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2010-02-18 10:17 AM
I mull. I'm a muller.
Or I used to be. Now it seems I'm a depleted reactor most of the time. "Relentless," a dear and clear-sighted friend observed about raising small children. (Parents of twins, especially, just nodded at that, and flashed on their own experiences--or anyway, what they can remember of them through the sleep-deprivation damage. They also know other people think the sleep-deprivation damage line was a joke.)
In the last couple of weeks, several people have expressed that they wished I were writing more. When one or two say the same thing, I can just shoot something glib over in response; but five or six? That might mean there are more out there who actually, you know, care either way.
Before the "How can you think we don't care" comments start, I should clarify that I do think exactly that. Sure, if presented with a poll consisting of two questions, you'd probably choose "YES - he should write more." But you don't go through life a little wounded because there hasn't been a Keith Snyder book out in eight years.
But half a dozen out of nowhere, unrelated? OK, I need to answer this.
The new manuscript (it's not a book until it's sold, printed, and bound) is at 107,000 words, which feels like around the 2/3 point. Maybe 3/4. My longest book before this was something like 75,000. The new one is also very sloppy in its first draft. It's not crime fiction, and it's multi-threaded, with the threads taking place over an 80-year period and interlocking as it goes. Same characters at different ages, different characters in different time periods, a multitude of locations, both modern and period, and (here's where the writers have the same reaction the parents of twins had a few paragraphs back) I don't outline.
It doesn't have a title. I've tried out a bunch. They don't work. The word "tear" occurred to me and I like it because it has three meanings relevant to the book (cry, rend, go like lightning), but I haven't been able to work it into a title that feels right. Titles show up when they feel like it, not when you want them to. That's how you know they're really your friends--my Liberian friend Nyema taught me that. I knew the depth of his fondness when he came over one day, grabbed some food, and left. I could do the same in his house to this day if he didn't live 3000 miles away.
I've also been mulling--my family's away this week, so I have the luxury of my solitary self--about how we use our experiences in writing. I think people who don't write fiction have a more literal sense of it than is necessarily so--or, at least, than is so for me. The goal is to write truly, but for me, that doesn't mean writing factually. It means using tiny things I've come to understand, teasing them out (they're fragile), and placing them gently (they're fragile) where they intersect well and correctly with the interior of a character in a moment. "Oh, I'm going to use that" never refers to the wholesale lifting of somebody's overt history. The betrayal I'm going for is deeper: How things really are in a situation that reminds me of a different situation. If sufficient congruence exists, the tiny true internal detail (it's fragile) can be transplanted without harm.
If the superficial facts of life and relationships helped me, I might use them. I might turn into that bastard. But they don't. They don't serve stories about people I made up. What I'm plundering is emotional life.
Someone caring about the next book gives me a little lift. It's nice. It's a faint echo of the real gratification, which is somebody really getting it when they read it, and using the right words back about it. Positivity is always nice, but the most glowing review is never as satisfying as one that says you touched somebody in precisely the right place, and they got it, and they said it back to you with the word that proves it. Comments from readers that they didn't realize were important to me are the ones that have stuck. Being praised is nice. Being understood is better.
The only way I know to be understood is to be true. Hemingway, yes? Write the truest sentence you know.
Unfortunately, that's also the way to be misunderstood. But at least you know you did it.
It's a huge, messy draft, with a major storyline I didn't know would be there until I hit the 100,000 mark. That one's going to have to come in WAY earlier. That's what draft 2 will be for. Draft 1 is just for reaching the finish line, finding out the specifics of the ending, putting all the stories in perspective. SJ told me about the "knee play," a little joint of a story that serves a narrative function and holds the attention of the audience while the next segment of leg is being readied behind the curtain. Some of the stories I thought were femurs are probably patellae, so what I've labored over on the manuscript page will become unexplicated backstory.
When will it be done? I don't know. This year, I think. I've got an application in to a writing retreat, and I'm now using a manual typewriter. The advantages: I can't go backward in the story, only forward; it doesn't need power; and I can't get online with it. The next day, I retype those pages into Word, adjusting on the fly, and then go back to the typewriter.
I agree that I should write more. A few weeks ago I bumped my daily word quota from 250 to 500. The quota's not necessarily getting met any more frequently than it was before, but I can reach 500 now.
More to the point, I agree that I should publish more. One thing at a time. First a draft, then another draft, then some more drafts, then a finished manuscript. Then it goes to agents. Then it's out of my hands. Along in there is family, work, the economy, personal failings, the daily string of exhaustions.
I remember Meryl Streep saying, when she was publicizing Angels in America, that the really good drama is about everything. That's the canvas size this time. It's not filled yet--some sections are finely rendered, others are smudgy with pencil roughing. Others are smudgy and bare.
And yes, there's music in it.
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