(* Not National Memoir Writing Month)
Last I posted, I’d just finished writing a 75,000 word draft of a novel during National Novel Writing Month, using the ABC method of writing: Apply Butt to Chair. I was working on the second draft, when I realized that real life events were once again telling me that I had to write another memoir. Because I’d been reminded that it was possible for me to write 75,000 words in a month, and because it had felt so good to do so, I decided to do it again.
Before Nanowrimo, I’d forgotten how much you have to write – and how much you have to scrap – in order to get to the point. It took me a year to write the first draft of my first book, which was a series of interconnected true stories about my life from the ages of seven to thirty-four called HOW I BECAME THE GIRLBOMB. When I finished the manuscript – it was about 75,000 words, as I recall – I tried to get it published, but nobody really cared about how whoever became whatever. “The shelter stuff, though,” they thought was interesting.
So I scrapped the whole 350 page manuscript, and started over with a new draft, a straight narrative covering the shelter stuff. I was only able to use maybe six pages of the first draft in the second. But I had to write all 350 of them to get there.
I attended a workshop with Stephen Elliott the other week. Stephen is the author of two of my favorite books, HAPPY BABY and THE ADDERALL DIARIES; it was profoundly helpful to listen to him talk about how he wrote them. He said, “You write a ton of pages, and then you cut ninety percent of it.”
This is such great and liberating advice: Just write a bunch of shit, and then pan it for gold. It doesn’t have to be good; you’re going to change it anyway. Write a lot, because writing begets writing -- the more you write, the easier it gets, and the better you get at it. The more hours I write, the more inspired I become. I used to think that sentence only worked in reverse. Write so much that you wear yourself out, and you can’t perform any of your old, adorable tricks anymore. It may take you 350 pages to clear your throat, but at least you will have found your voice.
Anyway, here I am again, sitting on a pile of pages, scrapping them all. Putting aside one hundred percent of what I’ve written, trusting that the top ten percent will creep back in. I started the second draft on Tuesday; already I can feel how different this draft will be, how much improved. And I couldn't have got here without going there.
(Note: Stephen Elliott will be leading another session of the workshop mentioned above on March 11 at the LGBT Center in New York -- you can register for it here.)