Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On the Validity of Subjective Experience

I posted my essay on why I write yesterday, and in it, I mention that I had had a horrible writing day. It really was. I have the tail-end of migraine, which makes me feel as if my brain is burning from the inside out and always makes me feel slightly out of focus and disorganized.

While I was writing, I kept thinking I had completely lost the voice of the novel, that I'd been reading too much of other people's fiction (I tend to read non-fiction when I'm actively writing) and their voices were coming through. The scene felt stilted, dead, and would probably have to be scrapped.

Reading through it yesterday before I took the pages to my professor, I realized it wasn't that horrible after all and then, today, rereading in preparation for moving forward in the novel, I'm thinking it's actually really, really good. Very strong. The voice is still there and the scene (which I'd cut mercilessly from the first draft and moved to a different place) works better in this stripped down version than it did in the longer one.

So I am actually a terrible judge of my own work in the highly subjective moment of its creation and this reminded me that the EXPERIENCE of the writing is completely separate from the QUALITY of the work. Reading through the novel, I can not find places where I say, "Oh, yeah, that was a really good writing day and it shows in the text." Nor can I find evidence of the opposite.

A workshop leader many, many years ago offered this advice: Write hot, edit cold. Which is very valuable advice, and probably why most writers put their work to the side for a bit (days, weeks, months) before going back to it and beginning to edit and revise.

I know this is another lesson I keep remembering and forgetting and relearning. But it's the main reason why you can't wait for inspiration to hit, you can't wait for the muse to descend and that perfect writing day to happen. You've got to be writing all the time, every day. Rain or shine. Because, in the end, good day or bad, it doesn't show up in the text. And thank goodness for that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why I Write

I had to write an essay about why I write for a scholarship for a writers' conference. When I first read the question, I was totally uninspired, but then, I had a lousy day writing yesterday and found this:

I write because there are days when the writing flows. My fingers fly and words fall into place creating layers of meaning far beyond my original invention. This was not one of those days. This was a day when my course work reached critical mass and the stories I have been assigned clogged my brain until I didn’t know if I was writing my own story or channeling Lorrie Moore. My novel plods along and each word choice seems uninspired, dialogue languishes without subtext, and it seems unlikely I will be able to get my professor the required number of pages by tomorrow evening. The jig is up. It is clear. I don’t know what I’m doing.

It seems an odd day to pick up my pen and ponder the question of why I write. Today, were I to have come across one of those enthusiastic strangers who say, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” I would have looked him or her in the eye and said, “Really? Trade you.” Because the truth is, there are more days where I’m likely to sit in front of the computer and find making tea or brushing the dog more interesting than my characters, a trip to the grocery store of more pressing necessity than getting my protagonist to speak to his estranged father. And yet, more often than not, I am sitting in my chair, day after day, asking myself, what happens next? What does that handprint really mean? What aren’t my characters willing to say to each other?

Established writers often tell those of us struggling for our first publication and contemplating eating Ramen noodles for the rest of our lives, if you can do anything else, and feel satisfied doing it, do it. Because if you can walk away from your characters, if stories are not pressing themselves against the gray matter of your brain until you think they will come out your ears if you do not write them down, if you can make yourself stop listening to the woman on the bus who says, “It’s a bad thing to die of, but I have that effect on people,” and inventing a dozen stories by the time she gets off at the next stop, then you may have what it takes not to be a writer.

I have friends who stopped writing and have satisfying lives, and, to some extent, I envy them. My life would be easier if I could stop, but I can’t. I don’t know why I write, I only know something is missing when I don’t. I simply don’t feel like I fit and nothing in my life works correctly. Even on days like today, when the words I am putting words on paper appear to be the wrong ones, I am connected to the world in a way that is deeper and more secure than anything else I have ever done.

And, then, today, the writing went very well. Plus I read over what I wrote yesterday, when it seemed to be going so horribly, and it wasn't bad at all. And, even though I was convinced I had lost the voice of the novel, I hadn't. Which all goes to show, I am the worst judge of my work while I'm actually doing it.

Another lesson to tuck under my hat where I'll probably end up forgetting about it next time I'm faced with a horrid day of writing and convinced everything is just dreck.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Working Notes

Haven't put these up for a bit - two months, actually. But, typing them up today, moved me past a stuck point in the novel. Always a struggle between what I'm writing and what I've already thought up and remembering that I've thought it up. The "Tristram Shandy" dilemma of having to keep rereading what I've written at the same time that I'm writing new stuff.

