Friday, November 18, 2005

Breaking the Rules

A lot of writers and other creative types are rebels. They live to push the envelope and break the rules, to shake things up and make people question their values. I am not one of those writers. I'm afraid I'm the quintessential good girl. I live for the rules and tend to abide by them religiously (I don't even break the speed limit, much), even when it's an arbitrary rule I made for myself whose time has gone. I get all shaky and sick-feeling at the thought of disobeying it.

Way back when I first started playing around at writing when I was in junior high school, I started a bad habit. I'd get an idea for a story, write a chapter of the book, then rewrite it, rewrite it, rewrite it, then get another idea that was more interesting (or that "starred" my newest television star/character crush) and repeat the same process. By the time I graduated from college, still with the idea that I really wanted to be a novelist when I grew up, I had dozens of single chapters, a few "books" that went all the way to two or three chapters, several plot outlines and no completed manuscripts. It was nearly two years after I graduated from college before I wrote an entire book, and I did it because I instituted the Finish The Book rule.

I wasn't allowed to go back and tinker. I had to plow on and write the whole book before I started rewriting parts of it. The idea was that if I did that, then at least I'd have a finished book, which meant I'd have something I could consider submitting. It did work. It more or less cured me of having a lot of incomplete books lying around. But by now I think the rule has outlived its original purpose. I've had six books published, with one more completed and ready for publication. Then there are about four more complete novels I've written that, for various reasons, may not see the light of day in their present form.

But I still get all shaky and feel guilty when I start thinking about breaking this rule. It doesn't help that we're in the middle of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNo), which is another one of those Finish the Book things, designed to encourage people to just write straight through to get a draft done so they can finish the book. I think, though, that it's in the best interest of the current project to break the rule.

That's because my subconscious is channeling my agent and editor. After I write a chapter, my brain starts playing with it as I fall asleep that night, and I start to realize what that chapter needs to take it to the next level and make it really come to life. I've been resisting because of the Finish the Book rule. I should plow on, I tell myself, and fix that in revisions. Finally, logic prevailed. For one thing, I HAVE to finish the book because it's already been sold. I would lose a lot of money if I didn't finish it. For another, all the publisher cares about is if it's turned in on time and is good enough to publish. They don't know or care whether I wrote a draft straight through or if I polished it along the way. It won't even make a big difference in when I finish the book. Either I make these revisions now or I make them later. The big final reason is that I know how much my writing tends to build upon itself. Something I change in an earlier chapter could end up giving me a new idea that spurs something in the book to take off in an entirely different direction.

So, I may not make my arbitrary "finish chapter X by X date" goal, but when I turn this book over to my agent after the holidays, I hope it will be a better book because I broke the rule. That means instead of plunging ahead in chapter seven, I will be working on chapter five because I got a GREAT idea that I can't wait to write.

But first I have to see the new Harry Potter movie (yes, I have my priorities). I'm a little disappointed because my neighborhood movie theater closed (again) last week, and I'd been so looking forward to one of my hike-up-the-hill adventures. For some odd reason, I enjoy something more if I walk to get there. Instead, I'll have to face the mall theater, which is dangerous because that's also where they keep the Ann Taylor Loft. It also means I have to drive, which isn't nearly as much fun as walking.

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