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Okay, the offending passage was a Facebook post, I’ll give you that. But the content had the writer grinding her teeth.
“…with their daddy’s” the poster wrote. This was a college-educated professional who posted. A person who should have known better. As should we all.
Carelessness is a bear trap, waiting to snap the ankle of the inattentive. Sometimes it’s a simple failure to go back and read what we’ve laid to the page. Sometimes it’s ignorance. I’m not sure which is worse.
Do I make those mistakes? Of course I do. Does it make me any more tolerant of them. Hell no. I’ve known way too many colleagues in the profession of communication who cannot spell, cannot write. Face it, this is like being a chef who cannot cook. I have known writers whose work has been redeemed only by the intervention of great editors and proofreaders. I’ve known overly-eager editors who’ve nitpicked work within an inch of its life, yet who, in their zeal, have missed major errors.
Insert the sound of teeth-grinding here.
These are the capital crimes of fiction….The main character describing him/herself by looking into a mirror. Exhaustive descriptions of a character’s appearance packed into a single paragraph. Adverb saturation. The habit of noting a character’s every move.
Here’s the truth of me: I am not a formalist. Far from it. I believe that unconventional uses of language bring color and tempo and challenge to the reader. I’ll admit that I, too, have self-indulgencies and errors. I make up words. I stray into cliché territory from time to time, thinking that a change-up of the trite phrase will redeem it. I over-use certain punctuation, calling it personal style. Could I do without these crutches? Probably. Do I want to? I refer you back to the above Hell no.
In my earlier days as a writer-Fascist, mine was the habit of reverse graffiti. I would carry a bottle of Wite-Out in my purse, mercilessly painting out errant apostrophes on public signs. Sometimes I asked the sign owner; most of the time I didn’t. I asked then the questions that I continue to ask today:
Is it too much to ask that we strive for a rudimentary command of our native language? If we cannot all be Shakespeare (and let’s face it, who among us can?), might we not, at least, make an effort to make right the written us that we share with the world?
Where we are today would be amusing. If it weren’t so damned sad.
A writer’s experiment, this. To see what wonder I can pull out of the morning, without a thought going into it.
Saw a quote, recently, on a FB feed to which I subscribe. A quote from William Morris, whose work I have loved for years. “Have nothing in your life,” the quote read (or something like it—this is too early for me to go hunting) “that is not useful or beautiful or both.”
I have writing.
The difference in this writer between the abandonment of her life and her reclaiming of it is a marked one. My world is divided into two parts, BW and AW: Before Writing and After Writing. This is by far the happier one.
I was recalling to a lunch companion something that had happened a number of years ago; realized that this was a time before my work and I had found one another again. How empty that memory seemed. The horror.
To co-opt the Morris quite, writing is, in my life, both beautiful and useful. It is the glory of a man who gathers souls to himself, to give them a place to rest on their journey. It is the sacrifices of love. It is a man who pursues himself to the ends of the physical universe. It is a character who conjures light out of his deepest despair. These are the beauties among which I am permitted to reside.
And it is useful. The filling of a life. The joy that a lifelong reader feels—but from the other side of that looking glass. The challenges (and, yes, even the doubts and the awfulnesses) that one must master. Food for the mind that keeps the soul alive.
Writing can be a meditation, a workout, a balancing act, if you let it be. Especially on days when one is inclined to pull wonder out of air.
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.
Naps in this house on the river are rarely lengthy. A satisfying half-hour is the normal routine. Most of the time they are cadged on the sofa, under the warm, exquisitely soft woven throw my sister brought me from Scotland (and also under a cat.) Sometimes they are taken in the bedroom I slept in for years, a brief shuteye in the pool of sunlight through the window there, like a cat, a reveling in the extraordinarily sensual contrast between warm sunshine and cool room.
Wherever they are grabbed, they are never taken in late afternoon: The prospect of falling asleep in daylight and waking after dark terrifies me for some reason. One-ish seems the perfect hour…not too early to recharge, not too late to interfere with a good night’s sleep.
Naps fall into one of two categories—the head nap and the body nap…with a subset of the two which I’ll call the heart nap. The body nap is self-evident: a recovery from a too-strenuous session of exercise or the broken sleep of the night before (as it was during the tornado sirens the other night.) But the brain nap…ahhhhhh….
The brain nap is more nuanced…the prima donna of naps. It is signaled by the word that won’t come, the plot that won’t straighten; of too much concentration in too short a time, or the desire to clear the mental desks for the task ahead. Often, it is a nap that doesn’t really want to happen, and dissipates after about 15 minutes.
