Give it all, Give it Now

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”


I was grateful to come across Annie Dillard’s quote this morning. As I work on The Light Never Lies, now and then I glance down at the word count and number of pages. I start a series of mental calculations related to how much is left to write, how many words that will amount to, and then add that to what I already have. This sends me into a tailspin. My fingers freeze over the keyboard. Due, I’m sure, as much to the problems I have with doing math in my head as to the final word count.

Writing a second novel is a new experience. I know how long Disappearing in Plain Sight was in manuscript form and the size of the printed book that ensued. Having that measuring stick in mind is difficult. I keep thinking that this next book should end up the same size and it doesn’t seem to want to play ball with me on that issue – it seems determined to be longer.  

I comfort myself with the fact that J.K. Rowlings’ last two Harry Potter books were massive compared to her first two. That doesn’t help. I suspect that it was the popularity of the first books that allowed her free rein to make the last two so much longer.

I start down the road of thinking I must cut characters and storylines immediately. That makes sense. If I keep on writing things that need to be cut, it will be so much more work to dig around and get it all out later.

Then I flip-flop to the other side of the case, and say to hell with this type of thinking. I curse the editing hat as it attempts to squish itself atop my creative hat. At its most innocent, this is bad fashion sense, at its worst, chaos.

Annie Dillard’s words set me back on the right course. The first time through, I’ll write the story that I want to write. I’ll allow characters to push themselves into the story, gaining a prominence that wasn’t outlined. I’ll allow storylines to come out that I never expected. I’ll include dialogue that shocks even me. I’ll stop worrying about being maudlin or cracking jokes that don’t seem funny to anyone but me. I’ll give it, give it all, and give it now.

Stephen King tells us that the first draft is for the writer, the following drafts are for the reader. I have learned the truth of that statement. I need the first draft. It is there that I find themes I didn’t recognize as I wrote. I find the tiny gems I want to tweak or subtly twist. Without the freedom of expression in this first draft, the further drafts will be crippled. 

I’ll end with a gardening analogy. If you radically weed too early in the year, you risk pulling out the tiny new plants right along with the weeds.


12 comments on “Give it all, Give it Now

  1. As a consumate hoarder I had a good snicker at this…great post.

  2. dana mentink says:

    That darn inner editor, huh? I understand what you’re saying. Freedom from wordcounts and such is a great thing and stories can and should be trimmed later. It’s so freeing to write the story and tackle the editing down the road. Best of luck with book two. 🙂

  3. Jane Fritz says:

    These are important lessons that you’re sharing, Fran. Thanks for sharing do eloquently.

    • You are most welcome, Jane. I always like to see that Robby Robin has dropped by, especially on a post where I mention the garden. The robins are so busy out there right now. I need to follow there example and do some digging.

  4. LadyGrave says:

    Great post! It’s the sort of stuff I need to hear right now too, as I begin puttering around with MY first book two.

    • It is quite a different experience – the second book, isn’t it? It sort of feels like the second child – good to have experience, but sometimes you wish you didn’t know as much as you do about how difficult some parts of the process can be.

  5. Gwen says:

    That’s the hard part to remember – that the first draft is just for you. I have to remind myself of this constantly – just get the damn story out, revise, edit, tweak later. But it’s so difficult!

    In my opinion, JK Rowling needed much more editing than she received in her later Harry Potter books. There were too many storylines that didn’t go anywhere! I don’t know if you’ve read her new adult novel, but I thought it was terrible. A rambling mess with far too many characters with very little depth and development.

    It’s easier said than done, but just write your story, Fran. As your reader, I believe in you! xo

    • Yes – exactly. Hard to turn that inner editor off. I haven’t read Rowling’s adult book – but I lean towards trusting your opinion, Gwen (and not just because you liked my book, so obviously you must be a very astute reviewer of such things – LOL). Back to just writing that darn story 🙂

  6. pamelacook says:

    So true Francis. easy to get caught up in the whole “what should I be writing” issue especially with a second novel I think. We need to forget about the reader in that first stage so we don’t over edit and spoil the voice and flow of the story. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Great to hear from you, Pamela. It is very true that we can spoil the story (the select and then delete functions of the word processor work very fast). What is that old saying – decide in haste, repent at leisure. I just have to keep these silly hats in order.

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