We write. We revise.
Go Greyhound and Leave the Driving to Us. I used to take the Greyhound Bus every summer from Corpus Christi to Uvalde, Texas to visit my relatives. I loved the bus, the people who rode the bus all seemed to have a story, and they often wanted to tell it if you sat next to them. Pretty much every rider on that bus was a character, a true life character. When Katie Scott Crawford, author of the beautiful historical novel Keowee Valley, invited me to blog about the writing process as part of the virtual bus tour traveling across the country, that old silver bus with the long thin greyhound sprinting across its side came to mind, and I was happy to oblige my Southern friend. Katie and I met at our grad school, Vermont College of Fine Arts. We roomed together, we workshopped together and we hiked together. We climbed one of the tallest mountains in Montpelier together. Tall, as in 250ft elevation gain. We became fast friends because of our mutual love for hiking, although we usually do a little more altitude. But hiking is part of my writing process. Nothing like a hike to open my mind, to solve a stuck spot in a story, to work through the three dimensions of a character. Walking, climbing, moving my legs jiggles the mind and loosens up ideas. I often get up from my desk and work through something that just doesn’t want to come to me when my butt is stuck to my chair. I go out into the world and meet my characters face to face. Like that Greyhound bus. Besides hiking and walking, I sit at my desk or with my notebook and let the story unfold on its own. Getting through my first draft resembles the Greyhound bus tag line, “Leave the Driving to Us”. I let my subconscious mind take over at the wheel. I’m just the typist for the first draft. Like the bus trip, I don’t know all the stops along the way, and that’s rather exciting. I get off, find surprises, postcards and new fangled souvenirs to take with me. In my writing of the first draft, I believe in taking tangents, in veering off from what I think may be the main highway. It’s on the side roads, the small towns I’ve never heard of that I find the most interesting shops/subjects to explore. On the second draft it’s more of an express bus with very few stops, if any, to my destination. But that first draft is really a road trip with an unknown destination for me. It’s as though I bought a open ticket and I get on and off until I realize I have reached where I knew I was going all along. This is my favorite part of the writing process: believing in the story, that it will rise from the characters on the bus with me. The stops we make, the new characters that get on and off, the places we see, all of this fodder will arrive at one destination together. I always write one whole draft of a book before I share it with anyone. I valued my workshops over the years, and my 2nd draft readers’ opinions I take very seriously, but I can’t show my work to anyone until I’ve taken that first bus ride. I teach in the same way. I’m working with the Revisionistas in this blog this fall to look at their novels in completed form. I work one-on-one with my students at NY State Writers Institute reading their complete drafts 300 pages at a time. And I edit complete manuscripts. It’s hard to write a complete book, so before going back and revising, I think it’s important to know what it’s about, to discover the ending and theme of the journey before revising the bits and pieces along the way. Otherwise, you never get out of the station. But when I do reach my destination, I buy a return trip ticket and get started on that second draft right away, revisiting/revising all the places and people I’d met along the way. But, I believe everyone’s got a different process and no one way is the right way. And not even one way is the right way for one person. Someone dear to my heart, someone who I take the train up the coast to meet in an old cafe to write first drafts for hours on end, is getting on at the next stop on this Virtual Bus Tour Blog. Meredith Resnick is the brilliant and creative mind behind The Writers [Inner] Journey. Perhaps you’ve already heard of her blog as it has gained a cult following. A worthy station to step off the bus and check out is her interviews and essays and exploration on the writing life. I’ll turn the steering wheel over to Meredith now. Safe literary travels! I hope we meet again along the road. (So sorry for all the bus puns. Just too irresistible.)