Other Wind
15 / January15 / January15 / January

Muddle, Muddle

Last Saturday, I spent the whole day writing. I looked forward to it all week, for it would be a taste of the change I hope to make one day. David and I had talked about what I would do if I could stay at home and write, and came to the conclusion that keeping focus all day would be hard, being so close to the TV and all the chores that need to be done. We figured that, should I really have all day, every day, to write, I’d probably find plenty of ways to distract myself from the keyboard.

I proved us wrong on Saturday. I worked all day, only breaking for lunch, and forced myself to stop in the evening. I completed the first major edit of two scenes from my novel and added a little new material.

Of course, it was just one day. I’ve learned (from that day and previous writing binges) that I don’t have trouble concentrating once I get to the keyboard. Actually, my imagination pulls into whatever story I’m writing and has a hard time backing out. My problem, most days, is just getting to the keyboard—especially to face my novel.

When I started writing short stories, I realized why the the novel is harder for me. Short stories just fall out, like memories I never knew I had. I approach them so differently than my novel. I start writing whatever comes and let the events unfold with minimal intrusion by my own plotting and scheming. (I try to enforce this minimalism as much as possible, although I’m sure I don’t catch every intrusion.) My short stories aren’t always that good, but I think they are usually better at first draft than scenes from my novel. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.” I see this quote in such a different light now that I’ve started writing short stories. Discover is the word that matters. Before, I always thought I would be making up characters and their actions, but really, I’m just helping them from the recesses of my mind onto the page. I just have to record what they say and do as cleanly as I can, without muddling them up with my own ideas about where they need to go. I hope to keep getting better and better at not muddling.

The novel is different, though. I think the scale is what gets me. With the short stories, I’ve just had to capture one moment. So, I’ve found it easier to let the moment take control. The novel is larger. I know that I still need to take it moment by moment, but I find myself looking ahead. I made the mistake of trying to figure out the whole story after writing only one scene, and now the characters are haunted by the preconceptions in my brain. The trouble is, I like the preconceptions, so I have to work very hard to make sure the characters are real and not just bad actors forced into a melodrama.

I am happy to be struggling through it, though. My writing binge spilled over into Monday night, when I spent six hours writing a short story. I posted it yesterday, although, I’ll be fixing it up some more.

Maybe soon, I’ll face the novel again.