28 October
Matt finds the blue bead necklace – when he meets Katami, K touches it, but it isn’t until the ritual that Matt sees K has one just like it and realizes K gave it to Denny – a power stone for speaking the truth. K was in love with Denny – he does the ritual because he wants to contact Denny to say good-bye (he didn’t return in time to see Denny before D died).

Telescope scene – Matt thinks Alan is trying to get closer to him because,now that Denny’s gone, there’s a chance for him to bond. Matt’s really suspicious.

Later scene – Alan reveals that he didn’t run into Rachelle purely by chance.

“The curious thing is, I never go back to the cemetery. That’s only where Denny’s body is, it’s not where he lives.”

27 October
What meals would be left in the fridge from Denny’s cooking? What Matt eats when Alan tells him to eat something from his family.

Have Matt spend the night at Pam’s after he gets arrested, while Rachelle is in the hospital. A moment of grace from Pam.

The truth of the story comes out at the 2/3 mark – at that moment, it’s been earned.

22 October
Ithaka – a perpetual rainbow hanging in the air because of the mist from the ocean crashing against the shore.

21 October
Ithaka – Nikki: I was putting the pieces of your life together so that if you wanted it, it was here for you.

It is no longer about the object itself, but the experience of that object and, then, the interpretation of that experience and the way in which we create meaning based on that interpretation. We accept the thingness of things as fact. This chair is this chair – I do not have to believe there is a Platonic ideal of a chair in my mind in order to know what a chair is and that the word ‘chair’ differentiates it from ‘couch.’

15 October
A “what’s next” story rather than a “what’s wrong” story.

13 October
“When what I want destroys what you want.” – Alan – how does what Alan wants (Rachelle) destroy what Rachelle wants (a stable home life for Matt and Denny)?

8 October
What if Denny’s gay? What if the real truth is that Denny was tricking for Hector rather than running drugs?

It’s less about the secret than about everyone’s reaction to it. – drama in the human, not the object.

How protective Rachelle is of the house – of keeping it clean – the forward view (by the time Alan and mom moved out, the house looked…)

5 October
When you compare yourself to someone else, you’re setting yourself up to lose. – Rosanne Cash.

29 September
Weight of memory – Matt “I have an excellent memory – funny thing about remembering – people give significance to what you remember – like if you remember the time your next door neighbor stole your favorite toy truck and can recall everything about it, it must mean you’re still angry, still holding on to it in some way. Same thing when you remember someone, it makes them think they’re special. We think what we remember has significance when all it means is those neural pathways havne’t decayed.”

The embarrassment we feel when someone says, “Don’t you want to have something from deep within you come out? Don’t you want to have your voice?” As if it is indecent, like exposing your soiled underwear to strangers when all along it’s what all of us are striving for anyway.

Denny has something of the dad’s in his room – Matt finds it when he goes in there. What? Idea of inheritance – memory – what gets passed on to other people.

26 September
Deepening, layering – how much information can I get into one sentence, one paragraph – how much detail, history. How real can I make this moment?

24 September
Where else will the image of the hand appear?

20 September
Playwriting assignment: I want to take on the setup as a metaphor – I don’t want it to be dead-on, but really as a metaphor. To come at it with the symbolic truth.

15 September
Matt remembers seeing Denny paint Rachelle’s toenails.

12 September
Mourning the loss of the idealized image of his older brother along with the actual fact of his brother’s death.

What makes me the most nuts about writing is how unpredictable it is. How much it is about trusting, really trusting the process and letting the words flow even though I’ve got no fucking idea where I’m with this day’s writing at all.

10 September
Does Matt feel guilty about getting arrested?

“Don’t suppress the metaphor.”

Think in terms of action instead of adjectives – “confused” = moving away from the conflict.

9 September
What Matt can’t think – that now that Denny’s gone, he can get his mother’s attention, that the baby threatens that. Which is at odds with what Rachelle thinks – that keeping her hands off Matt will keep him safe.

8 September
Sometimes I get caught up in the drama of things and forget about the drama needing to be located in the humans and in the human interaction.

I am concerned about the headphones in the limo. Matt is fixated on them – I suppose that’s find if something meaningful happens with them. Otherwise, they’re just stage directions.

Conversations have to carry on after the words stop being spoken – what’s unspoken has to be conveyed by facial expressions, gestures, body language.