t always follow my preconceived ideas of what I would be writing, or a very subtle shift in the themes or major ideas in the chapter can affect everything I’d done thus far. For those of you looking to work on “non-attachment,” I’d suggest writing a book. There’s nothing like highlighting a beautifully-crafted paragraph–the kind that makes you so pleased with yourself that you want to frame the graf and send it to grandma–and hitting the DELETE button because, really, it turned out not to be the paragraph that was needed there. Crunch. I’m relatively used to this; working as a freelance writer before this whole rab student thing taught me VERY QUICKLY not to become too attached to my precious words, and to know that there are always other words. And still, sometimes, it makes me wince anyway. (I have a friend who handed a 1,000-page nonfiction manuscript in to her publisher and they made her cut it to under 400 pages, so, you know–ow. I’m over word count already, I’m going to have some trimming to do, but please God not that much.)
So I find that I approach each new chapter with a certain amount of apprehension, since it’s to some degree starting over on a new thing that doesn’t yet have a shape, identity, internal structure, doesn’t yet know what it wants to be when it grows up, and I don’t know how much flailing about it’s going to take to get it there. (This is, I should note, very much NOT a request for advice on the writing life in any way, shape, or form.) Once I get into the groove of writing it’s not that big a deal (it never is), but these first few days? Totally squirrley.
Anyway. For those of you wanting to play along at home, this is where I am (first draft of three chapters in):
25,057 / 80,000
There’ll be edits and rewrites on everything, but maybe we can play the word-count game to track my progress as I draft? Periodic installments to come.