Working on a book that I know I don’t have to finish is one of the most creative things that’s ever happened to me.
Basically, I’m playing around with a ridiculous story that’s fun to write and probably not publishable. That means that all the tension, all the pressure, is gone with this story because it’s not the one I’m officially writing, it’s really almost a conversation with you all, definitely a conversation with myself. And that means that I can stand to one side and observe the process I’ve been struggling with for over twenty years as a fiction writer. The lessons I’ve had to learn over and over again, smacking my head into the keyboard, are emerging effortlessly this time, like old friends stopping by to remind me how this works.
Like Use It All. Stuff bubbles up to the surface and I used to think “That doesn’t fit” or “I should save that for later” or “I don’t know what that means.” Doesn’t matter. Write it anyway. If it turns out to be useful later, great. If it doesn’t, I got it out of my head. I have no idea why Nita is drunk in the first scene. I’m not worried about it. The reason will either emerge or I’ll take it out in the rewrite. It showed up in the scene, I used it, moving on now.
That ties in with something Ron Carlson, a great teacher and writer, taught me: Don’t Look Down. Back when I was explaining why I couldn’t write this, I mentioned that I didn’t know anything about running a nightclub, about LA, about police departments, yadda yadda. I forgot and looked down, which Carlson taught us never to do. He talked about writing a scene where a character is in the British Library and he realized he didn’t know anything about the British Library, so he stopped. And then he thought, “Don’t look down, keep going,” because he could find out about the British Library later. There are a million things I don’t know about this book, but I’m not looking down because I don’t have to. I’ll probably never finish it anyway, why screw up a good time by worrying about something I’ll never have to deal with? Besides, I probably can deal with it. I’m really good at this stuff.
And then there’s Embrace Sticky Time. There’s a time at the start of a story that’s just marvelous fun because everything I see and hear either sticks to the story or slides off and becomes irrelevant. It’s like one of those special effects in the movies where all the parts rush together and make something new, Ironman or some other intricate thing forming before my eyes, except it’s all moving in slow motion, like drifting through space and gathering things up. I don’t know what Nita’s apartment looks like, but I saw a picture on the net that’s the place where Nick’s living so I grabbed that as it floated past me, and suddenly I was writing scenes there and collaging in things that I saw in the scenes. I didn’t know I needed two evil henchmen until I saw a picture of the Trump sons and thought, “Oh, yeah, they’re in there.” Food, music, the cold in the air, the election, a you tube video on heists, something somebody said . . . this story is amazingly sticky and so much fun because of it. Fun is good. Embrace the fun.
It’s important to become a packrat during Sticky Time because it leads (if I’m lucky) directly into Magic Time which is when the world of the story begins to take on a glow. It’s not just that the characters are talking in my head all the time–there’s always somebody talking in there, my voices are constant and varied–it’s that I can see the people and the places and I hear them and I need to write down just that part, that snippet I got that turns into five hundred or two thousand words because, hey, Use It All. I know I’ve moved into Magic Time when I put down the TV remote–and I LOVE story on TV–because I’d rather be with the story in my head than with the characters I love on the screen. That’s the big rule here: Let go of reality and Move into the Magic. Reality will always be there, lurking in the background, but when the story world takes that first golden breath and rises like the dawn, I damn well better go toward the light.
In the past, I’ve had to learn those things over and over again, but this time, since this isn’t a real book, since this is just me having fun, I saw them coming and thought, “Oh, yeah, I remember you, how’ve you been?” and kept writing. Which is leading me to believe that maybe I should just retire and stop taking myself so seriously.
I could probably write a lot of books that way.
1. Use it all.
2. Don’t look down.
3. Embrace sticky time.
4. Move into the magic.