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Monday, January 12, 2009

first paragraphs

A number of times a day I have a thought followed by, oh, this will make a good blog post. I walk through the day writing paragraphs in my head. Some of these paragraphs are very good. Some are not. Regardless, by the time I get the kids to bed (especially when D is gone, which he was last week), I am too tired to type, and I’ve forgotten those smart paragraphs I had labored over earlier in the day. (Yes, I know I should carry a small notebook in my back pocket or invest in one of those itsy bitsy tape recorders, but I don’t.)

The result is that you have no idea what a serious blogger I am. You have no idea how often I “post.” I know that doesn’t count; I’m just groveling for a little affirmation here.

This morning I’m at the coffee shop for the first time in almost two weeks, and I feel rusty. I have a list of things I need to work on: 1. revise book, 2. finish an essay I promised an editor months ago, 3. organize teaching stuff in our radon-filled office basement, 4. prepare for AWP. (I could go on, but I don’t want to stress myself out.)

My goal with the book is to re-type the whole thing into the computer. That’s crazy, isn’t it? Crazy. It’s 97,000 words. But I haven’t looked at it, much less read it, in almost two years, and it’s time to “make it the best book it can be.” I certainly have emotional distance at this point, so I can be brutal with my prose and my scenes. And I will be brutal; I’m actually looking forward to it. But it’s difficult to begin this process because I dislike the first paragraphs of the book. I’ve always disliked them. There, I said it. Time and again, I’ve gotten hung up on these paragraphs. I’ve been obsessive about this word or that word, changing “lie” to “lying” to “lie” to “lying” a dozen times. And I know that this sort of piddling always speaks to a larger problem, a problem that screams: “These paragraphs suck!”

I know what I would tell a student if she came to me with this problem. I would say, “Skip the first paragraphs. Sometimes those are the last to be written. Come back to them.”

I’m absolutely confident that I know what I’m talking about when I doll out this kind advice. I smile and nod encouragingly. I ask my student, “Who says you have to write a book from beginning to end?”

So, I am staring at myself now and nodding encouragingly. (I look slightly foolish, as you can imagine.) But I’m ready to take my advice. I’ll come back to these paragraphs, and soon I’ll discover whether: a) I’m full of shit or b) I really know what I’m talking about. I do hope it's the latter.

10 comments:

Ines said...

You have my vote of confidence: You know what you are talking about.....

Elizabeth said...

Why not try something new and do the opposite? Start with page 1 and be methodical. Keep sipping coffee and don't think about the end. Think about the page in front of you, the beginning. And then when you're done with that, do the next.

Or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Add a shot of something alcoholic to that coffee and jump in, reckless.

In any case, intention is the beginning and you've got that. You can do it. And since your list is similar to mine, well, I guess I'd better go.

kate hopper said...

Oh, thank you Ines.

I think I will do just as you say, Elizabeth, but I'll let the first paragraphs go until later. Or maybe I just need to remember that they don't need to be THE first paragraphs, just the first paragraphs for now. I think I've psyched myself out about them.

K said...

Joel T impressed upon me the miracle powers of line-editing. It is amazing how when I read line by line, I see the micro weaknesses but the macro ones also sort out. I think you're doing the right thing.

Monica said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, too. I can relate to the "creating the perfect paragraph in your head" and not writing it down. I've written many essays in my head, only to wonder where it all went when I sit down to write. For a while I used a little notebook or scraps of paper. Occasionally I'll find the scraps but never do anything with them. "One day," I say...

Melissa said...

Oh, I think you're a just-serious-enough blogger. I always look forward to your posts, regardless of their frequency.

And I can't wait to read your book. (Well, I guess technically I'll have to wait, so I will, but you know what I mean.)

Mardougrrl said...

Hee. I do the same thing (with blogging)...first sentences come into my mind, but precious few of them actually get written. One of my goals this year is to start carrying around that infamous writer's notebook again. Lord knows, I need the boost.

We should SOOOOOO have coffee soon!

And I am confident enough in your writing for both of us. ;)

Kara said...

Oh, yes, write in my head a lot. I do this in bed before I'm ready to get up or while walking the dog and sometimes this helps when I finally get to the computer and sometimes I'm frustrated I can't remember all the brilliant thoughts I had. That said, you should, indeed, take your own writing advice, because as one who has taken it, it IS very good!

kyra said...

oh, it IS the latter!

skip those paragraphs. take your own wonderful advice. type the whole damn ms into your laptop and start at the third paragraph. i bet before you get to 8,000 words you'll have new insight into the beginning.

i bet.

kate hopper said...

Okay, your confidence in me seems to be working. I was able to pound out a new prologue and began the book anew. Yippee for now. I'll keep you posted.