As I mentioned to my advisor in one of the five writing packets of the semester, it's like writing a novel as a serial or at least it's working on a first draft with at least one person watching you.
It's an interesting way to do things. You get constant feedback and discussion and have opportunities to discuss--in writing--plot points, themes and characters. For me, it's proving to be a very positive experience.
Writing and Reading
Reading and critical analysis of other books is a significant part of the effort as well, and as you know if you come here often, I've been doing a lot of that too. I heard going into the program that it's a little like that old Far Side Cartoon in which a scientist has an equation sprawled across his blackboard. Numbers and symbols lead step by step through a theory up to step 4 which reads: "Then a miracle occurs."
It's not quite a miracle, but there is something in the process that brings enlightenment, and it's not easy to define. It's not just reading and writing, which I've always done. It's the mixture, with the analysis and the discussion and the periodic gatherings for residencies, which are kind of like extended coffee houses with clusters of writers.
Somewhere around that last packet, it really hit me, and it exorcised some of those demons that torment all of us with fingers on keyboards.
In part, I was reading a book, and a good one, by an author I've known for sometime. I don't think he likes me very much, but that doesn't really matter. It might not matter that I know him, but perhaps it did, knowing he's a flesh and blood guy and not a theoretical Great Writer laboring somewhere with quill and cup of tea.
As I read, I had the epiphany -- the brilliance wasn't all accomplished in the first draft. Every supporting character wasn't as crisp and multi-faceted the first time around. The action at the midway point didn't fall right into place at first. The plot probably wasn't as perfect and precise as he wound things up.
But he got there. He finished the race with a hell of a novel, an achievement both popular and literary, entertaining and thematically rich.
"Forgive yourself your first draft," my advisor told me as we had coffee in one of our official meetings as the semester began.
It's something I've learned even Wilkie Collins might have said. Apparently there was a serious plot/timeline issue with the serialized magazine version of his brilliant page-turner The Woman in White. That was corrected when the story was published in book form but speaking of working in public...What a challenge that must have been.
I knew that fact about first drafts. I've lived through that before, but now I KNOW it, and I understand it in fresh ways, and it's coupled with all of the discussion of character development and through stories that have come from the the time in the trenches the last few months.
It's an interesting journey. My feet are tired, but I will keep walking, because there another half a dessert to cross, one step at a time.