I haven’t been working on specific projects since last autumn, but I have been writing. I finished draft four of a novel in October, and I did write a NanoWriMo project in November. I also landed a fairly intense work project which kept me too busy from October through December. Now in January I am devoting time to writing, or should I say, learning how to write.
I’ve felt a need to do a few things. I’ve been working on longer novels, and have not written many short pieces such as anecdotes, vignettes, and poems. My NaNo project explored craziness: magical realism, the additive and almost random sentence style, and the concepts of liberty and freedom. I’ll write more on freedom shortly, but first the exploring part. A few writers I read last year (Bradbury, Rico, etc.) suggest the only way to find one’s writing voice is to try other writers’ voices, to explore other styles, to experiment. NaNoWriMo 2015 was a big, scary yet interesting experiment for me.
I’ve also put off reading some writing craft books I’ve felt the need to get into. One is James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure and the other is James Wood’s How Fiction Works. I see P&S discussed everywhere, and it is a subject I have thought much about. Most craft books cover it lightly with rather proasic advice: follow a three act structure, increase the conflict and tension, and write the shape of the plot line as a sine wave. Three authors mentioned in readings, workshops, and lunches they read Wood and it helped them tremendously. Lisa Moore was one of them. I’ve finished Bell, am over half way through Wood, and I am not disappointed.
The interesting part, for me (this blog is only for me), is that I did not learn much from Bell; he seemed to help firm up and cement my own ideas gathered from reading, writing, and pondering. I feel my past choices, which I have always doubted, were made with sound reasoning and instinct, that my inate storytelling instincts are founded on sound theory. The same with Wood but different. I have been developing a theory of paradox; that is, great story is founded on striking paradox; that when a writer says to write 3D prose, he really doesn’t know what he is talking about but means to create multiple lines of mind-jarring paradox. In my mind paradox is conflict, the meeting of two extremes that cannot possibly meet: objective vs. resistance, abstract vs. concret description, flat vs. round character, time shifting, sensory baiting, free indirect style, and just about every literary technique factors into paradox. I see I am going to have to blog this someday.
I had to write of freedom as I have relinquished my American citizenship to become more free (paradox). I won’t get into the gory details again, but the decision bothers me as the US claims to be the freest nation in the world yet treats its citizens as slaves, has the highest incarceration and violent crime rates, and is mediocre at best in almost every category indicating freedom. I also live in a city with a mural of Benedict Arnold on a wall, and I write every Sunday morning next to the property he lived on for six years. This city was founded by Loyalists escaping the opression of America. I live at a vertex of freedom questioning.
I am now writing randomly, and I do not mean this post. I have a 200 page, tall journal I write some stories in (13 pages * 250+ words each so far), I have written at least a poem a week, I have written numerous (20+) one to three short page anecdotes (I sometimes simply watch a person and describe them), and I have started a more formal journal of brainstorming ideas (TYVM Mr. Bell). Mostly I am writing about what I am reading. I have summarized much of the Bell and Wood content, and am logging interesting snippets from my other reading to support my paradox hypothesis:
And we are wise, because we are educated with too little learning to despise the laws, and with too severe a self-control to disobey them — Thucydides, some Spartan giving a speech arguing for war.
Now that’s literary paradox!
I also met with the University of New Brunswick writer in residence Naomi K. Lewis for a coffee and discussion. She liked my writing and my story, but she offered a fairly drastic suggestion. It’s the same suggestion I often give other writers: start in media res. I have thought about this, but I have always brushed it off. My story is linear. I cannot possibly put the cart before the horse; it just wouldn’t work. But as soon as she said it, before she had finished arguing for it, I knew she was right. A pain of lingering banality has overhsadowed my enthusiams: if only my readers could see the full story, they would understand the need for the slow buildup. Honestly they would.
I am now taking my main belly of the whale scene and beginning my novel with it. And it feels so right. I am not yet sure how to transition the gap, but I’ll worry about that when I get there. This shift has also triggered a new edit. Reading through the scene was somewhat painful and I knew it needed another overhaul. That is what I am now beginning, again, a new draft. Draft number five. This draft will happen much faster (I hope) as the story is complete.
So far I am beefing up the prose with virtually no change to the structure. The outcome seems to be writing that’s more sophisticated yet clearer (another paradox), words that flow and emit imagery while founded in conflict. Story tied up in Stevenson knots, etched in motivation-reaction units, and framed in basic, common-sense structures. A novel that works and demands to be read by all Canadians and wannabe Canadians everywhere.
I am also editing reviewing others’ work. Not much, but enough to get the juices flowing. I and a couple of other writers are toying with starting a service. I hate to say it is pure editing. I have this need to help people (I am also tutoring a community college mature student), and I am drifting towards an editing/mentoring business model: this is what you are doing wrong, but this is what I recommend you try to fix it. Lots of work and little pay, but the payoff may be worth it. Damn, teaching really does help you to learn.