Alpha and Omega

 Now that the manuscript for my second novel is finished and waiting for me to dress it up, I have time to think about writing from the forest standpoint before I venture back into the trees. I already know of several changes I want to make–scenes I want to add, description that I need to tighten up, a character that I need to introduce earlier in the story–and I look forward to rediscovering my own book. After a well-deserved break, jumping back into my story will be an often exhilarating, sometimes embarrassing, experience. I am certain there will be be parts that make me groan with disbelief over my own ineptitude, but I hope there will be more passages that strike me as more poetic than they did when I first set them down.

Over my past few days of idleness, I’ve reflected on the process that I take in composing a novel. I come from a background in retail management where I am always looking for new, more efficient ways of making a profit for my store while controlling expenses. That same exercise holds true for my writing–I continuously look for new ways to produce a cleaner manuscript, avoid repetition, and provide myself with less work during the rewrite. Now, I look back over the past few months I’ve spent on my first draft and try to pick out all the things I could have done differently. Thankfully, I see few areas of opportunity than I did after finishing my first novel, an abandoned (for now) fantasy novel that will rest quietly on my hard drive until I am famous enough to get it published.

One thing I have learned about myself as a writer is that my ideas tend to come in the same general pattern. With both my finished novels, my ideas arrived in two parts–the beginning and the end. I could see how each story would begin, imagining the first scene down to the dialogue, and how each would end. The hard part, I have found, is building the middle to link the ends together. It’s like walking along a rope bridge suspended over a raging river–full of uncertainty and only safe on either shore. When I reached the final scene in my recently completed manuscript, the words poured out of me like the waters of that river, so thankful was I to be at the end. That scene, conceived at the very genesis of the story, waited in limbo while I tread one step at a time across the bridge, not looking down.

Now that I am on a semi-hiatus (I am piddling around with a piece of fan fiction just to satisfy my own needs), I have begun thinking of what story I want to tell next. I have several candidates–a science/historical fiction piece, a thriller, and a magical realism novel are leading the pack–and in each case I have the beginning and the end already figured out. I look forward to telling each one and the many more I’ve thought about over the years, but I know when I’m beyond my stretch of shore and over the rushing water, navigating along that precarious bridge, that the real work begins.

However, that’s also when the magic begins. While writing the first and last scenes gives me a certain level of satisfaction, mostly from the act of just getting them down on disk instead of floating around in my head, that joy pales in comparison to the act of writing something that surprises even me while I’m creating it. Even finishing the work does not match the perfectly worded phrase, the particularly poignant dialogue, or the resonant simile as it springs from nothingness, flows out through my hands, and arrives neat and whole on my computer screen. Of all the feelings I have experience as a writer so far, this is the best.

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About Lee Smiley

I write things. Maybe you'll read them.
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