There's a little known secret we writers like to keep to ourselves, because we fear that if word got out, readers would immediately become disillusioned and abandon us. It's not as bad as a reviewer spoiling a twist in the plot of a book, I suppose. Those people should be tarred with onion dip, feathered with potato chips and released to a crowd of hungry football fans on the day of the Super Bowl. But it is a little like the magician showing you how he fooled you.
Here's the secret: stories are rarely written from beginning to end without rough spots along the way.
This might sound obvious, but if you're a good writer it should never be obvious to the reader. Your stories should read seamlessly. I know the process is anything but seamless. Piecing Frankenstein's monster together was less daunting. You've got stitches all over the page. Scotch tape. Different colored inks. Scribbles in the margins. Stop and goes. And this is your third draft. But after that final draft, all of this must be invisible to the reader.
What you should take away from this is the understanding that you have incredible freedom as a writer. No one has to ever see your early drafts, your wastepaper basket full of crumpled paper, that climax that was so ingenious when you first thought of it but turned out to be a cliché on the page. Those are yours to keep. No one need ever read them.
The process doesn't have to be painful, either. In fact, if you remove some of the constraints you place on yourself as a writer, it can be down right enjoyable. For instance, you don't always have to write a story from beginning to end. Connie Willis likes to write her endings first, then write the story back toward the beginning. Jeffrey Deaver prefers to spend months working out every detail of his story in an outline, with specific places for twists. Dean Koontz, who used to outline his stories, now lets his characters provide the impetus for his books. He follows along behind and lets himself experience surprise much as his readers will.
Every writer has to find what works best for him. And every writer has to understand that what works best for this story might not work best for the next. Don't be afraid to experiment. Don't be afraid to let go and see where it takes you. (This will, of course, be easier if you stuff a dirty sock into the mouth of that little editor sitting on your shoulder. You know who I'm talking about. He's the one who never has anything nice to say. So do that now. Dig out a dirty sock and use it.)
What I'd like you to take away from this is the comfort that a word on a piece of paper (or on a computer screen, for that matter) is not the same as a word etched in stone. It's okay to work on the description of a character until you get restless, then toy with the opening sentence or try reworking the dialogue in that early scene. It's okay to toss out pages, try different words, add scenes. Tinkering goes hand-in-hand with creativity.
And again -- no one will ever know.
It may resemble Frankenstein's monster to you, but all the reader will see is a living, breathing story.
Just don't forget to pull the stitches before you're finished.
Copyright © 2005 David B. Silva
About David: David B. Silva has written eight novels. His most recent, All The Lonely People, is published by Delirium Press. He's awaiting the release of The Hawke Legacy, a novel of epic horror, from Subterranean Press. His short fiction has appeared in The Year's Best Horror, The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, and The Best American Mystery Stories. In 1991, he won a Bram Stoker Award for his short story, The Calling. Visit his site, The Successful Writer (http://thesuccessfulwriter.com)