Three great things happened this week:
1. Max ate a tomato sandwich. Whole wheat bread with the crust cut off, 1 slice of tomato, yellow mustard on one slice of bread and ketchup on the other. He ate every last crumb of it.
2. I finished sewing 5 shirts which you can read about on Stitch if you’re interested. So I’m feeling productive.
3. I cleaned the downstairs of my house. Epic. My kitchen floor was growing scared of itself, it was so dirty.
I don’t really want to be up right now. I’ve been awake since just before 5am. I finally gave up at 5:45. Here it is, 7am, and I have to commit to staying awake because I am drinking coffee and until Philip wakes up it will not be comfortable to get back into bed with all the breathing going on in there. I thought I’d write but I don’t have a starting point yet for the new book as I’m still working on the outline.
I just now thought about the stacks of notes and bits I wrote for two different ideas for novels I had almost 15 years ago. Some people have great ideas that just need time to mature before they can become fully formed. This is not the case with those earlier efforts of mine. I worked so hard at them but I couldn’t bring any of my ideas to life because I was stuck in a strange warped place of literal truth. I knew that fiction is all about making shit up – telling stories and using your imagination to build different versions of the world we live in as seen through the eyes of people who don’t really exist. At the time I was coming to terms with some of my own truths – with my family and my past and the fact that I really CAN excel at doing math. I had my saber held against the chin of my worst demon and with my chest full of fire and my head full of TRUTH I knew the living words would follow.
Naturally I was wrong.
I kept trying to tell MY truth because I thought that’s what writers do. Well, they do, but not in a literal way. If I was going to tell my truth then I was beholden to the facts surrounding my truth as well. Basically I was trying to write fiction but kept veering off into autobiographical territory and it didn’t work because I couldn’t tell my story and then make stuff up that wasn’t true.
I made up a girl named Vera who worked in an underwear factory. I loved the idea of her. She most definitely didn’t resemble me at all so it was weird how I kept trying to make her life have the same issues as mine. It turns out I can’t write good fiction by starting with a conclusion and trying to stuff it into the shape of a story. It turns out that the story has to live for its own sake. It has to matter outside of myself. It turns out I have to start with a question and endeavor to answer it.
I could see where I kept getting hung up but I didn’t know how to work past it. I remember the reams of paper I wasted trying to work through it, trying to force life onto the page and it was just like trying to light a cigarette with a packet of soggy matches.
I remember giving up. I remember telling myself that I can’t write fiction, that I’m a poet not a novelist.*
In a nod to the character Vera, who never came to life, I made Jane Bauer (from that first novel I started writing “Jane Doe”) work in an underwear factory. I’m realizing now, as I write this post, that this is not right for Jane, it doesn’t work. To change this I’ll have to adjust some of what I’ve already got written but that’s what novel writing is like. It’s not rigid work, it’s fluid. You can write out the most detailed outline and you’ll still discover that something you planned for your story doesn’t work and if you try to flog a story with details that don’t work – it will stagnate. If not for you, then for the reader. I am becoming better at recognizing when something I’m trying in a story isn’t working.
In those earlier efforts at novel writing I was full of ideas, ideals, and huge life lessons and THINGS I NEEDED TO SAY but I didn’t really have a story to tell yet.
I wonder what I’m going to think about my first novels once I’ve written many?
*One can be both, obviously, but when you’re super busy tying yourself to the whipping post you don’t consider such things, all you want is to get on with lashing yourself and crushing your own dreams before someone else has the chance to.