I hate writing; I only like rewriting. Looking at things I’ve written, I usually struggle to recall how I wrote them or where the ideas even came from. Somehow words have just appeared on the page, magically. I think this writing amnesia is similar to the kind that kicks in after childbirth — a defence mechanism because it’s so painful.
This morning I caught myself in between the godawful blank page and the ‘where did that come from’ stage? I stopped and made a conscious effort to take note of how I got from one to the other.
Two days ago, I was staring blankly at the gap between chapters seven and eight of my work in progress, where I had written put something here. Yesterday I updated that to Sidney goes to work. Maybe Mac comes in to meet her after work? Thirteen words in two days!
I have this character, Macallister, who was my protagonist Sidney’s boss in the hellhole office where she works (any resemblance to places I have worked is completely coincidental). While Sid was ‘away’ (in the psych ward) for reasons that are becoming increasingly sinister, Mac resigned from his job. Mac was off the page at the start, and I thought I’d probably delete him altogether at some stage, but there is this line about him in Sid’s thoughts that made me think perhaps he is an important character. What if something had happened between Sid and Mac just before the ECT, which wiped her short-term memory, and she doesn’t remember?
This morning, I finally did some writing. I started with dialogue — slabs and slabs of boring dialogue. I just let my characters talk to each other at the pub for a while to see what would happen. What came out of these conversations between Sid and Mac was a strong sense of unease. Sid had confided in Mac something that she can’t remember; she was afraid of something, maybe of her husband; Mac is worried about her; she dismisses his concerns, saying it had been the illness talking. There is so much tension between these two characters. Maybe they had an affair? Yes! No. But I think maybe Mac wanted to.
I uncovered clearer character motivations as I chipped off the boring bits of dialogue that didn’t create tension or reveal character. Next, I added action between the dialogue, and then description and sensory detail. I will add more setting details when I decide on a pub location and go there to do some ‘research’. I also did the pathetic fallacy thing with the weather — a wild electrical storm — reflecting the calamity that’s going on beneath my character’s skin.
Now for the fun bit: rewriting. I’ll polish, and move bits around, and then move them back, and then move them again. I’ll delete bits, and then reinstate them, and then delete them again. And again. And again. And then I’ll go onto the next section.
Having done this twice before, I trust in the process, and know that I will eventually get to the end of an entire first draft. Then I’ll rewrite the whole thing a gazillion times. It will become a blur and, in the end, I will look at the words on the page and wonder where the hell they came from.