Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Relationship Between Crap and Writing

"Woman Writing a Letter" by Pierre Duval-lecamus from

Lately, I've been freelancing for Rise Up and Tu Ciudad magazines. In the space of two weeks, I've learned about custom motorcycles and cars, HIV/AIDS, libraries, city government, Hindu weddings and World of Warcraft. Not only does the diversity of subjects take me out in the world (as opposed to staying in the one in my head), the money's good as I write my 8th book.

Dude, that's like admitting you have 8 kids and none of them were adopted.

Anyway, I realized this morning while the Little Dude and I were watching cartoons that it's earth day or earth week or something like that. A few years ago, I became a green writer by recycling my ink cartridges, using the "track changes" feature in Word as opposed to printing an entire 400-page manuscript and proofing it. Although I still do that occasionally, I make up for it by recycling the paper by printing on both sides of page.

But all this green stuff got me thinking about the seemingly waste of words that happens when you write like I do, which means that you go through six, seven and eight drafts of a book until it's ready to go. But when I was interviewing Jose Aponte, the director of the San Diego County Library, he gave me a great quote: "Power is like manure. The more you spread it around, the more successful you'll be."

Words are the same way. Crappy drafts invariably lead me to the good stuff, which is why I write as fast as humanly possible when I start the first draft. As I'm writing, I know its crap. The sentences are stilted and the pages are usually lines and lines of dialogue. But I've learned to accept it and just keep going because eventually I'll get it right by discovering a character's motivation or stumbling on an action or thought that makes a scene come to life. There are passages of my books that survive from draft one to the final book (the first scene of Hot Tamara was just wordsmithed from first draft to final copyedit). There are also passages that I lift from my earlier, will-be-destroyed-upon-my-death books that I like to call my organ donors.

But every "wrong" word and dead-end scene or subplot are the manure for a more colorful, resonant story. In short, when you stall out and have to start again, please don't think you've wasted time and energy. You, in the words of Thomas Edison "...have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Oh and I should tell you that this Saturday, Margo Candela, Jamie Martinez and I will be at the California Comadrazo. Check it out.

But if you can't make it, spend the day before Mother's Day with us at ChimMaya Gallery on Saturday, May 10th.


Erica Orloff said...

I am amazed at what rises to the surface after a round of crap.


J.K. Mahal said...

Great post, Mary. Love the Aponte quote.

Adriana said...

Good for you for freelancing. I agree... if you find the right assignments, the money isn't bad at all.