Saturday, November 24, 2018

That would make a great story ...

I can't help it. Let me overhear an intriguing scrap of conversation, or read a bizarre headline, or learn about some new-to-me quirky historical fact, and my brain will start constructing a story around it.

It doesn't matter if I ever write the story; I just seem to have an automatic reflex to outline the possible story in my head, maybe come up with an opening line. 

It's like a marathon runner doing a little jog-in-place. It keeps me in shape, preps me for the big race. Only in the case of writing, I never know which little jog is going to turn into the marathon until I'm well into the race!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

On lifework and dandelion seeds

"I only managed today to write six thank-you notes. This is the kind of day which utterly depresses me because I cannot see it as a lifework, only an existence to thank people ..."
--May Sarton, At Eighty-Two: A Journal

I know what Sarton means here; we often think of our notes, emails, blog posts, etc., as not "real writing," or what she refers to as "lifework." The lifework consists of the carefully crafted stories and articles and books that we deliberately put out for the world's notice ... right?

Well, yes and no. It occurs to me that when I correspond with someone, I'm establishing the very kind of connection that I want my published writing to achieve. I'm just doing it one-to-one instead of one-to-many. At this point in my life I've seen how rare and fleeting and unpredictable the one-to-many connections can be. 

And so I have a new regard for the less formal daily communications we practice. For some writers, letters and journals and other documents have become part of their lifework, even if they didn't plan it that way.

We don't always know what our lifework is, or what it will turn out to be. We blow dandelion seeds into the wind, and who can say which ones will sprout and flower?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The uncertainty of the first draft

Starting a new book is all steam and excitement, an idea pulsing with life. But I'm never sure, until I've written my way into it, whether it will really work. I have abandoned first drafts after a thousand words, two thousand, ten thousand. 

Usually by the time I hit ten thousand, I have a sense of whether this is going anywhere. If the story's getting deeper and more complex, if new subplots are opening up, if the characters are revealing more with every scene, then I may have something. But if the initial impulse has burned out, its promise dwindled, the characters never growing, no new conflicts arising naturally, then it's another scrap for the scrap box. Part of it may be quilted into another story eventually.

When a story does go, when it grows legs--or better yet, wings--there's a feeling of inevitability. Yet the first shovelful into the ground (to mix metaphors here) rarely tells me how rich the pocket of ore will be. I have to dig a while to test it.