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Why writing fiction can take awhile

Posted by on March 17, 2006

Ever wonder about a writer who hopes to put out one or two good pages a day? I did. I can type a hundred words a minute. That’s three pages right there.

That didn’t change when I started writing fiction. The words flowed. They weren’t good words, but they flowed.

Now this happens: I’m rewriting the first chapter of the book. The scene is this: an old man wakes up muzzy with alcohol in the middle of the day, getting himself ready for a family meeting that he knows will be unpleasant:

He padded through the bedroom on the thick, white carpet. On impulse, he veered to his wife’s bedside table and pulled open the drawer. Steno pad and pencils, keys, the thin leather watch strap with the broken wristband, mints, a pirated “Gastown Gang” pinback badge from Japan, the four kids grinning idiotically at Edgar.

While rewriting this chapter, I considered adding another paragraph after the second sentence. Edgar, the cartoonist, had lost his first wife three years before. His current wife has been there only a few months, and opening the drawer on his wife’s side of the bed would be an opportunity to compare and contrast the two women, reveal more about his personal situation and add a little emotional weight to the chapter.

Fine. I stared at the sentences and wondered what would go there. I had to make a few decisions:

* What did his first wife have in the drawer? We don’t know much about Constance, except that she and Edgar were happily married, and that Edgar relied on her for ideas and suggestions for the comic strip. Was she religious and she’d have a Bible there? A collection of phamplets from the church? Letters secreted from another lover? A vibrator? Books of crossword puzzles?

* Once that’s settled, what should be Edgar’s reaction? Well, we know some of that in the following paragraphs, but that would be a plot spoiler. Let’s just say he has a reason to look in the drawer. But does the reader need to know anything more about him?

* And now that I think about it, does the contents in the drawer accurately reflect Elena’s personality (she’s the new wife). When I wrote this paragraph a year ago, I did it in the throes of creation, without considering this question.

So, in order to write this new material to my satisfaction, I have to decide what two women would keep in their bedside drawers and if Edgar would have any reaction to it (he has a lot on his mind at the moment).

Figuring this out and then putting it into the proper form could take me a half-hour to an hour, which explains why a writer could spend a day trying to construct three pages of prose that is satisfying.

One Response to Why writing fiction can take awhile

  1. Gina Holmes

    I’ve spent weeks on one stupid page. Somedays the words flow like honey and sometimes like setting tar.