I’m writing by hand so far, pages and pages until I can almost no longer recognize my scratch. My biggest fear isn’t finishing, it’s going back and being able to read what I wrote so that I can type it up. It’s likely that I won’t recognize all of it and will end up rewriting, which is what needs to happen anyway. Where I know that I’ve written a gem worth saving–even if it doesn’t end up in this story–I draw some fast lucky charms around it (you know, moons, stars, and other marshmallow shapes) so that I don’t lose it.
Note on writing a story that leans on personal history–it’s really easy and in my case wrong to let the past steer the story. This morning I’d reached the end of my beginning and wasn’t sure where to take key characters or aspects of the plot. I knew the beginning and have a strong possible ending. And I started thinking, well at this point in my life, my family did this, so how do I overlay that onto the story.
Didn’t work worth shit. People on my morning bus commute (where I usually have enough time to fill a page between the burbs and downtown, where I work) probably wondered why I was scowling so much, probably thought I was going to leap up and commandeer the bus, if I looked on the outside like I felt on the inside. I stuffed my notebook back in my pack, pulled out my little MP3 player and turned on Middlesex, where I’m nearing the end. Some fiction writers say that they can’t read fiction while they’re writing. To each their own–I find that I can and often need to read, if I’m very selective about the reading choices, and I only read in small bursts when I need to recharge, or refocus. (The other book I’m reading is the second book in Patrick Ness series called Chaos Walking (book 1, The Knife of Never Letting Go; book 2, The Ask and The Answer), a YA series set on another planet colonized by religious expats, where a local germ causes all men and animals (but not women) to broadcast their thoughts. The prose is often very effective and rich, especially for such sparse prose, which helps the techniques stand out.)
It was actually the beginnings of Middlesex that helped me move forward. Grandparents figure in my story, informing the plot and the protagonist with their own histories. Some of my favorite parts of Middlesex cover the lives of the narrators grandparents and parents, from their start in Cyprus in the early 1900’s to their migration to the US (fleeing the Greco-Turkish war) and their tragedies and successes. I realized that the best way to get unstuck was to start writing about the lives of those grandparents in my story–at least the portions that I think matter to the plot and its narrator. So there I go again (just like Mr. Gorbachev and that big haired lead singer from the 80’s band Whitesnake.)
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While the piece by Aime Bender linked below was written for the NaNoWriMo crowd, it applies to writing long fiction in general. I saw Aimee Bender at Wordstock–she’s very sharp, very creative, and I thought pretty pragmatic about the process. This piece reflects that. And she’s right–follow the writing, because when I try to make the writing follow me, it just sits down in the path and refuses to budge. If I bribe it, I can get a little further, but the scenery turns drab and the mood turns sour till I let it have its way, let it stop to look at everything along the path and suddenly run off into the woods. It’s exactly like a smart child or dog.