Saturday, August 20, 2022

As the world changes

 Many writers have had a difficult time writing during the pandemic. It's not surprising, really, between the anxiety and uncertainty, the disruption in schedules, and wondering how ongoing plots and settings would be affected by this turn in history.

Others dug into their manuscripts because they had more time or space, or fewer distractions, or needed the escape. The two manuscripts I worked on the most during this time barely mentioned the pandemic--especially the one that occurred mostly during the 1980s!

We are still reckoning with COVID19. So much of what we've been through in the past two years, we haven't yet been able to process and put into perspective. And there is still uncertainty ahead. I remember a similar reckoning after 9/11. Not only did we have to rewrite the landscape of New York, DC, Pennsylvania; not only did we wonder what might be next (anthrax, it turned out); not only were there new airport procedures and building-security rules; most of all, we had to look at how these events affected our mindsets, viewpoints, memories, plans.

Things are always changing. But sometimes they change more suddenly, and it takes a while to absorb the new world.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Through the thicket

 "The agonizing self-doubt is always there, of course, and I have to remember that this novel is like all others, a continual effort to surmount it and spur myself on like a rider through a frustrating thicket."--May Sarton, At Seventy

I don't know why stories (and poems, and essays, and books) rarely manifest themselves fully sculpted, but in my experience they don't. In my experience they prefer to be hacked from the ground and polished painstakingly over time.

I'm working on a project right now where the ending is performing its usual hide-and-seek routine. I know the plot has essentially concluded, but the story needs a final something ... something ... what? I know the ending must be around here somewhere. I can almost feel it!

The only difference between my process now and many years ago is that now I don't try to force it. I inch forward through the thicket Sarton describes, untangling the briers from my hair and clothes, looking for the path forward. I may only advance a step at a time; I may have to backtrack. But slow progress is still progress. 

In hindsight, it will seem as if the finished story was always there; the ending was inevitable. Right now my characters stumble around, following my try-this and try-that cues, and the final scene seeps forward, a few lines at a time.