The heart nap is the trickiest of all…a cross between the little sleeps for head and the ones for the body. These are the sick-of-myself naps. The make-it-go-away-for-a-minute naps. They cure the symptom, not the illness…but sometimes they are all the writer needs.
A windy day, here. Windy and cool, under a cloudless blue sky. The perfect day for a nap. As soon as I’ve earned it.
Today marks my 600th post on Sky Diaries.
For an occasion as full of personal significance and celebration as this one is, I’m a little late off the starting block. For good reason.
At three ayem this morning, I was wakened by the tornado siren over the hill.
The weather reports said that tornadoes were a possibility in the fast, late-passing storm. And such warning sirens in the night aren’t unknown here. But they are always unsettling.
I have the routines down: Cats corralled in the innermost bathroom of the house, a feat accomplished through a combination of strategically closed doors, a non-startling manner and a fist full of catnip. Cat carriers in place. Cushions. Local radio and regional turned TV on and up. And a sharp ear turned to the outside.
Nothing happened, fortunately—not here, anyway. Other folks, north of the state line were not so lucky. The storm passed, more a grumble than a fury. But the night was broken by adrenalin-rush. And here I am.
Destructive weather gives me as much reason to remember my gratitude about this house as an afternoon spent staring at the river does. I have had both reasons in recent days. And once again, I was made to understand that this house is Me.
A thing created in love. Creaking, slightly, and a little worn at the edges. Capable of moments of beauty and serenity and the gifts of surprising flight. A place of peace that can still manage to turn wicked and dangerous. Constant motion that rolls past the still eye. A place a little wild in the darkness, a lot cosmic under its infinite sky; a place that does not long to be anything other that what it is.
The house, as I said, as Me.
That my folks worked so hard to have this place, that they loved it so much, that they had the awe-inspiring wisdom to make sure that I would be its next steward…this tidy little house is who I am. It breathes as I do. It is the quiet music I write to, the view from the office window of my soul.
Storm and flood and ice notwithstanding, this is the deep-dug well from which the next 600 posts will come. And the next books. And if being here, being it, being me for the rest of my life is the absolute best I have to look forward to, I’m a pretty damned lucky woman indeed.
Thank you for coming to stay in this writerly house, for as many of the past posts as you have seen, for as many of the next ones as you’ll want. I hope to make you comfortable and welcome; to feed you well and keep your wine glass filled and give you a warm place to curl up with your thoughts. A friend and writer should do no less in the House of Me.
There comes a point in a book (at least there has been for me times-four, now) when one can see the landing lights in the distance; the end of the journey. The trip hasn’t always been smooth. We have flown through storms, we have dealt with unruly passengers; sometimes, we have lost our way entirely. But the lights of home are ahead.
Landing will have its own challenges. The landing strip may be bumpy, the gate may not be waiting for us. Our passengers will get off, others will get on, and the drama will start all over again.
Is it worth it, this Flying Dutchman trip through the hearts of ourselves?
As I go through my mental checklist for touchdown, I try to look at the work as a stranger might. I try to find what might ring false. I keep my eye out for the flashing light that could signal a failure somewhere. I try to balance my exhausted concentration against the knowledge that the wheels have not touched down.
This is the making-sure that everything is as if should be to bring me safely home. This is the time to set doubt aside…to be gently hard-eyed in my judgment of myself…to make sure that the auto-pilot of self-acceptance has not been left on.
Yesterday I groomed the first 45 pages of the book. Wrote a short new chapter—the last 120 seconds in the life of a character whose existence is vital to the plot, yet who never appears anywhere else, except through the memories of others. I trimmed a couple of frayed sentences; discovered a few words that were not right for their places; corrected a couple of grammatical errors that slipped past me. I asked myself how I felt about what I saw flying past me…about what I might feel tomorrow.
And what did I see in that landing checklist? I saw forty-five pages that are tight and true and air-worthy…pages that require absolutely nothing else to be done…pages which I am convinced are among the best of my writing life.
I know that there will be turbulence ahead and hard decisions to make. I may look to the book and find that the wing is on fire. Not now.
For now, I am both the destination and the means to it.
The pages glow. Like landing lights in the dark.
(This from a conversation in eSalon yesterday morning. Thank you Donna and Joni.)
Three writers. One plagued by a bad case of the “shoulds”: I should pick it up again, I should rewrite, I should submit, I should be dedicating more time. Should.
