Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Grinding Rock

This is a photo of the grinding rock on my friend's property. The depression in the rock was made by Native Americans grinding acorns into meal. Nearby, we found two stone tools that we think were used to crack acorns open and then grind them on the large stone. There's a second depression about a foot away from this one, but my photo of it didn't come out very clear.

I visited the rock several times during my week there. What fascinated me was the feeling that if I stood there long enough, I would actually see the people using the tools. It never happened, but somehow, I never lost the feeling that it could.

The Week in Oroville

16 January
I can only write what’s in me to write. Market, literary value, all that stuff isn’t my concern when I’m writing. My only concern, the only thing I have direct control over, is getting something down on the page and getting it down as truthfully as possible in a way that people want to read it.

15 January
I’ve decided to give my hand a rest and come to the page this way, which, I hope will allow me to keep writing tomorrow. To use Neil Gaiman’s words, sometimes you fly and that pays for everything. Today has definitely been a flying day. Seven hours of writing and I’d be willing to do more except that I am afraid if I push on, I will end up crippling my hand for tomorrow. Writers are definitely workaholics. As long as there are hours in the day, we will work. And without anything else calling my attention away from the work, here I am, more words spilling onto the page. It’s awesome.

I have no great insights, no great observations. But I have noticed that when I am writing, and I mean really writing, I disappear – I no longer have a sensation of having a body, I no longer have the sensation of thinking. Like here, I am aware of my body, I am aware of my thoughts. In essence, I have spent seven hours meditating today without effort, without consciously thinking of what I am doing. I think what happens at home, with the sounds of the outside world, with the dog, with the kids calling because they have forgotten something, with the awareness of having a clock, is that I am constantly called back to awareness of thought and physicality. The same thing happens as I sit at the computer – the click of the keys, the type scrolling across the screen recalls me to a physical awareness. Maybe because I’m used to it, it’s what I grew up with, writing with a pen does not do the same thing. And maybe that’s why I sometimes go through several of my pens before I find the one that works for that day – each nib feels different. Though I do tend to write more with my Waterman pens and I think it’s because of the softness of the nib – it flows more easily across the page. The Namiki has a very hard nib, which I like because of the fineness of the line, but it makes writing a different experience, I become more aware of the feel of the nib on the paper.

I guess there are insights today. Things I am learning about my writing process, about how to make it easier for me to fall into my writing once I get home. I think, too, this is why I don’t like to write with music on – it interrupts my ability to go deep, to lose contact with my own body.

Again, I have also experienced the way my body feels what my characters feel. I write from a very physical space, which seems at odds with what I was writing before. But it’s like I get out of my own body so that my characters can inhabit it. There are places in what I’ve written over the past several days that have made me cry because Matt is in so much pain. And there are places where my stomach clenches and I grind my teeth because Matt is so angry. It’s amazing to ride the roller coaster of Matt’s feelings. I have come to love him so much in the past week. He is an amazing character, and what I love most about him is how generous he has been to me, his creator. I have left him to work on other projects or no projects and yet, whenever I come back to him, there he is, ready to talk to me in that amazing voice of his. That sassy, innocent, bravado of his. I love him. I love how hard he is struggling to make sense of what is going on around him, how much he cares about everyone around him and wants to protect them. And I love how smart he is.

Which is the funny thing about being here. As Paul once said to me, I’m not alone because I’m with my characters. And that is so true. I don’t know if someone who isn’t a writer can understand that. But I’m not alone here. I have Matt and Ray and Rachel and Alan and even Denny and Allison and Monica, and those two cops, Kyle and Jeff, who rolled in tonight.

14 January
There is no magic moment that makes the page come to me. Every time, it is a choice about going to the page. Every time it is an affirmation of being – I am a writer.

I do wonder if this will ever get exactly easy or if it will always be this struggle between my conscious brain saying oh, just read or sleep or any of a million other things, and my writer brain saying no, write. Is it really like a muscle that the more I use it, the easier it will be to do this thing?

I am getting close to the end of Choice, I can feel the gathering of the various threads. Plus, I can’t sit still. I keep popping up.

I have wanted to be able to write and write and write until there is nothing left – but that doesn’t happen. There are always more words. There is no core to get down to, it’s all just the same through and through.

13 January
A productive day and much more comfortable. I’m glad I have this expanse of time in which to be here. Previously, I have gone away for a weekend and the coming back begins almost immediately after the getting there. This expanse of time means that I have the luxury of deciding when my time is up.

