A Writer’s Journal, Day #1058
Okay, Day Three. Momentum is strong and I will hit it hard again today. (If you’re just tuning in, please scroll back to the prior two posts—yesterday and the day before—to see what this is all about.)
Though Resistance is monumental, at least for me, when I get close to the end of a project, there is one happy tailwind (beyond knowing exactly what the beats of the story have to be) and that is that in the climax to anything there’s no time for digression or description or exposition. It’s pedal to the metal all the way. Momentum, momentum, momentum.
A couple of thoughts:
In these posts I sometimes like to come clean about my inner fears and failings. The reason I do this is because I think such confessions are helpful to younger writers, who might fall into the trap of being too hard on themselves or holding themselves to some impossibly high standard, which then becomes a form of Resistance and beats them down unnecessarily. So, just so you know, even a grizzled salt like me screws up all the time and has to learn the same lessons over and over and needs to reach out for help—and does. To wit:
The draft I’m working on now is, I think, about the thirteenth. So a massive amount of work has gone into this thing already—except for the final fifth, which is brand-new. Why? Because I gave the prior draft to my most excellent friend/editor/publisher/agent, Shawn Coyne (who was the original publisher of The War of Art), and he had the gall of offer some great ideas.
I’ve been wrestling this alligator for almost three years, beating my brains out on the question, “What is this thing about? What’s the theme?” After all that time, I still couldn’t articulate it. But Shawn wrote me a long e-mail, with two paragraphs that nailed it exactly—and showed me that I had to change the ending. I had to redo the final fifth.
Flashback: this is the THIRD rethink so far. Two prior reboots were from Page One. What point am I trying to make? That this stuff is hard. I haven’t finished a book yet that didn’t have at least one false start–and that didn’t profit from major input from friends, editors, agents and colleagues. Every time this happens, my ego receives a severe drubbing. Oh no, you mean I can’t do this all by myself? No, Steve, you can’t—and neither could Hemingway or Joyce (well, maybe Joyce) or anybody.
My last novel (2007) was a WWII story called Killing Rommel. I worked on the screenplay version with another good friend, Randall Wallace (Braveheart and the upcoming Secretariat). Before we’d gotten five minutes into discussing how the book had to change to become a movie, Randy hit on a total story screw-up on my part. In the book I killed off the most interesting character before the main action adventure even began. “Code Blue!” Get the paddles! The story got twice as good the second we brought that character back to life.
It’s so easy to get too close to something. We work so hard sometimes that we can’t see what’s right in front of us. That’s why I’m doing the last fifth of this book over—and why it’s all brand-new to me.
And so to work.