I’ve always been impatient. So much so, it could almost be considered pathological. I’ve had to learn patience like a religious observance, and it chafes, it does. My father is one of those people for whom the act of doing is a pleasure in and of itself. An attitude I’ve been able to emulate consistently in only one thing. He was once a gunsmith and I recall watching him—for short periods of time only, mind you—sanding a rifle stock. He’d work on it for days, running the papers in ever finer grains over the wood until he had achieved such a penetrating perfection as might be possible before moving on to painstakingly applying the varnish…ah, he was rapt. In just about everything I ever saw him do, there was a level of immersion in the process that I at first found baffling and now envy, because he really loved the doing.
I did not. I wanted the finished product, to hell with the path to it. I would always have preferred, for instance, to buy the model cars and ships and planes already completed rather than go through the essentially tedious process of assembling them. Building them did not fascinate me, it was an obstacle to what I wanted, which was the thing itself. Even among my peers, at a certain age, I found this careful, cautious approach to doing things frustrating. Get on with it! Let’s finish it!
I recognize now what I’ve missed and on some level it pains me, but the fact remains that I am not enamored of the steps between point A and the final finished object, whatever it is.
So what business do I have trying to be a writer?
Well, because—just as in my photography—I have found pleasure in the reception of the finished product, and for that reception to be worthwhile, the finished product must be of a particular quality. I have learned to appreciate the emergence of that final product as I see it improving under careful construction. I still don’t actually want to do the steps, but I’ve learned to enjoy watching the resultant improvement along the way.
I had to trick myself years ago into this state of mind, because I abhor rewrites. And yet that, for me, is where the Good Stuff happens. My first trick was to never finish a story before starting on the rewrite. I’d stop short. Somewhere in my subsconscious, the djinni of my imagination believed that it was still, somehow, a first draft. Later I no longer found that necessary, because I’d stumbled on the emergent quality aspect, even while really disliking the actual rewriting. (Perverse, yes, I know, but there you are.)
The current book I’m working on is giving me a new problem—or rather an old problem in a new guise—along these lines. I’m rushing to get to where I really want to be. Which means…
Wait. Back up. Let me explain.
That was an example. I have a core idea for the book, which is soon to be revealed, but I have to get my main character to the place where it can be revealed in such a manner that he is ready for what he discovers. He must go on a quest. He doesn’t even know he’s on one at this point. But to be effective, the events of the quest must be plausible, they must be exciting, they must ramp up the tension. And I’m rushing through these steps, impatient to get to the Cool Part.
This is where I come to another one of my little tricks. I will finish these chapters, lame as I now see them to be, and print them out. I will take them to another part of the house and go over them in pen. Then I will pick up a fountain pen and start rewriting them by hand.
Don’t ask me why, but it works. It slows me down enough that my conscious skills come to bear on the material that came out basically from my unconscious in a thick stream. I break it down, I order it, I add in what needed to be there all along.
Then I return to the computer and start rewriting. Further modifications are then made on the hand-written text. But when it’s over, the words convince, the scenes make sense, the excitement I was about to muffle under a blanket of impatience manifests.
Pain in the butt, really.
I don’t have to do this so much when I’m writing something that doesn’t have such Cool Scenes as the one I’m rushing toward, wherein the coolness comes along in due course just through the writing itself. But the last book I wrote I found myself having to do this in order to make sure I had the period right. Adding detail from the 1780s in by hand, restructuring with the new material in front of me.
I sometimes wish I were otherwise, but it’s a bit late now, and like I say I’ve learned a whole suite of tricks to make me do the work properly in spite of my urgent desire to see if finished.
One of these months I intend to try an experiment. When I was a kid I had a model of the H.M.S. Victory, the British three-masted warship. It was a beautiful, complex model, and I did not put it together. My dad did. He didn’t want to see glue runs on the hull or badly-fitted joins. He assembled it and it drove me insane because it took the better part of two weeks. But it was gorgeous.
I’ve acquired that model kit. Maybe not exactly the same one, but the same ship and it appears to be just as complex. One of these days I will clear space on my workbench and start on it and see if I can find that joy of process. I may by now have tricked myself into it. We’ll see.