August 9, 2010

SSFD ~ Week 10

What I’m Reading Today: Lots of internet history specific to and leading up to 1885.

Well, it’s the tenth week of the Summer of Shitty First Drafts. Three weeks to go.

Did I accomplish my goal this week? Well, I did, but in spirit only. I wrote 11 pages of brand-spanking new material. However, it was on revising the first novel I wrote (I signed with my agent on my second novel manuscript), not on a brand new story. However, it was a new beginning to the novel, so it’s sort of like starting a new story. The first line is “Sara stood at her father’s shoulder as he went over the weekly household accounts.” Judges, may we have ruling?

It’s amazing the change in my grasp of craft. As well it should be, as this was the first part of the first novel I wrote, as well as very early in my of writing short stories. 1999 vs. now. It’s hard to judge your own work sometimes, but even I can tell I’m light years ahead of where I was. Annie Proulx once told me, “You should be able to judge your own work.” Well, maybe, just now, I’m beginning to be able to (though tomorrow will be different, I’m sure).

It’s gratifying to see how much I’ve learned. It’s also terrifying ~ because that means the rewrite of this novel is basically from scratch. It’ll be easier than scratch because I do have stuff there, the plot, but I need to amplify it so much. Add a lot more depth, nuance, and character. The first fourth of it in particular I’ve rearranged and there will need to be some brand new scenes. Heck, probably through the rest of the novel as well, but I’m in denial.

It’s fun because the voice in this novel is so different from the one in the finished novel. The finished novel with Rachel is called Deep Down Things (DDT) and is women’s fiction set in the present, with four first-person POVs and in spare Hemingway-esque language. The first novel written but the one I’m revising is called Earth’s Imagined Corners (EIC) and is historical women’s fiction with close third person POV and much more lush language. When writing DDT, it was easier because I could be contemporary and have that spare western style that comes naturally to me but it was hard because I had to make sure to make the voices different enough. With EIC, I get to play and bring out my historical, sort of academic voice and just let the clauses go on and on, while still trying to make it as clear as possible. I get to bring out my Latinate phrasing. It’s been weird but switching back and forth between them.

I have to watch it, though, because I can easily get swallowed up in the research. I have a full box of research from my first go around, which I’m reading through, and now I have to do further research on the internet for little things. What were the types and colors of horses in 1885? What is the history of the town of Anamosa, Iowa? What battles did the Confederacy win in the Civil War? What was the Civil War called in its own time? It’s so easy to get pulled away into this fascinating history. I limit myself and keep pulling myself back to the writing of it. I try to keep the immediate goal in mind and have faith that even if I’m not researching it to death, I can always go back and check it. And even if I didn’t do research I’ve often found that going with what feels right is often very close to the truth of it when I later go back to double check it.

I find I write slower nowadays than I used to. By that, I mean I make less forward progress during the course of a day. I used to charge on through, telling myself, this is just a draft, don’t get caught up in the small stuff, you’ll start grinding your wheels. Now I do much much more sentence- and paragraph-level editing as I go. I find le mot juste, the right word, the surprising image. I push beyond the cliché to find something surprising. I write specifics, rather than generalities. I rework and rework a sentence. Something will remind me of something, and I’ll go up above and rework it up there, adding something. So on one hand it bothers me that I’m not doing more pages, but the pages I do have are much more well-written.

Virginia Woolf said that writing is like digging out caves behind our characters. Sometimes it feels like each word is that way. Each word opens up new possibilities, and you try all the alternatives and switch the sentence around and see how it sounds and substitute a new word and then switch it around again. That word scoops its own little cave, associations, a life behind it that adds up to create, eventually, the life in the text.

And, I might as well say it now, I don’t know how successful I’ll be with the rest of SSFD. Now that I’m on this project, I think I’d like to continue to focus on it. Sigh. But I’m so excited! I’m past the first hump of getting started and things are flowing and I’m living in that world.

Questions of the Day: How do you balance all your different writing commitments? Your work writing vs. your creative writing? Or, if you write creatively full time, how do you balance short story vs. novel vs. memoir?

PS My friend Mary M. Davies has a fabulous story "Feeding the Ballet Girls" in the next issue of Fiction.  I got to read this story in a draft stage - very exciting.  It isn't posted quite yet, but make sure to check it out!

No comments: