Friday, October 19, 2012

Best, Better, Good

Writing is a bit of a backward process.

As many of you may know, I am currently working on my second book - Prayse.  It is an incredible writing adventure and requires an entirely different set of patience, research, prayer, and attention than Recess with Jesus.  It's just the nature of the beast.

Don't think, though, that I'm not loving every minute of it.  This fuels me.  But the current chapter is sucking up a lot of time as I work through, discover something new, weave it in, am blown away by the deeper implications of it, humbled by what I'm finding, stop to just catch my breath and think about how awesome our God is, go back to the writing, find some crap, edit it out, try to mesh the details of the story back together.  ...It's taking a bit.

And I have this mixture of excitement and disappointment that when I finally get it all worked out (hopefully later today?  I can't wait to share this chapter with you!), it still won't be finished.  It won't even be good.

Such is the backward process of writing.  Here's how it goes (at least for me):

It starts with an idea.  A set of notes.  A single statement in some cases.  A bit of truth that I'm looking to develop into the story.  I'll get distracted for a bit because these ideas work really well as twitter statuses, too, and I like them in nice little packages so I can't stop thinking about them.  But once I sit down to expand on the idea, I put everything I've got into making that chapter work.

However long that takes.  I'll be honest.  Sometimes, I can just spit these things out.  Other times, it's an agonizingly slow process.  It's just how it goes.  But however long it takes, I put everything into getting that chapter right.  Into doing the absolute best that I can do with it, giving it everything I've got, trying to give it everything it deserves, and put the fullness of both my style and the greater story into those words.  When I've worked out all the kinks, smoothed all the bumps, and am finally staring at something I'm proud of and I've run full out of ideas to make any improvements for the moment, I breathe a deep sigh and say, Yes.  This is the best this is going to be.  In its rawest form, when it has all of the details I was looking to include, when it works in the story, when it speaks for itself, and when it maintains the heart of the original idea and I've invested hours, days, weeks, into getting it just right, I set aside what I've got and admit: This is the best I can do with this.  It's everything I wanted it to be.

A little bit later as a new round of editing kicks in for the finished pieces, I look again at what I've got and start asking myself: how can I make this better?  Any writer can tell you this, and I'm going to say it - it doesn't matter how perfect it seemed the last time you put it away.  It doesn't matter how satisfied you were with it when you settled for its best.  It doesn't matter if you spent three hours or three months on any given piece of content.  It can always be better.  In this second stage, I focus on taking my writing from best (everything I wanted it to be) to better.  Every time.  And I'm never disappointed.

Then comes what you might call the final edit.  It's the polishing.  It's getting everything ready for that intimidating little thing called "press."  It's finding a way to commit to these words so wholeheartedly that I'm ready to put them in print and on the shelves.  In this phase, I take everything I've already made better and determine to make it good.  In my case, this often means taking out all the panicked words of an on-fire writer trying to make a powerful point and quiet things down.  It's about taking out the fire and brimstone so that my words speak softly and every bit of dynamic emphasis comes through to its full purpose.  It's about making sure my style doesn't get in the way of what I'm trying to do here.  It's about finding a way for the story to settle into itself and be.  When I can read each word and conclude, "That is good." and find myself drawn deeper into the story than even when the ideas first grasped my heart, I know it is done.

Does that mean every word is perfect?  No.  Does it mean I catch every little mistake, every small error?  No.  Does it mean that after the book comes out, I have no regrets?  No.  Every writer will tell you that no word is ever perfect, but if you're waiting around for perfect, you'll never tell your story.

So I take all my stories from best to better to good.  And when I get it down to good, I go with it.  That's just how writing is.

(The chapters I'm posting currently on the Prayse blog are between best and better.  I firmly believe that this is the crucial time to seek input.  You help me make it better.)

No comments:

Post a Comment