Maybe there is something to this say it out loud and name it thing. Yesterday I managed 1600 words–wasn’t expecting that–and it was a lot easier than the 1400 from Sunday. I think printing the chapter out and rereading it, and thinking about it, before I went back to work on it made it a lot easier, frankly; I have this bad habit of just going into the file and starting from the beginning and revising as I go–and sometimes I don’t remember how the chapter ends. Sometimes I will add a paragraph that I think belongs in the chapter…only to come across the same paragraph, slightly differently written, a little while later…which also can be filed under wasting time and not an effective use of time and yeah that’s a step you should cut out.
But one thing about being a writer is that you never stop learning, I guess. And, sometimes if things aren’t going as well as you’d like, it’s not a step backwards to stop for a minute, decide you have to go back in time to try to remember things you used to do, tricks that used to work well for you in the past that somehow you’ve completely forgotten about now.
You know, like keeping a journal. Reading my pages out loud to hear how the words sound together, if there’s a steady rhythm of some kind or catch where it stumbles a bit here and there, to smooth it out to the right pace and rhythm for the reader, for the words to and syllables to flow correctly so the reader isn’t taken out of the moment by a badly selected word or phrase. I love writing, but the whole process is still a mystery to me, all these years and columns and articles and reviews and essays and blog entries and short stories and novellas and novels later, it somehow still is a mystery to me, and every time I sit down to write a new manuscript, no matter what it is or what it’s about or who it’s for, I seem to have to solve the mystery of how to do this, how to get it done, and how to satisfy myself that I’ve done my best–or even try to figure out how to do my best.
And sometimes it feels like I’ve never completely figured it out, but somehow it just happened.
One of the reasons I loathe being asked where my ideas come from isn’t just that it’s not a question where any answer I might give would shed light into how I write or how I choose what I write; it’s just that ideas are quite literally everywhere. I can have a conversation with someone and during the chat, in my head whatever we’re talking about has triggered several thoughts of oh that would make an interesting starting point for a story or that would be interesting subject to look into and read about and perhaps write an essay about or that would be an interesting character to write about. Headlines give me ideas, and stories on the news, and snippets of conversations overheard; there’s absolutely nothing out there in the world that comes into contact with me that also won’t trigger some kind idea for something, some bit of writing or some piece of fiction or a paragraph or something, you know? Sometimes a paragraph which has absolutely nothing to do with anything I am currently writing will pop into my head, and I will dutifully write it down in my journal, where it will sit until I run across it one day and think I should really write something around this paragraph, it’s quite good, and if I am the right frame of mind the characters and the title will come to me and then the story will start to spin out from there. The short stories I have on hand that aren’t finished, are in some stage of construction, whether it’s an unfinished first draft, a first draft or a second or even a third; there’s something still missing from those that I can’t quite put my finger on; some missing piece that, if clicked into place, will finish the story and it will be done, complete, ready for public consumption. There’s a short story, for example, that I wrote as a first draft for a writing class back in the 1980’s; my professor told me to send it out for publication back in the days of carbon paper and typewriters. I sent it to a couple of places over the years, but it never was accepted anywhere, and I know something is missing from the story to make it complete but I simply cannot put my finger on what precisely that is; I’ve had editors look at it and try to solve the puzzle of “Whim of the Wind” (which is a title I absolutely love), but no one’s ever quite been able to tell me what it needs–they also recognize it needs something, but they don’t know what that something is; I always think to myself welcome to the club and put the story back away. But the voice is charming, and the story has some of the most lovely sentences and paragraphs I’ve ever written; the imagery is beautiful, as is the mood and tone, and it’s actually the first story set in my fictional county in Alabama I’ve revisited in other work over the years, notably “Smalltown Boy” and the book I’m currently writing. But every few years I will pull that story out and read it again, wondering what I can do to complete it, to finally finish it, some twenty-five or more years later, and never can quite get the answer I need.
Maybe there is no answer to that question. Who knows?
I also started writing an article that is due relatively soon that I was asked to write; the trick with the article is I have to be careful not to turn it into a polemic. But it’s slowly starting to come together in my head…we’ll see how that turns out. Which means hopefully soon; I think I need to get it turned in by the end of the week.
Yeah, nothing like pressure.
In other exciting news, I’ve had to start wearing a belt. My weight is now fluctuating between 211 and 207; which is fan-fucking-tastic, and now my pants are all too big. Over the last few months I’d noticed that I was constantly having to pull my pants up; now they are so big they will slide all the way down to my knees after taking three or four steps. This, needless to say, is kind of annoying to have to deal with–especially if your hands are full–so this morning I put on a belt and my pants are staying up just fine…I stopped wearing belts years ago, unless I was dressing up; in which case it served as a unnecessary accessory, but you can’t wear dressy pants without a belt. So I own maybe two belts, total; which is a good thing because now they are necessary.
I still don’t like wearing belts, but like the idea that I need one.
I was also very pleased, by the way, with the writing I’ve been doing lately. Yes, I know I had a bout of impostor syndrome on Sunday, but the reread of the chapter and what I wrote for Chapter Seven pleased me immensely. I probably could have written more, but as I said, I want to read Chapter Eight again before rewriting it–I think this is a chapter where I could make it a lot more creepy than it is already written; it’s a drive through the Alabama countryside late at night in the dark, and for someone who is primarily used to living in a city the size of Chicago–imagine how terrifying it would be to drive down country roads in the dark that you aren’t that familiar with. Over all, the book still needs more atmosphere and needs to be more Gothic, and chilling; that is, I imagine, what the next draft will be for.
I also think I know what I need to do to make “And The Walls Came Down” creepier, and more ready for submission.
I think this week I am going to send out a couple of stories to markets, and see what happens.
After all, the worst thing they can do to me is say no.
And on that note it’s back to the spice mines.