Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Two manuscripts

Two manuscripts await me. Both are first drafts, one a novel (my first and only) and one a screenplay (my second of two). I wrote them both during an annus mirabilis while living in Chicago and working at Cool but Aimless job. The whole time I worked on them, I glowed with purpose. No longer did I spend my hours fruitlessly going online for inspiration--instead, I wrote, and dreamed, and plotted, and read.

And then I finished, and followed everyone’s advice. I put them away.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to pick them up again.

They both need a lot of work. In spite of my experience in publishing (or maybe because of it), I’m a lousy editor, and a worse rewriter. I’m usually so grateful that I found ANY words, ANY story that I can’t conceive of throwing them out and starting again. Every time I write anything, I dread that there won’t be a next time.

I know that every fledging writer should write many bad manuscripts while learning her craft. I should be able to chalk up those two stories to experience, a sacrifice to the Amateur Writer gods, and begin to work on my next stories.

I think I left too much of myself behind, though.

My novel’s main character came to me as a disembodied voice--one with a familiar rhythm. It was the street smart, swaggering sing-song that typified my mother and her friends, and the women in my neighborhood. So I listened to her tell me a bit about her weariness with living, and about the great regret that darkened her life. And I realized in the writing that as she grew into her story, the boundaries were blurring, and several elements of my own life were seeping in. I learned that at her core she felt an outsider in her family, in her clan, and in her skin. Her path was to see that she had created something beautiful with her life because of, not in spite of, her wrong turns. I wanted to show the nobility and secret tenderness in an ordinary woman’s life.

She haunts me, in no small part because I’d like so badly to give her what I’ve never quite felt...that feeling of belonging in my own life, instead of feeling like a fraud. Perhaps I lack the skills to imagine what that might look like.

She represents the road not taken--she made an impulsive mistake to avoid being in a situation where she felt like she would never measure up. I followed the path, dutifully, and feel like I never measured up.

My other heroine is almost the polar opposite of the first. All she wants is to feel like a part of something greater than herself, so she creates a history for herself that gives her life meaning and connects her to that dream. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really belong there, so she’s excluded and mocked. It doesn’t derail her, though, so strongly does she believe in herself...until she finds evidence that suggests that the foundational truth of her life is a lie. Her struggle then becomes to find a way to consciously choose her identity.

I’ve never been able to do that either. I would never have been able to keep the faith in the face of so much opposition. I can barely keep the faith in the face of applause and support.

Rilke said that its important to live the questions themselves, and these are mine--"Why do I feel like a Wrong in a world that is Right?" and "How can I have the courage to invent myself and the life I want to lead?" It’s easy for me to intellectualize this, to seek insights and explanations. I’m good at that part. The harder part is LIVING the questions--taking action that pushes back at these created boundaries.

"Write what you know," they say. I’m trying. I’m trying to KNOW how to sit with those lowdown, shameful feelings and questions...trying to KNOW how to live with and in spite of them.

Otherwise, my writing will remain in a drawer, forgotten by everyone except me.

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Blogger megg said...

I can really relate! I had two manuscripts written and sitting waiting for me to get back - and it took me YEARS. In the meantime my main character haunted me, whispering to me now and then to remember her. All I can tell you is that I know now that I was waiting to be ready to edit. Suddenly one day I pulled one of the books out and began to read it. Then I started making notes about it and then suddenly I was rewriting. It'll happen. Don't force it.

3:25 PM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger M said...

Well done! Two manuscripts, that's amazing! Even if you never go any further with them, you did finish something monumental that not many others do. I hope you are able to find some peace in yourself through your writing. And you are definitely an amazing writer. Hang in!

3:30 PM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

this is beautiful and fascinating. you are doing a fine job of living your questions--and your writing is one of your greatest tools for the journey.

9:23 PM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger AscenderRisesAbove said...

I agree; well done... not one; but two manuscripts.

I was researching publishers the other day and ran across this disclaimer: "... we do not assume any duty not to publish a book based on a similar idea, concept or story..."


