“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” ~ Elmore Leonard
Before I tell you how I write, I have to tell you about my grandpa Cal who died in the 90’s. He was a beekeeper and plumber and liked to remind me he’d lived through the depression. He sat at a heavy industrial metal desk and scribbled notes on a legal pad and nursed his migraines with aspirin (which were also passed along to me). He’d say, “Just remember, there’s always someone digging a ditch,” like he was disgusted with my entire ripped jean wearing, MTV addicted, lazy-ass Generation.
When I write, I remember his words and dig the motherfucking ditch.
First, I must resist the frenemies of writing, Brain Twinkies. They are: Dirty dishes. Texts from the boss or—as we say in after school program land—my Site Coordinator. Email rejections from journals and agents. The cats. Intriguing links from friends. S(ext) messages from the boyfriend. Updates on Facehooker or Shamebook. My only hope is to turn it all off.
The next step is: Get out of bed when it’s still dark out. I hate that part. When the alarm rings, I want to throw my iphone into the cat box, but instead, I feed my cats, silence my phone and turn off the radio.
In the kitchen, I make coffee that’s strong enough to reanimate a woolly mammoth. At my desk, with my lethal coffee, I light my luck candle that sits on my desk and ask the writing Gods to help direct my pen and help me get out of my own way, so I can be of service by writing my emotional truth. I also ask real quietly if I can please be a household name like Oprah.
Then, I make a list of things to address: revisions, a blog, an interview, or a major rewrite of a chapter. If I’m doing a major revision, I print out the old version with all the editor’s notes so I have it in front of me when I begin again with blank page.
And I write slowly. Very slowly.
I dig for the emotional truth in a story. This is hard for me. I rarely think about plot or structure—at first. I have to conjure up what I fear, what I see and hear and who and what I love (or in fiction, what the character wants, what she loves and fears, what music she listens to). I rarely know where I’m going. I attempt to write about what I don’t know. I try to feel it all first and then make a big mess. When I feel achy in my ribcage and want to cry and leave the room, I’m onto something. Then I remember what Sy Safransky said, “Dig deeper. You can’t really go deep enough.”
Digging the ditch requires a type of patience that I lack. I have a tendency to rush at words. Slice off the ending. Leave the scene of the crime. I send stories out too soon. Blow my wad early. For me, it takes years longer than I want. My biggest challenge is to remain in the room and keep digging deeper, until the skeletal story acquires flesh, the heartbeat of the story is clear and my fingers are filthy with soot.
Endless revisions later, it finally breathes.
Antonia – Writer, essayist, columnist, runner and rebel rouser – is also one of my Write Girl Ride or Diers. Learn more about her by visiting her website – Antonia Crane Rants or follow her on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t be disappointed. 🙂
Hey, Fam, I know Antonia isn’t digging the ditch alone. As a writer how do you dig deeper?