Butterflies keep turning up in my work, as you can see even from the cover art (and titles!) of What Can't Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly. Recently I saw a beautiful photograph on Flickr* that got me thinking about what it might mean that I keep seeing butterflies in the inkblots of my characters' worlds.
It has to do with obvious things, like my iron-clad optimism. I like (and need) the notion of change and growth. Of breaking out of confined spaces. Of surprise. After all, I believe no one is more surprised by transformation than the butterfly himself.
But there is something more to the butterfly thing. Fragility. Flight. Upward movement. Silence. The ephemeral.
That seems to be the direction the butterfly theme is taking in novel #3, which is darker still than The Knife and the Butterfly. The butterflies in my WIP seem to be a kind of negative image, their absence marked out by the contours of events. I think maybe I am the only one who will see them, gathered in the shadows.
*"Rorschach" by Robby Cavanaugh. It's not available for reposting via CreativeCommons, but it is so worth the click. Go on, click. You won't be sorry.
It's a new year, and you are looking to start things off right. Set some goals, sure, but most of all, go write. Here's a tried-and-true idea you can use.
Take a break from structure and write blind (literally, if you can touch type). Set a timer for 10 minutes and write without stopping, not worrying about punctuation or even making sense. Repeat words if you get stuck; there’s no wrong way to do this.
Your goal is to get to a state where your internal editor can’t block anything (some people call this “automatic writing”). Just write—riding emotions, not worrying if anything is “okay” or not. When the timer goes off, look at what you’ve written. Most of it will be gibberish, but you may well have tricked yourself into writing a gem of an image or revealing a raw emotion that you can graft onto a character. If nothing jumps out as immediately useful, file it away and come back to it later. You might see something different then. If nothing else, you'll be surprised at just how weird your brain can be when unmonitored.
This may work best first thing in the morning when your brain is closest to that crazy underworld of dreams. For optimal results, try the exercise every day for a week.
For me a first draft is like that impossibly slow climb to the top of a roller coaster... a roller coaster from hell that keeps getting higher and higher so that you spend WEEKS thinking, I'm almost there... I'm just scenes away... I'm almost there... a few more clicks and clacks...
But... it doesn't go on forever. I have finally finished a rough draft of novel #3, which has been on my heart and mind for years and has been on my desk for the past ten months. For me, that last word of the first draft is only the beginning, the moment before the drop on the roller coaster. It's exhilerating and terrifying.
is a beast, weighing in at over 170,000 words. (All those words will not, I assure you, survive into the final version.) Now the manuscript is in the hands of my most-trusted beta reader, and I pray she will wield all her numerous swords--Blade of Efficiency, Exwordilur, Scenecutter, Adverbbiter, Enemy of Infodump, Bane of Flashbacks, and Claritybringer are some of the weapons in her arsenal--to help me hack off the unnecessary limbs of my monster and uncover the leaner, meaner badass of a book within.
And that's how I see a draft: it's not the book, it's what I'm going to build the book out of. The material is rough as hell, but it'll do for a start. It'll more than·do, I hope.
In fact, as someone who once obsessed over the placement of every modifier, I see roughness as a sign of progress. I surprised myself with this project by learning to put plot first. I might have overwritten (okay, I definitely did), but I wrote faster than I ever have before, cranking out over 200,000 words in a year.
Working fast and rough means I'm learning the difference between drafting and writing. The former is when I put words on the page toward the story I want to tell. The later is when my words take on a life of their own. I'm putting my inner bitch of an editor in her place (for the record, that is in a dark closet with duct tape over her mouth). Soon she'll have her day.
Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame has said, "if you love your first draft, it probably sucks." This is precisely the kind of unhelpful remark that can be crippling and panic-inducing for a writer. Loving a first draft doesn't mean that you think you're done or that it's perfect. God, no. It means you see what it wants to become, and if you don't love that, what the hell is the point of taking the plunge for it?
I'm not afraid to say it: I love my first draft enough to fight to make it a novel.