8:50 AM, April 27, 2006  
Blogger Laini said...

I'm so glad to hear you've got two finished manuscripts! I LOVE your writing and have wondered if you had worked on any big projects like a novel. Yay! I'm sorry to hear you feeling stuck in place, though, because I'm greedy to read your novel when it's published. So come ON! Rewrite it! Sorry, that sounds bossy. But I hope you do. I'm a big believer in rewriting, and fortunately I love it. I prefer rewriting, it fits in with my perfectionist nature, the futzing, the arranging, making things better. It's so much EASIER than writing something fresh. And also, what you said about a writer should write many bad manuscripts while honing her craft, well, it's not that I think you're wrong, but it conjures an image for me of abandoned bad manuscripts. while the writer moves on to the next project. My own method is to work with what I've written (or drawn, or painted) and improve it. I love getting to the point of having that initial framework to improve upon. And you've got that. I hope you can find your way to being reinspired by it (I have found writers conferences to be tremendously inspriting. They make me absolutely ITCH to get back to work, and I'm leaving for one this afternoon. Yay!)

11:28 AM, April 27, 2006  
Blogger Letha Sandison said...

I completly understand those voices and inner struggles. It is an unpleasant part of the creative process I'm afraid.

I was totally drawn into both your characters. I found myself identifying with aspects of them and wanting to read more!

I am in awe that you even wrote a novel and two screen plays! WELL DONE! I hope you are giving yourself the recognition you deserve.

Hang in there and le the process unfold.

1:10 PM, April 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of your comments...I like the idea of knowing that I am waiting to edit. I don't want to let these characters go, obviously. I DO need to celebrate the fact that I at least have drafts, and I need to inhabit Laini's space for a bit and learn to LOVE rewriting, because everyone says all writing is really rewriting. And thanks for the idea of writing as a tool for the journey, Michelle. Sometimes I forget that (OK, a lot).

And ascender...think of it this way...the publishers are just telling you that they're willing to entertain more than one book about a Boy Wizard, for example. As someone who occasionally has trouble coming up with new plots, that's incredibly reassuring. And they do try not to plagarize...lawsuits are messy

So much food for thought from all of you...both here and on your own blogs. You will never know how much you all inspire me!

2:13 PM, April 27, 2006  
Anonymous beansprout said...

Weighing in a little late here...acknowledge your accomplishment. You've created two wonderful creatures. I like to think of my own creative endeavors as children...part of my job is raising them so they can be the best they can be, the other part is placing them well in the world. You are very your process.

12:27 AM, April 28, 2006  
Blogger Alexandra G said...

My heart ached with the truth of it all reading this post. Just the fact that you are reengaging with your writing self and in dialogue once again is everything. I can definitely relate too. I get really immobilized so often sitting down to write from theres nothing left to say to theres so much to say and I just am the wrong person to be writing it. I just wanted you to know how much I cherish and adore your writing. I think it was just a few weeks ago on the phone that I was talking to Laini and we were both saying how much we loved your writing after she'd just read one of your posts. Think of me here in Portland encouraging you onward and upward, ok???

12:43 PM, April 28, 2006  
Anonymous Jennifer (she said) said...

also weighing in a little late but still want to say how fantastic it is that you have two manuscripts and that you chose to share that information. you ARE a writer, a damn good writer, and i imagine if you continue to show up - whether it's with your manuscript or a new story or here - something will happen that feels complete. i put my book down for almost two years. i'm beginning to pick up piecs of it and use it differently, to reflect and let myself have more of a voice instead of simply "showing" vs. "telling". i'm telling a little more, and that feels right. i don't know if i'll ever send this book out again, revised or as is, but i do know i'm picking it up again because i need to be honest. and it sounds like that is something you need to do to. and i have no doubt that as difficult as it may feel - you can. you already are.

i'm looking forward to seeing what you have to say about this weeks sunday scribblings prompt. this comment is not intended as pressure so i hope you don't feel it that way :-)

3:03 PM, April 29, 2006  

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