I once read a great science fiction story (don’t remember where, sorry), about a man fascinated with Shakespeare. He’d read once that Shakespeare wrote only one draft of his plays – they simply came out perfect on the first try. Somehow, this Shakespeare fan stumbled on a time machine, and, volume of plays tucked under his arm, went to visit Shakespeare and see this amazing feat up close. He arrived to find a disheveled guy in Elizabethan garb hunched over an ink-stained page with line after line crossed out and rewritten, clearly tearing his hair out over the whole inspiring process. The visitor, sorely disappointed, explained to Shakespeare who he was and how he’d gotten there. He showed him the book of plays, and expressed regret that Shakespeare wasn’t as automatically inspired as he’d been led to believe.
Shakespeare, no dummy, listened to all this, then promptly killed the visitor with a letter opener, or some such thing. He then took that hefty book of plays from the dead man’s hand and proceeded to copy it out onto a new, clean sheet of paper – not one ink blot or crossed out line spotting the page.
So much for the idea that anyone’s perfect on the first draft. This comes up often when I’m asked about brainstorming as part of the writing process. No matter what tools you bring to the table, you’re going to need to brainstorm, because you can never write without thinking. And that’s what brainstorming is – thinking, letting your mind make connections.
I like that one, you probably guessed, because of that Shakespeare story. I wish I could remember now who wrote it, but it was one of those that really stuck with me. It’s the quintessential writer’s story, because if others are anything like me, they’re always struggling with the ideal of perfection. Someone asked me the other day if I fall in love with my story when I write it, or if I see all the flaws in it. Both. Both! I do fall in love, because I think you need to love it to stick with it long enough to give it life. But then I’m away from it, and I start to see all the flaws – I guess I fall out of love, you could say, and become that nit-picky relative no one wants to have around. This is where my amazing editor comes in. She has that second pair of eyes that helps me see it a little more clearly. And now that I’ve seen how she works, and how much better she made Zebra Forest, I’ve learned to trust her ear even more. And so while I never give up that “I wish it were perfect the first time I write anything down” dream, I have to admit I’d probably not even believe in it, and proceed to take it apart, piece by piece, just to make sure. Thank goodness for good editors, is all I can say about that!