#28: The Ground is Shaking

I’m looking at my journal and this week is mostly blank. Been juggling birthday festivities, freelance work, pre-holiday plans. Routines have fallen apart, but I feel surprisingly okay. Every year around this time I get more creative, likely due to some combination of having a year less to do everything I want to do and having breaks in schedule that favor reflection.

I did manage to finish the second act of the new novel. I printed it out early last week and went over it with a pencil. I’m still working out a good way to approach early edits. I’ve tried marking up typos and cuts, but there are bigger structural and developmental issues that could very well negate the cuts. I’ve tried writing out developmental issues and possible solutions in the margins but better solutions are more likely to appear to me in the midst of writing. I’ve tried a combination of the two, but then I end up not even looking the corrections when I resume writing.

Yet. Printing out the pages and reading them seems to do something, so I keep doing it. I’m beginning to suspect that memory is a factor; lately I’ve been writing more non-fiction – more memoir. With memoir there’s a fixed reality I’m trying to capture: the mood of a night, the feeling of a neighborhood, the pace of a day. I’m working from a single history, and here memory works to my advantage. If I can’t remember it, it’s not important; when trivia has fallen away I can further excerpt what’s left and splice in tangential thoughts, to get closer in feeling to that reality.

Though … all this makes my writing sound more methodical than it actually is. In practice it’s more: I start writing about something that happened, which reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about, so I write about that, then I get bored, go back to what happened next, get reminded of something else, get bored, and so on.

With fiction, of course, there’s not the luxury of These Things Really Happened. The ground is never fully stable, and early on a lot of the work is in cutting the ground out from under yourself, which can be scary as crap. But time passes, the manuscript gets replotted, reworked, revised. Details and scenes become more vivid. Stability is found. Your knowledge of the world becomes more complete, and this you’ve heard before (icebergs, whatnot). What I want to describe here, though, is what it feels like when you reach that point. Once the ground is relatively stable, it feels like writing memoir. It feels like you’re writing about Things That Really Happened. And the parts that don’t feel like that will read hollow; a good editor will call it out, your readers will sense it, you yourself will look back on it later and it’ll be glaringly obvious how hollow it is.

This is what I’m noticing, as I re-read the second act of my manuscript. The parts that feel like memoir are very different from the parts that don’t, and I tell myself, Maybe what you should be doing with these reads is identifying the parts that don’t, and solidifying that ground, or finding a different piece of ground. Putting yourself even more in the scene. Imagining the door handles and the hardware on the dressers. Imagining what’s in the refrigerator, even though nobody opens it. Maybe there’ll be a reason to open it. I tell myself: Figure out what these other characters are doing at this very moment in the story, even if you haven’t introduced them. Imagine these things as though you were fully there in your waking life. Let them Happen.

And then: Let yourself forget.