Rewrite Your Draft Novel: Do You Have Permission to Begin? PART 1

Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money. Mogollon, Numenon's sequel is coming. As soon as I rewrite it.

When my editor sent me a succinct five-step formula for reducing my monstrous 240,000 word draft of a novel to a crisp 100,000 words, I had an “Ahah!” moment. Why not blog it? Perfect. Share my travail with the world. Get a sense of accountability because other people were traveling along with me, hoping to learn something. Cheering me on. (Yes, it’s OK to post comments, as long as they’re not spam. Encouragement is encouraged!)

I’m going to post that short and snappy recipe for literary success next time. Something more important rammed its way into my mental queue: This article.

I wasn’t ready to write or rewrite anything. I felt awful; something was jammed inside me, right under my ribs. It felt like a garden hose. A coiled garden hose. Worse than that: It was a coiled garden hose dripping with Tabasco sauce.

I’d been working like crazy. I wrote on various on-line forums, and then posted three articles on YourShelfLife.com. These are not easy to write, by the way, especially the one on Jungian type for writers.

I wondered, “Why am I doing this? This is important information, but will anyone take the time to read it?” I always add pictures when I feel that way.

Because of the time spent hunched before my computer, my shoulders were in their “I’ve turned to stone” phase. Rather like the vampires Stephenie Meyers describes, but without the glamor.

When I feel like this, I go up to my room, throw the wedge-shaped foam thing my surgeon gave me to keep my ankle from ballooning on my bed, and hit “play” on my favorite chant CD. I lie there and forty-five minutes later, after having relaxed and allowed whatever’s bothering me to surface, I get up feeling like a human being again.

This is a key point. Bazillions of how-to-write books exist. Tons of authors, editors, book doctors, and writing coaches will tell you how to write the breakout novel, how to self edit, and succeed in competitive and frustrating publishing world. Systems, how-to lists, point after point to be mastered.

I will not do this. I’ll tell you how I do it. Whether I’m writing bloody, rockin’ sci-fi, a memoir, or about the richest man in the world, my overarching topic is spirituality.

Spirituality is about spirit, defined as “a vital force that characterizes a living being as being alive.” Spirit is the difference between a living person and a dead body. To write about spirit, you have to know about your spirit––the only one you can really know––and get down past the Twinkies and junk food existence of daily life into the real stuff. Here we go:

The first question to ask before writing or rewriting anything is: Am I the person to write this book? And––Do I have permission to write this book?

There I was yesterday afternoon, lying on my bed, leg with its fused ankle and replaced knee elevated, listening to perhaps the most moving, beautiful music in existence, especially if you like Sanskrit. I had a heating pad under my shoulders to defrost them, and clutched my blankie and stuffed teddy. (Might as well give the full picture.)

Usually I go through a period of moderately severe discomfort as I relax from my initial, frozen skunk state into meditative bliss. (This is normal for spiritual practice.)  Yesterday was different.

I went from a having a Tabasco coated garden hose in my gut to extreme grief. I hovered in the driven state my compulsive writing had created in me, waiting for my mind to relax and get some relief. All the time a gorgeous chant was swelling and receding.

I relaxed enough to be at the floating state right before the good stuff comes––insight, bliss, contact with other worlds. Departed people.

My brother as a child

My brother as a child

My brother’s face came to me. My brother was a beautiful man, more than movie star handsome with eyes so bright blue that they seemed like some Hollywood make-up person had inserted them.

I loved him from the moment I saw him. He was three days old; I was nine. I loved him, even though our age differences put us in different realms. (He was learning to walk when I was thinking, “When will they let me have a horse?”)

I teased him mercilessly and adored him. I watched him and knew everything that happened to him. The two of us were the only ones who knew what really happened.

We lived in a family system where no one won. My brother lost more heavily than any.

He died in October 2007 at the age of 54. He was as beautiful in death as he was in life.

That’s what came up when I did my curative meditation lie-down. Grief. Images of him at different ages floated above me. He visited me, my beautiful departed brother.

I discovered what really hurts about losing someone. It’s what wasn’t said and what didn’t happen. I never told my brother, in clear words, so he could hear and understand them, how much I loved him. What he meant to me, and that I knew what happened. I never said that I tried as hard as I could, and I couldn’t fix our situation. I couldn’t fix it, and I couldn’t be enough of a hero to make it right. I was over my head and powerless.

Grief came to me, the true face of my discomfort. Primal pain.

That’s why I couldn’t begin my rewrite:  The coiled hose was a load of unfelt feelings. My first editor once said, “How can you not feel feelings?” It’s easy. In graduate school, we had to memorize two single-spaced pages of defense mechanisms we humans create to avoid feeling what we feel. They’re what keep us shallow and inauthentic.

Stephen Levine, regarded by many as the foremost grief counselor in the country, says, “We live in an ocean of pain.” All of us have endured great loss. Some of us have endured great losses: We’ve been napalmed, lost limbs, sight, homes, and whole families in war or genocide.  The rest of us know the losses that all of us endure: the deaths of beloved family members, jobs, security, and trust.  Beneath these is the cry of the universe, the cry of universal pain that we feel when we read works by Khaled Husseini (author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns) and others.

We live in an ocean of grief.

I floated in that ocean yesterday afternoon, my mantra singing around me, the afternoon light playing through the windows. I came to know the rest of Stephen Levine’s message: We live in an ocean of grief. The only way to survive is to experience the grief and then feel the love of the universe, the infinite, intelligent, blissful love that upholds us and is our ultimate home. It’s larger than grief.

I felt that, too. It released my grief. I lay weeping for a few minutes when the CD ended and then got up, knowing I was almost fit to write.

My first meditation master said that he never began any large task without waiting for permission from his meditation master. OK. My master died in 1982; his master died in the 1960s. We’re talking metaphorical here, not like a permission slip from your mother. My meditation master didn’t proceed until he received inner permission to begin his quest.

Do you ever ask: Do I have permission to write what I’m going to write? From my deepest self, and the universe?  Those are the ones that matter.  Your publisher and agent are important, if you’ve got them, but its this inner permission that will allow you to reach material that is WORTH writing, not the drivel that fills the shelves. It will allow you to write what you really want to write.

Do you know what it feels like to have that permission? I feel it like the floodgates on a dam. If I’m not in harmony with my larger world, if I’m trying to write without permission, the gates are closed, shut tight. A trickle escapes, maybe. It has that rock hard feeling of a hose under my solar plexus.

Permission granted: Gates open wide. Living water flows directly from its source, a vast
creative wellspring. I can’t stop writing––or rewriting––and every word rings true.

I don’t have permission to begin rewriting Mogollon, yet. I have permission to write this for you. Clear, clean, and short, for me. Permission to begin the rewrite is coming.

We live in the material universe lost in our own concerns, living like mindless drones in an anthill. We never look up to see that we live at the base of a mountain rising into the sky. A mountain that touches the moon, surrounded by substance that could carry us into a world beyond all that we can imagine.

Ants read how-to books. Writers work from the ocean of love.

My brother and I in the 1970s. We loved each other to the bone.

My brother and I in the 1970s. We loved each other to the bone.

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