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The word is yes.
Sleep. And inspiration. The writer’s gifts to herself.
Commerce demanded the first few hours of my Saturday. I grumbled about it; found the bright side: I had the office to myself—a place that is, after all, only three blocks away. Two hours to duty. The rest of the day to myself.
I was a house on fire. In a good way.
I was focused. Clear. Not tentative. The chapter was not as much of a shambles as I’d feared; the days of finicking and fiddling and worry were evident on the page.
Work. Sleep. Repeat.
Sunday morning, the gift. The yes.
Coffee as usual. And at 8:30 a.m., a moment to glance at the work ahead before seeing to the neglected tasks of self-improvement in the gym downstairs. A moment that turned the day:
I looked at the work behind and the work ahead, and I said yes. I gave myself permission to do nothing else, nothing more, than exactly what I was doing at the moment. To give myself the gift of the best of my energy; to give the best of myself to the best of the day.
The chapter’s ask was an exacting one. First to last, it required an elemental change in the POV character…to take her—and through her eyes, the main character—from who she was all the way to the wonder of a world. To show us for the first time, how remarkable the title character will be. To let us know that everything is about to change. It is the moment in which the guts and heart of the book take hold. It is the last chance to ask the reader to commit before the story goes forward. A formidable task.
I didn’t leave the couch all day. I wrote. I thought. I edited. I added to the work, built it, all the way to chapter’s end. I stopped only for quick bites of food, eaten standing, and mugs of drinkables. I warmed myself at the fire inside. I gave myself to me. All because I said yes.
The power in that small, single word.
I was up far later than I should have been, listening in the dark to the readback. That the chapter needed work, that it still does, is not such a scary thing today. I am tired and happy. I will be the closet curmudgeon all day, reining in my secret tendency to snark. I will hold out doggedly against what I face in commerce. I will still feel the tug of the undertow that is my inner riptide of doubt.
But I’ll keep at it. I’ll find a way to face what I fear. Because this is one of those blessed days at the end of a blessed weekend in which I remind myself who I am. And what I do. And what I must do.
Is it fair? Is it right? Is it the refuge of a hack writer? Is it lazy? Or is it a legitimate crayon in the toolbox of a skilled fictionarian?
Giving the plot away.
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen it. The device of starting a book with an intriguing snippet of the ending.
This is a device perhaps more evident in “popular” fiction than in its more literary cousin…to suggest the fire of the finish without burning the reader in the process. To raise an image, an emotion, a plot point on the novelistic flagpole to try to get folks to salute.
We’ve seen it done well. We’ve seen it clunk clumsily on the page. But should it be there at all?
Plots can—should—develop over the course of the 300-plus pages. By the first few of those pages, we need to have the reader hooked. In doing this, the seeds of the story should be evident early, to, as Salieri said so memorably in Amadeus, “let them know when to clap.”
But how much? And how soon?
I think of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, and a line that caught me…after a fairly straightforward description of the mission of the characters we are about to know better, these four words stopped me magnificently: They meant no harm.
I had no reason at that point to believe that harm was going to be done by anybody. Despite the dire state of the main character, I had no idea that a world was going to go horribly wrong. But those four words picked me up and threw me into the book. An eye-opener for a writer.
Would I have read the work without it? Sure: It’s a wonderful thing. Did it add to the writer’s ability to turn the pages for me? Without question.
Given the fidgety attention span of today’s readers, it may not be too outlandish to hint at what’s coming, to let them know that this is a tale worth following. The things we must ask ourselves are: When? What? How much?
Executed well enough, even a cheap trick has its place.
What does the writer do with gifts from the universe that are not entirely worthy?
Usually the Muses are thoughtful givers. But sometimes, they have a wild hair. They bought on sale. Or used. The idea they gave you, a little tired. Worn around the edges. You’ve seen it before, somewhere. The plot twist or moment of character or snippet of dialog: It is not a glad thing. It is the big-eyed painting. The shirt in an unwearable color. The figurine with a chipped corner. The year-old fruitcake.
Can’t give the thing back. Can’t regift it elsewhere. Can’t return it to place of purchase. No. One is too well-raised for that. Instead, one sees whether the thing will fit; hides it away in a dim corner of the notebook, in a place subject to convenient amnesia. You know, I had forgotten it was there. The least she could do to honor the intention if not its expression.
