Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Quirks and Idiosyncrasies

I've started working (again) on the novel (yeah, it's about time). It happened quite by accident, the other day. A section in Maggie's voice (the protagonist) just kinda popped into my head--not fully-formed, mind you. Mostly it was just a general idea of what she wanted to say, the information she wanted to explain or examine.  So, I started scribbling it all down. It's ugly right now (most initial drafts are--the brain, while usually functionally elegant, sure can be a crap-pile at times), but it's there. I'm hoping to get more written this evening--that is if I can get through the crap.

Methodologically, I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm a quirky writer (it's not easy to stand out as one in this circle, believe me).  My early drafts are never typed--I shamefully admit to having a stack of handwritten, hand-edited manuscripts in a filing cabinet that are downright Joycian.  I'm a terrible typist and a scattered thinker. It's hard to maneuver around a keyboard when my thoughts are pinging all over the place. So much easier to scribble in margins or on napkins or sticky notes and synthesize it later.

Once I have most of a first draft done (or, more accurately, I've stalled out/hit a wall), I start typing all that chicken scratch (I have terrible handwriting, too.Which means I've never had to hide a private journal. I'm confident that if I have trouble deciphering my own handwriting, no one else is going to waste time trying either. Besides, I keep a boring journal. You know, when I keep it...But, as I was saying, the translating of handwritten stuff to the laptop is pretty goddamned challenging when the lines on the page look more Cyrillic than Roman.). As I transfer what I've written into Times New Roman, I'm also editing. Odds are the process from pen to PC has taken a few weeks, and so I've gotten a different perspective which I'll happily take advantage of. Once that's done (i.e. I've typed in all there is to type) the process starts again. Except this time, I print the newly typed manuscript and work directly from that. Usually with a red pen.  Then once that gets too messy, I am forced to go back to the computer ("The files are in the computer!") and make those changes. Sigh.

Well, I've done all that with the novel (I'm calling it "A Different City" mostly for the purpose of not calling it "The Gabe and Maggie Story" anymore), but I need to really make some huge edits.  The problem is I can't. What I mean is, I feel terribly hemmed in by the boundaries of what I've already written. I can't seem to think beyond what's already there--the trajectory of the story as I've already written it--and right now I really really need to get the hell away from that story. Right now I need to get beyond the little universe I've created, because I'm just spinning my wheels in the muck and mud of that world.

That's where the tablet paper comes in. I have a bunch of tablets--the yellow kind, with the glue at the top. Now I start writing on those. I print the manuscript (yes, I know, I am an awful paper-waster. Sorry.), then I work through it, tablet at the ready. When I get to a section that needs help--more help than I can fit into the margins, more help than I can possibly make on the page, or when the whole damned thing needs to be completely trashed--I start working on the tablet paper. I don't know why. For some reason, the physical act of moving off the manuscript is freeing. I'm physically removing myself from the now-claustrophobic space I created and I've got more room to wander. If feels less consequential. And I mean that in a good way.

One of my former instructors said that writers need to learn how to write without consequence. And at this point in the story, that's what I need to do. It's incredibly difficult, though. More difficult than it sounds, this act of exploring on the page. Why does it feel so downright Augean to break away, to pick my feet up and allow the current to take me where it will? Why is it so frightening for me to let go? Am I afraid of wasting time? Pffft. Hardly. If that were the case, I'd have picked a different hobby, fer crissake. Am I afraid of ruining something? Why do I treat the edits as being some kind of permanent, carved-in-stone commandment?

That's dumb. I should stop that. I realize this, I do. I realize how very illogical, how very idiosyncratic my attitudes are.  And so part of the whole writing process for me is wrestling with those weird creative ticks, hence the yellow paper. It seems to work for me, and I guess that's what's important.

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