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.