Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rough drafts and prop planes

A few weeks ago a friend and I went to a reading. One of the authors read an amazing short story that will be coming out in the Harvard Review later this year. Before the reading started, we got a chance to talk to him.

I'd read a few pieces of his online. He's from Texas, so something about his writing resonates with me. I find this quite often with southern writers, even when the subject matter isn't about the south. He mentioned that he's working on a novel and my friend asked if we - as in we the less experienced writers - are supposed to ask about his book. He said no, that the absolute worst question you can ask a writer about a work in progress is - what is your book about?

At first this took me by surprise. As writers, so much of what we create is done in bleak and desperate isolation. We know that this guy is a researcher in a tiny little tent at the north pole or sometimes in the desert. I thought we'd be like the pilots of the once a month prop plane flying in with supplies. That given the chance, the lonely writer would talk our ears off.

But then I remembered the thing about the rough draft. In writing, the rough draft is more about what we want the story to be than what it actually is. Maybe talking about it ruins the magic. Maybe the writer doesn't know until the work is published or even for years after. Maybe a better question to ask would be - what do you want your book to be about?

It would be, in a sense, like changing the question from - who are you - to - who do you want to be?

Who are you? Well, that's quite a question. Who the hell knows? Who do you want to be? Ah, yes. Park that plane over there, and let me tell you.

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