Or maybe one decides to experiment with the questionable thing. To try it here or there in the story. Out of courtesy for the gesture. In that Geppetto moment, in carving a face out of a dull block of leftover wood, lives the possibility for surprise.
In digging the thing out of its hidey hole, one discovers that it’s had babies in there. Good ones. Handsome, noble ones. Some weird sort of cell mitosis has multiplied it into Possibilities. The thing itself is still as ugly as home-made sin, but its offspring–they’re wonderful.
Or maybe those loud socks just remain loud.
This is the color of the gift horse into whose mouth we can’t help but look.
Thank you, Muses. Thank you anyway. It was a lovely thought.
I have not been in a communicative state of mind lately.
I have been marshaling my resources around my own head. In fact, between work, the note-stage and this space (soon to reach 700 posts), I am not much in the mood for talking.
I take my thoughts from one pocket; put them in another. Where others would answer, I nod and smile. I fear that I am not being a very good friend. Or a very good human being. I parse myself stingily. One would swear that I am being paid by the word (a thing devoutly to be wished.)
These are the days of the quiet necessity. The days in which staring into the corner of a dark room is my idea of a high time. I swaddle my head in silence, and hope for exquisite clarity; sit patiently on the nest of ideas and hope to hatch the almost-thoughts in there.
I am fretting for the start of the new book; pining for the ending of the last one. In the absence of substantial forward momentum, I’ve begun reading the filled first notebook. I am surprised by the depth and richness of some of the notes there. But.
Some big pieces are missing. Some huge reasons why have not given themselves to me yet. I may chafe to get at it, but one cannot start a race before the gun. And one cannot race without a course or companions—this is not a time-trial.
The book will tell me, I say. The book will tell me what and when. I could be using this time to start sending out the previous two completed, hard-won works. I haven’t done that. I wait like a teenager waits by the phone for a call from the object of her affections. The wait is getting old.
The silence, the marshaling, is my attempt at remedy. I am entering the state of holy simplemindedness, subduing myself, humbling myself before the task. All I can do. For now.
Strange dream night before last. Very.
Triggered, I imagine, by a news update on the shootings in Aurora, CO, ten miles from here, this: I dreamt I was at a lunchtime meal-meeting with my coworkers when a man with a hunting bow came into the room. The man stalked the space, aiming at each of us with razor-tipped arrows as we tried to hide. At last, in a moment as much luck as it was determination, I found myself behind him. I jumped on his back and got a choke hold around his neck, the chance my companions needed to disarm him. Very scary.
And here was the strange thing: As the dust settled, as the cops came and took the man away, as I got my jacket and came back among the company, no one said a word to me. No one acknowledged what I’d done, as if I had become invisible.
Rather, I suppose, the way I’m feeling now.
I am often a ghost among company, surrounded, often, by friendly-enough people, but no real friends. Isolation (whether imposed by self or others) is not a condition unknown to me. But that’s not the reason for occupying a place so near to squirmy discontent.
I am nearly a week removed from the book-in-progress. The reasons have not all been unpleasant: I got to spend three whole days with my dear Kristina. No, the main part of this removal from Self has come from the demands of work and the tiredness that it breeds. The numbers for this blogspace have tanked. Inside my head I am tired and alone.
I don’t like this place of inner isolation. My plot is keeping itself at an arm’s reach. My characters are aloof and unattainable; I ask them to speak to me, but they don’t. Won’t. I try to connect with the plot, yet, although I know the points are waiting for me in the notebook, they do not pick me up and propel me forward.
Being a participant in my own work. That is what I want. That is what I miss.
I know that this feeling won’t last. This adriftness is a merely a stage on which ideas will eventually play themselves out. But I am not happy in this headspace. I am a woman of direction. The work has been a refuge from co-workers who do not know the difference between condescension and guidance and people who refuse to make a connection. Faced with less-than-success, I am often tempted to walk away; to live within the improbable dream. But I don’t. I remain adrift and wait for the connections to come.
Today I will give myself wholly to thoughts. To invite the universe in. To surround my mind with the people I truly love, some fleshandblood, some not.