Uphill Grind

Look at me, getting another blog post written on the right day like some kind of competent motherfucker. Little do they know I’m pulling things out of the ether at 9pm on a Wednesday with no plan!

So anyway, read this.

There’s a storm blowing in from the south. Perfect weather for writing! Why, one ought to curl up by the fire with a notebook and pen and create something incredible on days like today. Instead I’m still sleeping off the last semester – which, yes, was my plan all along BUT IT WAS A BAD PLAN, I need this time to write in! I’ve started browsing twitter in the early hours in the morning, and of course something ridiculous happened in American politics and I got caught up in the commentary from the fictional twitter accounts of Aaron Sorkin characters, and then it was 5:30am before I knew it. I’m standing in my own way again, I know it.

Writing is getting done, but it is getting done in 100-word snippets. I know I want to send my characters off across America, travelling West, maybe up through Canada to Alaska. Alaska is suitably far-flung and melodramatic, yes? Unfortunately I’m having difficulty bridging the gap from . Now, you might say, if you’re skipping backwards and forwards in time, why do you need to bridge that gap? Anyway you can just come back and write it later. Fine, all good points. But I want it in my mind so I know what happens, or else I’m like a rope on a ship that hasn’t been tied down. Why do they leave the beach house? When do they leave the beach house? Train tracks or road trip? (Gotta be road trip.)

It started out so easy. It wrote itself. 1800 words would happen before I knew it. Now it’s scratchings in about three different notebooks – whichever one I happened to have on me at the time – and I’m forever forgetting what I wrote where, let alone where it was meant to go in the story. Most of them are interludes or scenes that do not yet have a place. By the time I find a place for them, they’ll need to be rewritten entirely. This… this is the Week Two of this novel. This is when the great shiny idea starts to tarnish and I realise my characters have to actually do something at some point. Well, the only way out of Week Two is through it, so the words will be written, and the plot can just take care of itself, damnit.

When I write poetry, it starts easy, with an idea or a rhythm, a line, a word. You pour it all out in the original word-vomit and it’s charged with energy and all that. Spent, you throw down the pen and collapse onto the fainting couch. You have earned a glass of wine, absinthe, bourbon or gin, depending on the work. But then! Then you have to pick it up again at some point. You have to go and replace the words that were placed in their holes to keep them warm for the better word you were sure existed, you just can’t remember it at the moment, but it will come to you, and you don’t have the time to go pouring through thesauruses when the fever is upon you. Those lines that didn’t scan have to be trimmed and polished and often entirely replaced. The effort involved in finding the right word can be tremendous. It is exhausting, and it is a slog, and it is an entirely different creative endeavour to the original outpouring of work. There is a particular quality to each of these phases that I enjoy; they both have a different flavour of frenetic energy. I like the trance-like freedom of the first draft, where all things blur into the mist except for pen on paper… but I also like the mad fixation of the serious edit, where the world retreats but for the black and white of the letters on the page, the lines within which you exist in your whole being.

Fiction works differently, for me. When I’m writing the first draft of a story or novel, I might be caught up with inspiration for a time, but it never lasts the length of the entire work. A novel takes far too long to write for the sort of fugue state of poetry. Instead a novel’s first draft is a far more practical beast. There are many instances of “fuck it, that’ll do for now”; moments in which a scene is briefly described because the actual writing of it is not happening; garbled neologisms that exist because the real word is hiding or may not actually exist, and it is, frankly, not important at this juncture. So long as Future You knows what you mean, all will be well. Sifting through and fixing all of this mess is her problem, not mine. And then when I become that me, the editing is so much more… objective. You don’t get trapped within the page in the same way. You must step back, if only for a time, and de-construct, reconstruct, tie things together, rearrange them, like a landscaper trying to create a glorious garden from a tangled mess. First we look at what we have, and make some notes and diagrams so that we know what we’re doing when the work begins. That must be disinterred, this chopped back, but we can add some roses here, and a water feature, and isn’t this much nicer? It becomes, over time, somewhere one would like to stay for a while. The goal is Capability Brown, not Bloody Stupid Johnson.

The trouble, I suspect, is that I like this idea too much. I have edited the four chapters that are properly written. They are good, and I like them. So a part of me wants the rest of it to be good, too. It wants every chapter to be polished and beautiful before moving on to the next. This cannot be so. The sunny skies time of the new novel has left me, and if I want to get anything done, I have to leave the inner editor aside until I have more for it to work with. The gardener cannot make a fancy topiary sculpture if there’s nothing growing in the garden.

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