Monday, May 10, 2010

Almost Perfect

The other day I picked my first roses from the garden. This one was particularly stunning and yet it wasn't perfect. Two of the petals were slightly sunburned, but I didn't for a moment think about tossing this flower. Instead, those brown tinges were a part of its beauty. And it occurred to me that here was a perfect metaphor for those stories that are unfolding in my head.

I want to put them on the page so they're as beautiful and as colorful and exciting as possible.

Will they ever be perfect?

Should I stew about each word or phrase or plot point?

Should I get it done?

That first draft needs to be down, then with each rewrite, the story can unfold and become the almost perfect story if not the perfect one I want it to be.

So I returned to my desk, set this rose next to my computer and wrote. When I finished what I hope will be one more chapter, I'd connected my ghost with my MC. Here she is, a draft, a line of words, not perfect, but started.

"I close my eyes and wish I could sleep and not think about anything for a while, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, I wind up on my back staring at the ceiling until, outside, the light shifts from afternoon to early evening, and shadows slip down the walls and creep across the floor. 

When the last flicker of light dips behind the mountains, my bedroom windows darken to mirrors and reflect the jumble of boxes I still haven’t touched.
It’s only a ripple across the glass. Something that’s outside? I sit up, sniffing. Roses. The hair along my arms stands out like it’s been electrified as the sweet smell I remember from summers at home fills the air. I keep my head still and shift my eyes around the room very slowly, not really wanting to find what I’m afraid I might. 
In the far corner next to the closet a hazy shape gathers and grows. Bo’s on his feet, whining and backing away. Then with a sound like smoke trailing through the air, a girl, wearing a long blue flowered dress, moves to the center of the room. Her brown hair softly brushes her shoulders and she stares at me with eyes that are the same gray as the morning sky, deep and promising. 
“Help me, Ben.” Her voice is more than a whisper, but it comes from a distance, not space but time. She's closer now, next to where I’m sitting on the bed. 

I’m asleep, dreaming of being awake, dreaming of the girl’s hand that’s cool silk on my cheek. I blink and she’s gone. I jump to my feet, my heart hammering, and turn quickly around. The room’s empty except for me and Bo who’s doing circles and barking." ©2010

When I'd put my manuscript to bed for the night I picked up The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. Here's what I found on page one. "When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner's pick, a wood carver's gouge, a surgeon's probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year."

Ah, yes. There's hope that tomorrow or the next day or the next year I'll find out how close I was to getting that scene right.


  1. What a wonderful analogy! Your rose truly is beautiful, perfect or not. I love the way you compare that to our writing. :-)

  2. Beautiful rose and beautiful example. My roses are coming out large and gorgeous, too. But I am afraid if I cut them they won't last at all. I don't have much of a green thumb. Is there a writing analogy in there too?

  3. It is so true. You have to get that first draft down. I'm starting a new novel today so this is just what I needed to hear. Thanks!

  4. Beautiful analogy :) Love the rose. I love the first draft writing - it's my favourite part of the process - sunburned petals and all!

  5. Oh! That Annie Dillard quote is one of my very favorites.

  6. Wonderful excerpt, Lee. And thank you for that Dillard quote :). Much needed. It has been quite a journey, hasn't it, my friend?


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