Nothing To Figure Out
I have just finished one of the most instructive rewrites of my life. My agent, based on some comments of editors, thought the book we were submitting could be rewritten. It had been a while since I’d read it, and once I reread it, I agreed. I then spent six months or so making it worse. During this time I would often say, “I’ve got to figure this book out.” I wanted to understand the book before I dove back into it. Unfortunately, I never really understand anything until I’m doing it. So the drafts I produced were the stiff products of thinking, of linking my scenes like moves in a game of chess.
In chess, you are trying to win. In chess, every piece has a value, and the middle of the board has a value, and you are constantly responding to what the other player does. In a book, you decide what victory means, and what every piece is worth, and there is no other player. Trying to figure out a book, for me, is like trying to play chess when I don’t know which piece I must capture to win.
So I told myself this: “Everything you like about this book, you wrote without trying to figure anything out. Take what you like and simply follow it to its natural conclusion.” Initially, I was terrified, which I took as a good sign. And lo, once I got over the terror, I finished the book in a month. I never planned a thing and the plot made more sense than all the versions I’d so meticulously thought about ahead of time. In fact, I was certain if I knew nothing else about this book, I knew its last sentence. I was wrong about that too. The end snuck up on me, which is always my favorite way to end something.
So off it goes. Obviously, I want all kinds of great things to come of this, but in a way, I don’t really care. There is nothing more unpleasant than doing something contrary to how you most want to do it. When I write this way, trying to plan and figure everything out, it is as if I must begin each session by reminding myself that all my instincts are incorrect. Having some editor reject what I have written isn’t any fun, but it is nothing compared to me rejecting myself.