The Peculiar Madness

I’ve hit that point in writing my next novel where I know–or at least think I know–all the major beats left to come.  I can see these moments flashing through my head, turning on loop, and I get the feeling that all I have to do is keep showing up day after day at my writing desk, put down what I see, and pretty soon I’ll have it all done.

In one sense, that’s true: I have to keep showing up.  But what I forget in this rush of joy–when I can see how the rest of the story arcs to the end–is that I have to write all the connective tissue that joins those moments flashing in my head.  My goal, after all, is to create a complete, breathing, organically united world, not a slide show.

What I envision, for instance (always convinced I’m being generous in my estimates) is that a particular chapter focused on one or two of these major beats will take me four solid writing days to get down.  To get down in rough form, I’ll tell myself, but certainly to get down.  My present reality is that I’m ending what I think (I’ve lost count) is the ninth day on a chapter I thought I could draft in four, tops.  The end (for the chapter) is in sight but not yet in reach–and I don’t dare guess how many more labyrinth turns remain before I find my true way.

The trouble at this stage is always the same.  You can have a clear view from the mountaintop without having the least notion of how you’ll find your way through the forest.

For this chapter alone, I have two thick stacks of printed pages, marked up so heavily with notes I can barely make sense of them, and, in an effort not to confuse the paper piles still more, I have six MS Word Documents open on my computer at this moment, half of them with partial (but failed) drafts of the chapter (approached from completely different angles), and half mish-mashes of passages and scenes I’ve cut from other failed drafts along the way and pasted onto new pages in case I find I have need of them when the right path through the chapter at last begins to open up.

All this is happening even as I remind myself that there’s every possibility that I’m twisting round and round in this chapter because it’s wrong in every possible way–a mirage–and doesn’t belong in the book at all.

But still I turn up at my desk.  I can’t do otherwise.  I’ve come too far.  No matter how much fog rolls in day by day, I can still see clearly the story spooling out n the distance–and that makes me happy.  A peculiar madness indeed.

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Voices at Dawn

If I weren’t a writer, I would probably be alarmed if I woke up to the sound of people arguing with restrained ferocity–particularly since the only other beings typically present in my house at 6:30 a.m. are my cats and my dog.  But I was thrilled.  For a long while, I lay as still as possible so as not to disturb the speakers–a couple of my characters.

I had to lie still so I could capture enough of what they said to hold in my memory until I could get up, navigate the feline and canine yowls and yips for breakfast and morning pats, and get to a notebook to before the key phrases of the dialogue evaporated.  It’s not that my characters would have minded my eavesdropping–in fact, it’s what they want–it’s just that my being able to hear them requires quieting all the other relentless demands to listen, to think, to do, to give, to solve, to provide, to consider, to invent, to finish that arise out of my regularly-paying job.

Unlike most university professors, I don’t really get a winter break–not worth explaining why.  In fact, November, December, and January are my most punishing months (even when I don’t have the three-week flu, as I had this year) so that makes for a long season of being too overwhelmed with the noise of managing life to hear what I really want to hear–the voices of the people who live in my imagination.

So I’ve spent the day with them–a day I’d worked hard to keep clear for them–pushing back the other noise, when it comes, with the words, “I’ll tend to you tomorrow.”

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Through the Thicket

One of the advantages of having far too much to do is that, having pushed on, head down, like a boar through the thicket, you sometimes suddenly emerge onto a clear, sunlit plain.  Mid-August to late-September for me is always tangled with bureaucratic extras that take far more time to get through than anything I have to do for the benefit of my students, but this September included a few unanticipated deadfalls and snares, including one that has quite literally lamed me and slowed my progress still further.  I’m still recovering from that injury, but today I looked up to see the glimmer of light through a final stand of trees.

Just this moment, I’m taking time to pause, to lift my head, to blink in wonder at the sun, and to look back at the darkness I’ve come through.  What lies ahead are a clear Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and (if I’m lucky) half of a Monday–all for me, which means all for writing.

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All A-Scramble

The first few weeks of every semester are always over-stuffed with data production and meetings (often about data production) and classes, of course.  Dozens of little ships have to be launched–and launched, somehow, without crashing into each other.

But Fall semester at least has a blessing Spring semester can’t boast:  Labor Day weekend!

I’m working extra long days all this week so I can sequester the holiday weekend for writing, because, after nine days away (and five more to come), I miss my characters.

Writing this feels a little like sending them a post card that says, “Home soon.”

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A Thousand Selves

CS Lewis quote. When I was a very little girl, I was frustrated by the confusion of the many things I wanted to be–a ship’s captain, Jane Goodall, an actress, a singer, a veterinarian, a jockey, a horse-trainer, a farmer–and then, one day, sitting on the floor of the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library, surrounded by books I’d pulled from the shelf, agonizing over which I would choose to borrow, since my stacks included far more than my permitted quota, I had a revelation similar to what C.S. Lewis said about being a reader.   Suddenly I understood that, if I became a writer, I could be all the things I’d ever dreamed of being–as often or as occasionally as I liked, singly or several mixed together, for the rest of my life.

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