Jen Parks Writes a Novel Part 4: Small Change
By Jen Parks, Bluegrass Writers Studio
On my writing desk sits a small piece of paper with the words, Haste does not bring success. It’s from a Chinese fortune cookie that I found on the carpet one day, along with the typical smattering of other random things I find on a daily basis around here: a lone, small black tire from a Lego set; one of Barbie’s pink high-heeled shoes; and a rolled-up and dirty sock next to a pair of Angry Birds underwear. These things alone could be a writing prompt. However, I’m not trying to prompt any kind of writing, I’m just trying to walk upstairs – which is nearly impossible to do without picking up after three small children. By the time I’ve visited the playroom and the laundry basket and reached my “upstairs” destination, I’ve nearly forgotten about what it was I needed up there in the first place, and I still have that little piece of paper in my hand.
In many ways, writing a first draft has been like this. When I began writing this novel, I had envisioned a few key scenes or events for my characters – “destinations,” if you will. In these few “scenes,” I could actually see my characters moving, I could hear how they spoke to one another, and I experienced – sometimes to the point of tears – the emotions they felt. I started writing my characters “toward” these scenes – or destinations – that were so vivid and clear in my mind, using them as talismans to guide me.
But along the way to these scenes, my characters grew to be messy children, leaving things lying around on the page, like an unexpected line of dialogue here and a new subplot there. As the parent of this novel, I have decisions to make. I realize that sometimes it’s just not always possible to pick up the line of dialogue and the new subplot and still arrive at my destination to find it exactly as I had pictured. If I explore the possibilities of where an unexpected line of dialogue or new subplot may take my characters, the novel may turn toward a different direction. Perhaps this new direction will be better than the scene or destination I had envisioned, but perhaps not. I’m starting to learn that, in a first draft, it’s nearly impossible to tell.
When I think back to the books I’ve loved, it’s easy to forget that what I read was not the author’s first draft. Chances are, he or she wrote many bad sentences and tossed out a more than a few drafts of “exploring” before the words, characters, and story were shaped into the novel I read. I forget this sometimes. I forget that the first chapter of my novel, one that I truly adore, took me months of editing and polishing. This is why, I suppose, I saved that little piece of paper and now have it propped up against the lamp on top of my writing desk. When I’m frustrated at how long it is taking me to write a chapter, or at having to write three pages of bad sentences until I get to one good one, I look at that paper and the words, Haste does not bring success, and remind myself that I will get there eventually. And one day, my novel will, too.
Published on February 05, 2015