Back sometime in 1987-89 when I was a Junior or Senior in high school, my English teacher, Miss Fisher, wrote “Writing is a process of change” on the blackboard (she was my teacher both of those years). I don’t know if she was quoting somebody else, but I’m quoting her.
I can still see the board in her classroom from my perspective – first row, just to the right of center. Miss Fisher is one of two teachers that had a lasting impact on me (the other was also an English teacher). She saw in me a love of the written word and encouraged me to participate in class (I was the definition of duck-your-head-and-hide-nerd in my school days an my English classes were always stuffed with the entire football team). She had me read aloud passages from The Canturbury Tales in Middle English as well as bits of Macbeth and Hamlet. During my senior year, she encouraged me to join the drama club and I got a part in “Our Town.”
Mostly, I remember best those words she wrote on the blackboard in her circular, looping cursive (popular among young females during the 80′s – Miss Fisher was in her mid-twenties). She said that you must always be aware that whatever you write first when you are most inspired is not what the finished product will be, but it was important to let the words flow no matter how good or bad they are when they want – need – to flow.
I got what she meant right away. Well, I thought I did. Judging by the looks of the other students, I felt I was the only one who got it. And I did.
The concept of it anyway. It was many years before I was able to put it into practice in a meaningful way.
If you take a look at my Linden Tree episodes, you’ll see my writing as it stands; raw, unedited, full of errors and unplanned. It was part of the Linden Tree experiment – to post a draft as soon as I finished writing it without even reading it once. Before I write a new episode, I read the one previous and scan the others in order to maintain some sense of continuity. I have yet to change anything.
The book I’m working on is a different beast, however. It has been subjected to change from the very start. I was given an idea from my father and ran with it a short time, writing one chapter. I set that aside for a bit while I pondered what to do with it. When I thought I had an idea, I went back, wrote two more chapters and that’s when I noticed trouble. Things didn’t fit and the chapters were all unrelated as if they were parts from different books. A plan was in order and I needed to act quick!
What happened is that I thought about what kind of story do I want to tell and can I do it? Is it a story I would want to read? A began by reading the three chapters again and cut the one that didn’t fit AT ALL. Now I have two chapters that I can wrestle with a bit to make them fit. I drew a map based on some of the basic geography I had written about. As I added features to the map, the story began to unfold like magic. I could see it all! What I thought was going to be my first chapter is going to be the second. I wrote a new first chapter that begins, “Inger was more a military outpost than a town, but the Centropolis maps insisted that Inger was a town and so it was called by all who were there.”
This book has been subjected to so much change that the original idea given to me by my dad is no longer valid – it’s the chapter that I cut. Cut, but did not discard. No, no. Never discard anything you write no matter how much you dislike it at the time (but that’s a post for another day).
I don’t see this book changing much more until the first draft is complete. The story is focused, I know what it is and where it’s going. But it will change again before I’m done, of that I’m sure – and I’m okay with that.