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Archive for September, 2008

Spiraling

I found an old journal entry that I wrote earlier this year. I said that I wanted to finish a second draft of my novel by August 1. A few days later I wrote:

I am feeling stuck. Overwhelmed. I can see myself easily ditching the project (novel) to return to the Martha stories. But no. That’s the writer’s cardinal sin. Thou shalt not abandon a story before it is finished.

Well. I ditched the novel. Not only that but I also ditched the Martha stories. I am back to working on eight stories in various stages of completion. These weren’t easy decisions. I don’t swing willy-nilly from one project to the next. I guess I could be grateful that I have several projects to choose from at any given time. I don’t even remember exactly why I ditched the novel.

I’ve already written the first draft of a novel. So what am I looking for in these books (on novel writing)? The nuts and bolts that will help me create a structure that will keep readers turning every single page. I didn’t need a book when I wrote the first draft. I didn’t- couldn’t- think too much about it. Now I’m finding there’s a precarious balancing act between intuition and craft. If I lean too far on intuition, the structure is flimsy. If I lean too far into craft, the characters and story feel stiff and puppet-like, adhering to what I need them to do in service to the craft.

Ah, yes. Now I remember what I was thinking. I was thinking too much. I out-thought myself. Underneath all those supposed legitimate excuses was the fear that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. That’s the bottom line. So I turned to stories that felt more familiar and tried to work on them. The problem was they were written so long ago by what feels like a completely different person that  I couldn’t get any traction as the writer I am today. I’m afraid they may just be stories I had to write to get me to this point.

So what does this all tell me? That the creative process is a spiral. If you look through my journals you’ll find many many many references to being stuck and overwhelmed. To the writing being stiff and mechanical and lifeless. But you’ll also see times when I show up, write and have a breakthrough. Or show up, write and that’s it. I showed up. But whenever I show up, I end up feeling more focused. There’s clarity and joy. My nasty gremlin likes me to forget those times. It likes me to forget that this is a spiral path and that it is natural to run into the same weaknesses and strengths over and over again. That it’s all part of the process.

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After a month or so of parties and company and family reunions, the girls are back in school and I have settled into a semblance of a routine. Since they both leave at 6:50 in the morning I can workout, do yoga, eat, shower and be at my desk by 9:00 most mornings. My ideal is to sit there for three hours but I get so restless. I do better with a break every thirty or forty-five minutes or so. I really need to build up some writing endurance. Some days it’s only thirty minutes but today it was a few hours on and off. I managed to finish the first draft of a revision of a story I wrote quite a while ago. I already know I want to change a few major things before I send it out to my writing group on Sunday but am pretty sure I can get it done in time.

I still need to write down my official “writing syllabus’ for the next twelve weeks but I have the general outline in place:

– a draft of a new story or revision of a story every Sunday. Intense, I know but it’s what I did in a class at OU and it generated lots of new material. That’s one thing I want to work on- generating new stories.

– work with “Deepening Fiction” – a chapter a week. Each chapter focuses on a craft element and includes a story or two to analyze. Very do-able.

– three freewrites a week aimed at discovering something about the current story I am working on

I can think of many other tasks/assignments to add but I don’t want to get overwhelmed. This is do-able. Yes. I can do this. For twelve weeks. And I will track my progress here so stay tuned…

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Books read in August

“How the Light Gets In” a novel by M.J.Hyland
Lou Connor is looking for something beyond the cramped life she has with her crass family in Australia. She gets a spot as an exchange student and finds herself part of the Harding family in a suburb outside of Chicago. While she yearns to fit in she is also suspicious of their perceived perfection and is easily lured into various methods of escape despite her best intentions. The first person, present tense voice is strong as Lou absorbs the world around her, trying to find her place in it and way through it. But it once again makes me wonder what makes a book young adult versus adult when a teenager is the protagonist. Is it a certain kind of depth of character? Is it a story that is layered? I really don’t know and would love to learn what makes the difference. Anybody have any ideas? Anybody?

“The Doctor’s Wife”
a novel by Hilma Wolitzer
Alice Brill wakes up one morning with a sick feeling in her chest of impending dread. As we read we find that there are any number of possible sources of this uneasiness. It could be her marriage to Ev. They met as fierce competitors at a writing workshop where they were both getting their MFA’s and yet neither of them became writers. Then there is their youngest son who always seems to need help or money. Alice lost her position as an editor of a large publishing house and is now freelancing as a book doctor, which is not exactly what her surgeon father had in mind for her. He now sits in a nursing home, his memory devoured by dementia. On the cusp of this restlessness enters Michael, a new client Alice has high hopes for as she reads his novel chapter by chapter. As I read I just kept thinking that this is exactly the kind of book I hope to write. It has a strong first person voice that allows us to see inside Alice’s head as she attempts to unravel the knot her psyche has become over the years. I also love the backdrop of publishing and writing. The story is just so richly layered with so many threads and well-defined characters, everything I want in a book and everything I hope to write myself.

“Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper” by Sark
I read all of her books. They are inspiring, visually appealing and just plain fun. Most are aimed at creativity in general. This book focuses on writing in particular. After the summer writing slump I hit, I devoured it in one night. One sitting really. It is filled with inspiring quotes, anecdotes from her own life, words to motivate you, daring you to be your best writing self. I really need to read it again, slowly this time.

“The Diamond of Darkhold” a young adult novel by Jeanne duPrau
This is the fourth in the City of Embers series. It picks up a few months after the people from Ember have been taken in by the people of Sparks. Weather is a new phenomenon to them since their entire world had existed underground. Food is scarce, as are supplies but they learn to work together to build a community in this new world.

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Nothing to Say

Obviously I’ve had nothing to say since I’ve, well, said nothing for almost a month on this blog. Not a post. Not a comment. Not any kind of update. I did sit down about two weeks ago and typed half of a sentence then literally looked at my keyboard, fingers poised, aching to type and said out loud, “I have nothing to say.’ I watched by fingers tap delete and those few words disappeared.

Should I apologize? Did I breech blog etiquette by not posting for so long without giving any reason? I feel I should. But. This is a blog about the creative process. Part of that process includes dormant, dark periods. Times when you have no words. A time to refill. Re-fuel. And it’s the end of summer. We had a four day party at our house. Literally. Four days. It started on a Thursday with dinner at a restaurant with all of our out-of-town family and friends, then a bus ride to Frankenmuth for those who wanted to go, then pizza, karaoke and tequila shots at our house, then the main party on Saturday which brought the most amazing guy who did a three hour show impersonating Neil Diamond, Dean Martin, several presidents and two acts of all the different versions of Elvis and where I received a beautiful twentieth anniversary diamond ring that my husband designed and that he and the girls put on my finger. Saturday lasted  until three in the morning which led to a mellow cookout on Sunday where we watched Nascar outside under the tent, played volleyball, hung out and our last guests left at one thirty in the morning. So. It’s been fun. Busy. But not much time left for writing, contemplation, reflection or any other relaxed state where the muse can slip in and do her work.

But. Today is the first day of school. My girls started middle and high school today. I will have a little over eight hours a day to myself. They leave at the same time. This is our new schedule until K. goes to college then three years later E. will follow. It’s odd and exhilarating at the same time.

But. We have more company. Our last week of family visiting and family reunions. So next week is when I will be able to sink back into a routine that nurtures by writing and creative process. I am yearning for more structure. Fall always brings that out in me. So I am in the midst of designing a twelve week syllabus to focus me and my writing. That will be in an upcoming post. And it won’t be a month before you hear from me again.

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