These Days started as an amorphous blob. I didn’t know where I was going with the story – I didn’t even know it was a story – so I fell back on detail. Fell back on describing each scene, moment, as vividly as I could. The revisions, rewrites, were then about giving the story shape, helping it stand and walk. Finding the spine of the thing and working from there. I was learning a new component of the novel with each pass. One draft it was character and dialogue. Another was plot. Yet another, theme.
Even See You in the Cosmos started in excess. (Or is that just my memory of it?) Too much, too much, that through rounds of edits we trimmed and formed, made lean and fit. What was hindering movement? What could be taken away?
GRACE has felt different. Right now I have a twenty-thousand word skeleton. It moves but, despite the codename, not very gracefully. It needs meat on the bones. It needs to eat, needs soft handles, fat that can then be turned into muscle. So much of what I’ve written so far is based on the expectation of movement. Not a bad thing in and of itself; just means, I think, that the book has to learn to walk in a different way.
I get what Jeffrey Eugenides means now when he talks about Don DeLillo saying that your first book is a gift. “It’s the second book where you teach yourself to be a writer.” (And sometimes third.) I guess that’s true with everything. You start off as a beginner and you spend the rest of your time trying to get back to being a beginner.
Speaking of eating. Matisse has bulked up a bit since I got him. I’ve moved him from wet to dry food now. His coat is smoothing out and he’s more receptive to treats, too. Knows, most of the time, that a hand by the mouth doesn’t necessarily lead to harm. It’s still only the small treats, though. Canvas rolls and dental sticks he still avoids, or when he’s in a good mood will reluctantly open his jaw to receive. I have something to learn from this, too, but I’m not sure what it is yet.