[lit-ideas] Re: Tasting: the preparatory text

Robert: I'm diffident about engaging Eric seriously on this point, but I'd like to suggest (meekly) that a concern with 'clarity,' analysis and 'argumentation' seems at odds with a penchant for generalizations and abstractions. And—if I dare—there would seem to be generalizations and generalizations, so to speak, as it were...


It occurred to me, while writing it, that my defense of literary blokes was itself a cluster of generalizations. So I'll offer a specific description of how I wrote my first novel.

I had a scene in mind. Don't know why it excited me, but it did. So I wrote the scene, and in writing it, found other characters that had little to do with the scene. Kept adding scenes, and by the time I had fifty pages, realized the first scene had little to do with what I wanted to write. I cut the first scene. Went on to write 200 pages, of which about 70 pages was a subplot. Soon realized that the subplot was either a stand-alone piece or part of some other novel, so I cut that. In cutting the subplot, I saw what the structure of the book would be, and wrote an outline by chapters. I posted the outline ( two 11x17 pages taped together) above my writing desk to guide me ... just enough in the outline to tell me where I was going but not enough to overdetermine the writing.

Wrote another hundred pages until I got stuck in a plot problem. Re-read the third chapter and realized I had "solved the problem" without being aware of it. Continued writing -- by this time I had 300 pages -- until I realized the outline was wrong. So instead of organizing the novel by chapters, I organized it by "days" in the plot. More cuts followed.

I reorganized the sequence of events in the opening, and made substantial changes to one of the characters. Eliminated one of the minor characters. Rewrote the first fifty pages and the last thirty pages. Added and then removed a prologue. Discovered that my story had several themes -- wasn't aware of any themes until this point. Let the manuscript in my desk for a couple months while I worked on other projects. Then started the third rewrite.

All of which is to show that writing has very little to do with a set cluster of beliefs about anything. Instead it is the process of uncovering a series of intuitions and trusting that one can make them cohere in a useful way.

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