My dirty dishes…

Okay, so first… I want to say that there is a lovely review of Any Which Wall at the Palo Alto Weekly. For this I am exceedingly grateful.

But then… I want to share some slogging (i.e. process) with you.  Because I am a believer that sharing the ugly with people is a public service.  I’m not someone who cleans up my house before guests arrive.  Rather I’m someone who shows them the sink of dirty dishes and says, “See, this is how I really live!” I like to think it makes everyone feel better about the sink of dirty dishes they feel bad about.  And maybe someday, they’ll let me see their dishes too.

Okay, so… here are my dishes.

In the midst of what I like to call “life” (flea-bombs, nights-o-fun, adorable sprinkler-kids, arguments, etc) I am trying to write the next book.  This is not so easy, and some days, I  wish I had a “real job” as it is hard to write around the kids and the house and the fleas.

Please, don’t misunderstand me… I love my life and wouldn’t really swap with anyone in the world. But it is HARD.  Hard to focus with a squawking kid hanging off of you.  Hard to dance among the fleas. Under any circumstances, writing is HARD (for me) but with the huge swirling vortex of LIFE it is much harder.  And that is when the writing is going well.

Right now… the writing isn’t ‘t going so well.

I wrote a book, a new book, called Penny Dreadful.  I liked the book. It was a first draft, but it was full (as my books are) with what you might call “quirk.”  Over-the-top silliness, funny characters, humor (I hope). And I liked all of that, but when I stepped away from the book, and thought about things… I decided to try to make the book less quirky, more REAL.  I wanted you to care more about poor Penny Dreadful.  And (as I’m not Roald Dahl) I couldn’t figure out how to add the REAL in alongside the QUIRK.

So… with a deep sigh and a big knife, I slashed away most of the funny/quirky stuff. I murdered all the darlings.  I stripped the book down to its bones, to see what I could do with the REAL stuff that was there…

Guess what I found…

Not enough REAL.  Under the quirk there was not enough REAL. The bones weren’t as sturdy as I’d hoped.  It was ALL HAT, NO CATTLE.

So now, here I am, basically starting over… and I have this choice.  I can  add the quirk back in, or I can rebuild the bones…  or I can, if I am up to the task, try to do both.  Try to add a little more of the quirk back in, as I rebuild the bones, in a way that makes sense…

Which is what I hope to do. But it is HARD. It is so HARD.

Once you are inside any long-form work, there are so many mistakes to be made. Every word is a possible failure.  Everything you do leads down a path… and you never know until you get there whether it is the right path.  The only thing to do is to head down the road, hoping. And sometimes, you get there, look around, and realize you wanted to go the other way. So you start over…

Of course, the other option is to quit, break up.  The other choices to  say to your book, “Sorry, book. I thought I was  into you. I’m not. I’m just not that into you.”

I’m not ready to do that.  Not yet. With books, as with other relationships, the decision to quit is largely about a person’s unwillingness to work at it. You can blame the other person (or book) for your frustration with them, or you can figure out how to love them better.

There are, after all, bones beneath the bones.

3 Responses to “My dirty dishes…”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    I remember listening to a lecture by E. L. Konigsburg (which I spent all night in the Indianapolis bus station and walked through the city at 6am but that’s another story) and she talked about the importance of space, specifically in Asian art, but more generally in life, setting aside time to reflect, to form your identity. I remember she said she had to work hard to do so when she had young children. As the second oldest of five, I sympathize! If I come babysit for you can we have a sequel to Any Which Wall? Pretty please? Or a prequel? Or a companion?

  2. Donna Gephart Says:

    Laurel, great post. Thank you for your honesty and truth. It certainly spoke to me and my experiences with writing novels, parenting, avoiding the dirty dishes, etc. And I love Jennifer’s comment. Space. Yes, that’s exactly right . . . and oh so hard to carve out for oneself with young children . . . or, ahem, teenagers.

  3. Kate Coombs Says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one–both on the dishes front and in terms of rewriting a book that just isn’t working, but you still love that homely baby. If you just add a bow to its sticking up hair, wash its funny little face, SOMETHING, surely others will see its beauty? Anyway, the first draft can be such a disappointment in the sense that the journey can still seem so very long after it’s done… (to switch metaphors) But having read Any Which Wall, I know you can do it! Best of luck finding the balance you’re looking for. Also parenting, which even without writing is such a vast and sometimes thankless task!

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