I have discovered that I do need to handwrite my first drafts. I tried composing on the computer and it immediately got sidetracked. It feels fixed and static when it’s in the computer. I realized that this morning. Handwriting has a physicality when I write that it lacks when I type directly into the computer.

I have also discovered that it is possible to treat this like a job – even if it is the weirdest job on the planet. And the hours are really screwy.

It is also much easier to edit when you have something on the paper than when you don’t.

12 January
How does it all work? Simple answer. It doesn’t. It just doesn’t work. There is no way to effectively time manage writing. Get over it. Move on. It proceeds at its own pace.

I started working on a story this morning at 8:30. At 11:30, I’m still working on it and want to get to the end of it. Four hours. And I’ve got that freedom here. But what about when I get home? How does it work? Answer: It doesn’t. Not until this becomes a way of life and everything else goes away. Including the kids.

I wrote for about five hours and ended up with a short story called “Gold Fever.” Ten pages, approximately 3,000 words.

I have to say I do not feel the same love of writing that I once felt. It is not the be all and end all of everything. This is hard work. As Neil says, most of the time you’re slogging through, waiting for the moment when you start flying. Most of the time, it doesn’t fly. It barely even walks. But I pushed through it this morning, and I’m glad about that. I feel a sense of accomplishment.

I worked on Choice a little last night. I’ve listened to some music. I haven’t watched any of the movies. I’m not even really hungry. For the most part, I am content to sit here and be silent and still. It’s like I’m waiting for something or something to show up.
This is no great revelation, but I’m sitting here thinking about myself and about writing and what I want and all that good stuff and what occurs to me is that life doesn’t happen without some kind of decision about what to do next. The story will not just appear without me saying, “I’m going to the page now. I’m going to show up and start putting words on paper.” If I sit on the couch and wait for the words to come to me, I will be sitting there for a long time.

It is hard work to sit still and allow a story to come through. It takes intense concentration, an ability to stay in a single thought for a sustained period of time.

The amazing thing about working on the story this morning was that I had the time to push through it. Nothing was going to interrupt me. I had no place I needed to be other than where I was. So I stayed put and pushed through the moment where I lost the thread of my idea and continued until I got through to the end. Yes, it’s wonky. Yes, it needs work. But the bones are there. Now there is something to work with. Now I have something to go back to that has physicality rather than existing as thought only in my head. I can touch it, shape it, play with it.

I think what I’ve been waiting for is myself, who I am at my core without anyone else around me asking things of me, without anything to react against.

11 January – in Oroville
So my grand experiment begins.

Who am I now when I am alone?

Can I delve deeply into my fiction and create the work I want to create when given the opportunity I so desperately crave – to sit quietly and do nothing but write.

I suppose the truly grand part of the experiment is this: given what I have set up as my optimum working conditions, can I now actually do the work. With unlimited amounts of time, no external demands on that time, can I devote myself entirely to writing or will I drive myself crazy?

How deep can I go?
How much writing can I sustain?
How much motivation do I have and can I actually write for eight hours a day?

What is truly odd is that I feel here and not here at the same time.

My body is here. I am located physically in space, but without the noise and activity around me, it is harder to feel that.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Minding the Beat

After doing the cut and paste thing and starting to make edits and adjustments, I realized I hadn't actually read through the draft recently, so I stopped and did just that and discovered that it works just fine the way it is. Better, in fact, than if I put the scene earlier. Along the way, I also started tracking the beats in the piece and discovered a really, really useful tool for looking at the novel. Each beat is a movement and some of them are pretty feeble, they need work to justify their presence in the novel. But by breaking the novel down into these smaller units, it gives me a much more manageable way to deal with the revisions. Plus, I'm creating a grid of scenes and beats, which is giving me a phenomenal overview of the physical space the novel is occupying. It's really, really cool to see how my main character is moving through space.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

For want of a red pen...

So sometimes, the weirdest little things become ways to stop myself from working. I did the cut and paste revisions of Choice and need to read through them to fix continuity problems and see how the new scene affects the whole piece, but I kept putting it off because....I couldn't find a red pen. Really. I am not kidding. I've sat here for several days with the draft printed out and sitting on my desk. But, no red pen, no revisions. This morning, my puppy overturned my basket of pens, and LOOK! there's several red pens in them. Maybe Maggie's smarter than she looks.