Saturday, July 11, 2009

More on the Writing Paradox

I've been reading a lot of writing advice lately on the need to push yourself into writing every day - that old adage with a new twist: It takes ten thousand hours to gain mastery of anything, to become world class. That amounts to three hours a day, every day, for a little more than nine years. Reading through motivational blogs by other writers, I found one writer talking about the need to produce new words with those three hours - nothing but new words would count. New words on the page. The problem with that is that I, for one, do damage to myself when I push myself into writing when I'm not ready. If I force the words to come, they are lousy, awful, plodding, dreadful things that only reinforce my idea that I can't write, which makes it much less likely I will get to the page the next day.

I doubt this writer would think that what I am doing at the moment counts toward my ten thousand hours, but it is every bit as valuable as getting new words on the page (and it is generating some of those as well). I am doing research on grief and grieving for Choice. It seems odd to me that I would find myself doing research now, after I've been working on this story for so many years - I always thought research came at the beginning of the process, but what's working for me right now is that I know my story, I have a very good idea of who my characters are and what they're doing, and an excellent idea of what I don't know. This seems to me like the prime time to do research. So I am. And as I read, I'm taking notes and also jotting down new scenes or thoughts about the characters and what they're going through. I'm also patting myself on the back a lot because I did a really good job of charting the grieving process for my main character. Some things aren't quite right, but I've found a lot that is.

My point is that writing is not just the words a writer puts down on paper, it is the time the writer spends in the world he or she is creating, making the connections between the characters, imagery, themes, etc, necessary to create what John Gardner calls the "vivid and continuous dream" of the story.

The research I'm doing right now is also giving me the critical mass necessary to make the novel coalesce as a novel.

Writing a novel is not the same as writing a story. A novel is an assemblage of information and images, arranged in a way that is not necessarily chronological, but has an inherent logic and cohesiveness that is correct for itself. It is an emergent creation, it has its own internal logic and rules of order. Something feels "right" for the novel because it follows that logic, it fits with the rest of the pieces. But the novel has to have a critical mass of these pieces, it has to create weight in the mind. This is what Choice has been lacking - at least for me. This is what a lot of work I read right now is lacking. You can call it gravitas, but it's not just the weight of serious matters, it's also the weight of how much work each word does to create an expression of the whole.

I know I'm not being very clear about this, I'll come back to it later, I'm sure, but now it's late and I need to go get some sleep.

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