Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Three Problem Chapters

I've been working on these three chapters for a while. Once upon a time, they were at the start of the novel. They are meant to depict a haunting, and they are meant to have an effect both on the reader and the main character. Why I chose to do something so perverse is beyond me. I assumed that in order for these chapters to work, I'd need to both feel what I was doing, and think it through--heart and brain working in tandem.

One mistake I made with these chapters (which used to number 8 total) was to expand, expand, expand, piling up atmosphere and mood. I'm great at creating a mood! It's like knitting--I can just go and go and go. But these drafts were exhausting to read--just as endless atmosphere, say in a swank restaurant, in life is tiresome and eventually meaningless.

I got closer to a solution when I put these three chapters in the middle of the novel, where they happily reside now. This was a good solution, and one proposed by a very, very dear friend. I no longer needed to torture myself by trying to create a certain amount of atmosphere front loaded by action.

Then I over-cut. I played the "Jenga editing game" and cut and cut and cut till I was sitting in my room, surrounded by paper, and no story. The 3 chapters completely disappeared, though I put a paragraph in chapter 9 to hint at what had happened in the 3 missing chapters. With no emotional underpinning, novel collapsed. I was heartbroken. I spent about 72 hours in tears and a week with a migraine. My cats scratched up my right arm (I was trying to hug them for comfort and, well, they aren't as huggie as I would like) and I went to dance class and had to explain to people that I was not abusing a razor. All this seems very funny now.

Then I started to build the chapters back up again, when my most important reader reminded me of some things that had actually been pretty good to start with. I thought he might be lying to me at first. I got over myself and started to toy with these sections. Somewhere around the start of the year I had a little bit more confidence. I had 3 chapters again. They were still terrible, but at least I had them.

Maybe about two weeks ago I was down to just 2 problematic chapters. Then 1. By the weekend, I was down to a few key scenes. The weekend had me distressed. You'd think I would be happy to have narrowed down my problems to a few scenes, but, no, I was in a panic. It is so hard to have faith that somewhere in the future, your work will result in something finished. So I went to a sample sale with a very good friend and bought a shirt I don't need, but which she told me made me look edgy. I am not really edgy. I'm wholesome. It was helpful to think of myself as edgy to tackle the last of the transitions.

Finally, this evening, I'm down to a few key edits. I'm finally willing to have some faith that I will finish.

It sounds terribly self-indulgent to go on this way about writing. But there you go. That's what it is. It's essentially a matter of never giving up. I never understood when I was younger why any artist or writer had to be temperamental. This seemed like a cop out, and the kind of thing a spoiled boy would say to excuse his behavior. But the truth is, it actually takes some kind of temperament to get anywhere at all, as I learned with these troublesome 3 chapters. There were a few days--okay, weeks--where I declared to people that I really didn't think it was possible. I mean, I really didn't. No one takes me seriously when I say things like this, however. But it feels so real! These scary things feel so real . . . and it is by portraying such a lack of faith that one could write a series of chapters depicting a ghost and a haunting, if one were foolish enough to attempt do so . . .

I refuse to believe that writing is bad for you. This seems like an over dramatic point of view, a dated attitude of the Romantics. Writing about ghosts, though, and trying to fit them into 3 chapters. Well, that's probably not so good for your health and I'd like not to do it again. Thank you to all of my friends--and you should know who you are--for getting me to this point.

I really admire your perseverance with that writing. I'm sure it'll pay you off. :-)
Well, that's very kind, Mary. ;-) I was regretting posting something so personal and thinking of taking the whole thing down. But maybe a personal post every now and then isn't such a bad thing. Thanks again.
I made your blog! Now I'm famous!
Sorry that it took you being in a horrible depression to bring about my fame, but as far as I'm concerned it was worth it.
I have great faith in your ability to take care of your own immortality. I'd say you are well on your way. ;-)
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