Sunday, May 22, 2011

Writing a Novel: Week I

So, I've been having great fun living in a world I've been creating. It's full of intriguing characters each passionate in the pursuit of his or her agenda, each with remarkable strengths and weaknesses, each holding a unique perspective on the events that are bringing their worlds together. I've got plot twists that no one will see coming until they arrive, after which they'll have been obvious the entire time.

The plots and subplots build layer upon layer upon layer. After digging through them and feeling you've finally got to the bottom of things, you find a hidden trap door leading to the next level. The whole world is laid out in my mind just waiting to be written.

And therein lies the rub.

On Thursday night, our merry band of writers sat together on the deck at Will's house sharing what we'd written the previous week. As I listened, I thought, "Wow, everyone just keeps getting better and better. This is really good stuff."

When it was my turn, I pulled up my latest installment from my novel and began to read. As I heard myself, something seemed off or more accurately, everything seemed off. My pacing which is usually smooth and even, was jerky or non-existent. Critical elements about the characters (who they were, what they were doing and why) were missing. By comparison to what I've been writing, the whole thing felt dry and boring.

As I finished, I looked around the table at the expressions of people wanting to help but not sure where to begin. I felt loved and cared for as each of my friends provided feedback on what he or she saw was working or not, trying to help me nail down the root causes. As I listened to each comment, I tried it on to see how I might change my approach. Everything said was helpful and everything was accurate. I felt grateful that we would spend such an inordinate amount of time on me and my writing.

Afterwards, Iris and I talked over dinner at 20 Railroad Street. I sorted through all the guidance I'd received still feeling that I hadn't got to the root of the problem. After an hour, I felt no closer to an answer. I had lots of things in mind that I could do differently, but nothing that felt "core".

Friday morning, I awoke to the sounds of a parade--a parade of work items and undone tasks marching through my brain. I determined to do my least favorite ones first, saving the best for last. As I sat at my desk, I noticed my mind moving quickly, wholly focused on "getting things done."

I stopped.

I asked myself, "So, how you feeling right about now."

I answered, "Ummm... Stressed, I guess."

"How come?"

"Because I've got more work to complete today than I've got time, and most of it is drudgery."

"What do you mean by drudgery?"

"You know, boring, been there, done that, no challenge to it, nothing new."

And that's when it hit me. The core challenge with my writing was that I'd worked out the entire plot and now all that was left to do was to transcribe it, a clerical task in which I have no particular interest. Normally when I write, I just write. I have no notion of who the subject is or where the story will lead me. It simply unfolds as I go and that keeps my interest. Once I know the story, I never go back to it.

It's the same with music and school and photographs and everyday events. I'd always rather play something new or improvise than play something I've already learned. I usually take copious notes in meetings or in classes, but then never look at them afterwards. I've taken thousands of photographs that I've never seen. And when someone asks me about my day or events of the past week, I'd much rather talk about my plans or what I'm thinking in the moment.

I'm a terrible story teller if I'm retelling a story, but really good when improvising.

OK, so what do I do?

Jenny suggested that I may have to actually slow down and take the time to fill in all the details, to bring the reader along with me. She's right of course, but I still find myself balking at the idea. I'd have to change my overall MO. Then again, it might be useful to be able to explain things I already understand rather than being at my best when I'm just figuring them out. Hmmm...

Iris suggested that I simply abandon the plot and write as I've been writing, "Why don't you just do what works for you?"

This of course appeals to me especially the idea of maintaining lots of threads and harmonizing them as I go. But I keep coming back to the thought that it might be good to figure out how to make stuff I already know how to do something other than drudgery.

So I've been thinking about this on-and-off since Thursday night.

This morning as I stood washing dishes at the sink, it occurred to me that dishwashing isn't drudgery; it's fun, really. So, what if I made writing about things I've already figured out more like washing dishes? I guess it would be a zen kind of thing.

Not sure where this will go yet, but it does have my interest.

Happy Sunday,

1 comment:

  1. So, you are considering the possibility of slowing down? Interesting! How would it fit in with the discomfort article I just posted?


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