my stones have a 2 bird minimum

I love efficiency. Love it. When I play video games or clean my house or go shopping or cook or move or do CSS or anything, efficiency is the watch word.  Everything must be done in the most time and resource conserving way. There are few happinesses as great as finished off a day’s work an hour ahead of when you were scheduled to thanks to efficient use of materials and time.

This love of efficiency has served me well in many areas of my life, especially in my professional career. In writing, however, it is a constant source of frustration. Writing, you see, is not an efficient art. Oh, there are efficiencies in storytelling, like making sure every scene is serving as many purposes as possible, or using a conversation to shed light on several secrets at once (As the title says, for my scenes, my stones have a 2 bird minimum). But writing, the act in itself, is not and can not be efficient. This is because the act of writing a novel is what programmers call a wicked problem; you don’t know how to solve until you’ve solved it.

I plan my novels out pretty thoroughly, but anyone who’s ever gotten through a book will tell you that a plan rarely survives the first encounter with the enemy. Writing is idea based, and the author, as a human, has no control over when the best ideas will come. More often than not, I think of a better way to write a scene right after I’ve written it, or right in the middle of writing it, or when I’m writing an entirely different scene 50 pages later. Sometimes I’ll write a scene just as planned only to realize that, thanks to this brilliant idea I had two weeks ago, the scene is now irrelevant or redundant or plain stupid. Often I only realize this when I’m knee deep in the scene, when it’s far too late for even the pretense of efficiency.

If I were being really efficient with writing, I would have those brilliant ideas at the beginning and plan all the little fallouts ahead of time. You can see how this is impossible. Writing, at least for me, is as chaotic as the creative bursts that inspire it, and yet, I feel it is infinitely improved by that chaos. At the same time I’m ripping out my hair over the week I’ve lost writing a chapter that I’ve just realized is irrelevant, I’m happy, because the book is better without that chapter. Some of the best scenes in my books are the ones I never planned, never even knew existed until I was neck deep in an unsolvable problem and then, there, rising from the murky depths of the subconscious, was the perfect, shining solution, and all it would take to implement is going back and rewriting three chapters at the beginning… again.

After three books, I’m still struggling to let the efficiency go, and just accept that any novel I undertake will not be an efficient process. It will be messy and broken and I’ll have to redo about 120% of it, and these things are not failures, they’re just the nature of the beast. I don’t think I’ll ever embrace this completely. There’s a nasty little part of me that thinks this time, this novel, it will be different, and maybe someday it will be, but probably not today.

1 Response to “my stones have a 2 bird minimum”

  1. August 23, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Efficiency is not doing grammatical edits in the first draft. You’re going to change every other sentence anyway. Who cares if there is a comma splice in a paragraph you may very well delete?

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