Bett Norris


It Never Stops

I am constantly learning. I can’t speak for all writers, but for me, there is always something new that helps technique, craft, helps streamline the process. I steal learn from other writers all the time.  I got a reinforcement, a refresher, just this morning, about getting the first draft down on paper, from beginning to end, as quickly and completely as possible, because nothing is more painful than an unfinished, stops-halfway-through idea that dies right in front of you.

Once that solid foundation of beginning, middle, and end is in place, the real writing begins, at least for me.

So I am working, thinking, about the first draft right now. Usually, I start with the first scene, the one that I can’t get out of my head, and I write that fairly full, and polish it, and the rest of the first draft may not be as fully formed and complete, but the first scene or chapter uis usually critical for me. Once I get that down, I can push ahead and finish the rough draft.


This time, though, my thoughts are scattered and I have tried to get that initial scene down, but I am unsatisfied with the result. So I wrote the final scene. I thought, what if the story ends not when I imagined it would but some years later? How would my central character react to this event?

I wrote a conversation between two ladies having drinks in the living room, at night, after dinner, seated before a cozy fire. No descriptions, no transitional or internal thoughts, just dialogue.

It’s an experiment. Can I write the first draft with this target in mind? Can I write toward that final conversation?

I have no idea whether this conversation will fit, whether it will even be used, but it will serve a purpose. I will write toward it, like tunnelling, until I reach that point.

It’s bare bones. Only the words they say to each other. I often advise other writers to write one entire draft that contains only what is said and heard, only what is done. It not only speeds up the draft, it forces me to concentrate a lot of weight in dialogue alone, leaving out reactions, thoughts, descriptions, anything extraneous.

So here is that conversation, the point on te map I am trying to reach, which may or may not ever appear in the final draft.


“I should have died then. I should not be here to witness this. This is too much for a person like me.”

“You personalize and dramatize everything. ‘This’ isn’t happening to you.”

“A man gets a flat tire on his drive to work. While he’s changing it, he is struck by a car. His ambulance gets struck by another vehicle on the way to the hospital. After he makes it to the office on crutches, he gets fired for being late by his boss. Accident piled upon accident, followed by tragic and unfair results that add to the cycle of bad things happening.”

“And you’re the innocent bystander both fascinated and abhorred by the tragedy. But nobody ran over you.”

“But I am about to be fired, for arriving late to the scene. Because this time I can’t be a bystander. I can’t watch this. I have to do something.”

“You’re joining the march?”

“I don’t know. You don’t think I’m capable of it, do you?”

“I think you’re capable of a great many things. I don’t believe you should punish yourself for not doing some things which you could have done. We all could have done more then we have, and maybe it wouldn’t have reached this present event. It can’t be stopped now, and it won’t be stopped. Throwing yourself onto the altar of disappointment in your lack of involvement won’t help anything now, not even your conscience.”

“I don’t feel as though I would be sacrificing myself, or salving my guilt. I simply need to do something. If everyone did something, each of us some little thing, it wouldn’t have reached this big thing, marching toward us now, and we can’t get out of the way.”

“You’ve done enough, risked enough. You should feel absolved by having done what you could, when you could.”

“Branding myself a foolish, esoteric ninny by writing letters, sitting at home with my cat and my irascible mother’s constant haranguing, hardly measures up to a contribution. I’d have done better if I weren’t so scared.”

“You mother’s approbation wasn’t the only thing that cautioned you. Use a little common sense. A person must eat, and have a roof over her head.”

“I suppose so. Caution, self interest, common sense. I agree with my critics. I’ve read too many books.”

“Pull your chair closer to the fire and get warm. Walking along the highway in March weather is a cold prospect.”

“I can never tell when you’re being real or when you’re being sarcastic. I learned to drive in 1956, because I had to. I may as well put that hard-earned skill to use. I can ferry people back and forth, just like I did then, don’t you think?”

“You’ll get shot at. Some of these boys are good enough with guns to hit things even when they’re drunk, as I presume many of them are. Be very careful.”

“Do you mean that? You’re taking me seriously?”

“I’m giving you my heavy winter coat. Please keep in mind that it’s not bullet-proof.”


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