Confession: when I was in high school, I failed my drivers’ test six times. There was the damned horse and buggy, plodding down the middle of the road that first time. I sat there in the drivers’ seat, hands clenched to the wheel like bird claws. There was a line of traffic all the way around the block, punching a Morse code of car-horn curses out into the air and the instructor, hidden behind enormous aviators, smiled and shook his head. There was the time of the hypothetical pedestrian…the time of the wrong lanes…the time I ran over the curb or the time I was so nervous that I forgot to look in the mirrors for the whole trip. I’ve been thinking a lot about those slow, defeated trips home from the drivers’ test. Each time I knew that if I didn’t pass soon, I would have to start over again.
The other day, after a particularly frustrating experience of rejection, I started to think. (Actually, if I’m being honest, I ate some cheesecake and watched some 30 Rock re-runs, because this is the all-time best remedy for disappointment. But saying “I started to think” just sounds way more avant-garde artiste…or something.) And you know what? It was totally productive, because I had an epiphany and it’s all because of Jack Donaghy and his awesomeness. No, really, I mean it. And not just because I have a crush on Alec Baldwin. It just so happens that in this episode, Jack loses his position as CEO, but he climbs his way back to the top by getting a job in the mailroom.
Okay, bear with me. This all makes sense, I swear.
For some reason, it got me thinking about my novel. No, really, this time I actually was thinking and not ogling Alec Baldwin. I’m rewriting this novel for the third time. Why? Because it just didn’t feel quite right the last time. Maybe I’m a tad insane (aren’t we all?), but when I write another draft, I don’t like to cut and paste or edit what I already have. I read each chapter and then type it out in a new document or write it again in a notebook without looking at it. For some reason, the act of starting fresh makes all the important pieces stand out in my mind. Aspects of the novel that I forget just fall away, because they weren’t really that important to the story anyway.
I guess you could say the blank page is my mailroom. Sure, it’s not quite where I want to be. Most of the time, it’s dark and filled with grumbling and a lot of papers everywhere. But the thing is, I know that this is where I need to be. After all, I did eventually pass my driving test. (If this terrifies you more than comforts you, this is totally understandable). But it stands to reason that if someone who had to start over so many times can still succeed, we are all capable of our aspirations. So make peace with the mailroom, because it’s only the first stop on the way to the top.
Have you ever gone back to the mailroom?
Going back to the mailroom is what’s taken me so long in completing this book. Between Draft 2 and Draft 3, I scrapped 3/4 of the plot, changed the main male character almost completely, but kept the other characters and world. This draft is moving along tightly, with a few things scraped off, but doing well. I do copy and paste a few things in now and then, as a basis to begin with. However, I usually try to start fresh and clear my mind.
Sounds like we’re going through the same thing 🙂 I just scrapped a bunch of my plot and it seems to be moving along better. Do you find that you work from an outline or write as you go?
(I’m curious, because I’m kind of experimenting with both).
I do a little of both. I keep an overall outline of what needs to happen when, what plot twist to reveal when, but try not to get detailed. Details, I find, bog me down and don’t allow enough creativity in the moment. So, once I have a general outline, then I write as I go.
That sounds like a good idea!
“For some reason, the act of starting fresh makes all the important pieces stand out in my mind. ”
This makes perfect sense to me, and I think it’s how my mind works too. I’m doing a bit of a re-write now.
Also, bonus points to you for the 30 Rock references 🙂
Lauren, this is a wonderful comparison! And I frickin’ love that you refer to cheesecake & 30 rock as “I started thinking”. It’s totally legit: ideas are connections and the products of thoughts inspired by things outside of us.
Yes, I feel like I have gone back to the mailroom. To be honest, every revision feels a little bit like that. But so does starting a new book (at least, in the situation where I am now: working on multiple books before the first is published).
I love your voice! Looking forward to more good posts and writing! 🙂
Thanks! A startling amount of my thinking sessions involve cheesecake…
I agree that starting a new book is like going back to the mail room 🙂
How many books do you have on the go right now?
Well, I’m not sure how many of them are “going” right now (ha), but I have one novel I’m getting close to submitting to agents; a sequel outlined; a third, totally-unrelated novel in early planning stages; and finally, an illustrated book called The Good Karma Project. If interested, I talk about each a little more on my proper website (julieisrael.com).
You mentioned a novel in this post– do you have any more about it posted? Is it still in development stages?