Tough word, that one. Because it’s not a word at all…it’s the invisible screen we throw our intentions against. The one we raise to keep ourselves from our real issues, fears, desires.
We all do it. All of us. We fidget and procrastinate and excuse. We find a fleck on the carpet that needs picking up. An email to check. Laundry to fold. And before we know it, the day is gone. Intention has been starved to death in a secret cubby of ourselves that we’ve never quite managed to find.
Joni gave voice to the source of it, in a litany of real-life concerns that could have come straight out of my head, word for word. We-of-the-screen are full of fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of rejection. Fear of our limitations. Fear of the steep uphill slog that publishing has become. We spend half our inner reserves of energy running from the fears that we refuse to name—we run ourselves ragged on our own personal emotional Treadmills from Hell—and we wonder why we are too exhausted to devote ourselves to the work that will only get done if we do it.
I am not saying “I accuse” in these reflections…except perhaps to myself. I am the me who has such a desperate dedication to the writing that it detaches me from the real world. The me who treads the writing waters ceaselessly, day after day, simply so I won’t drown. Not laudable. No choice. My screen may look different…my screen may seem to offer a clear view of a writer writing furiously…but it’s the same damned screen.
The thing I’ve learned: “Tomorrow” is the writer’s worst enemy. The creation of the thought, the assembly of the idea, the rewrite, the rewiring, the small perfection—they can only happen today. Now. This instant.
Now that I’ve got the screen pulled down, at least for the moment, I have to get working. See you later.
Belinda has gone home, back to New York, driven to the airport in a snowstorm that I will content myself to describe was “interesting”, and leave it as that.
The house has settled back into its own rhythms. The energies that bounce off the walls are none but my own. The book’s path lay before me to find again under the melting snow of four days’ absence.
The morning walk has revelations. The smell of recent laundry trailing from a neighbor’s passing car. The smell of old booze exhaled from the window of a truck. The smell of damp poultry feathers from the turkey barns on the hill. A smell of almost-spring. And the sky.
The sky is translucent-clouded, many-colored. It is chalcedony.
Chalcedony is a fascinating stone, the color of opal milk. A stone that is, at once, there and not there. I know this because I have spent a lot of time looking at the chalcedony necklace Belinda gave me for my birthday. The rest I had to look up:
“A natural form of silicon dioxide, Chalcedony is a cryptocrystalline variety of Quartz. [It has] a waxy lustre, and may be semitransparent or translucent…a nurturing stone that promotes brotherhood and good will. It absorbs negative energy. It brings the mind, body, emotions and spirit into harmony. Chalcedony instills feelings of benevolence and generosity. It alleviates hostility and transforms melancholy into joy. Eases self-doubt. Creates openness and enthusiasm. Absorbs and dissipates negative thoughts, emotions and bad dreams.”
In other words, it is what Belinda is. Chalcedony is an apt description of her. Concealed and at the same time open. Beautifully mysterious, content to be what it is. You can’t see through it. You want to…sometimes you think you can. But you can’t. And that is just fine.
It is polished and elegant, understated in its magnificence. It doesn’t sparkle in the self-possessed way that a diamond does. And, were you to ask it, I would guess that it doesn’t mind.
Belinda is as tough as nails, as emotionally soft as the fur on a bunny’s tummy, as elusive and indefinable as river mist. She has a finely-tuned bullshit meter that I envy. She speaks her mind without reservation and without the attachments of ego. She is frank and blunt, yet with an exquisite sense of appropriateness for the moment.
She knows her way around a good wine, possesses a highly developed palate, could find her way through a kitchen blindfolded. The same person who will sit happily at the ballet without fidgeting will talk to a cat for an hour, and will wander the riverbank for three more, lost in the finding of stones with nature’s signature written on them.
She is questing, always on the lookout for something interesting to learn, whether it is French or Russian or pottery or architecture. She can converse with equal facility and enthusiasm about the intellectual, the spiritual, fashion or men, or the deep, essential natures of her friends, including this one.
She seems, most of the time, to be fearless. She will talk of harrowing recent ordeals using the word “terror”, an emotion which you never see in her. Under her British reserve (which she has, proudly, never shed), she is more American than I am. She will surprise you. She always does. And I adore her—have you guessed?
She’ll probably grimace reading this. I may expect a raised eyebrow when she does. I don’t care. Get over it…the end.
Among my few and well-chosen friends (and you know who you are), Belinda is chalcedony. And one of the great treasures of my life.