From the Cary Academy website
No ideas but in things.
William Carlos Williams
I loved the writing of my first novel. I've never experienced that kind of flow--it seemed to be growing wider and more interesting from scene to scene. I felt immersed in the writing and the characters. I even made myself cry a few times. I was thrilled with it.
Until I read it.
It needed so much WORK. I realized I have a tendency to underwrite, to shorten scenes, hint when I should be showing the events. My little, beloved draft didn't have that wonderful thickness that a real novel has. On the contrary, it seemed, upon re-reading, to be a little shallow. It felt more like the rough outline for a novel than than the novel itself. And all of the problems that I had forced myself to ignore as I finished my draft...well, I still didn't know how to solve them. My story seemed a poor, plucked little sparrow. I was so disappointed, and put it away.
Now I am working on my second novel, and am trying very consciously to avoid the problems of the first. I have come up with a great deal more plot and elaborate background stories for all of the characters. I have what I think is a clever conceit—a road map which should help me through the sticky bog.
And I am unable to go on.
I wasn't really sure why, until tonight. I've spent the last few months castigating myself, “too lazy! Not a real writer! Lots of mothers write after their children are asleep...why can't you?” But every time I opened my document, or indeed, any document related to my novel, I just froze. I can take notes; in fact, I have laughed in glee at some of my fiendish plot twists. I just couldn't seem to turn any of those ideas into actual scenes.
I've spent the last two days reading through a writing book by Robert Olen Butler that has forced me to see things a different way. The author stresses writing from what he calls the “dreamspace”--writing from the “white-hot center.” Now, this kind of talk always makes me feel inadequate—because it seems to imply that unless you can go into a mystical trance, you aren't a real writer. And I disagree with several of his exhortations, i.e. don't ever write unless you are in the "zone"—for someone like me, sitting around waiting for the force of that perfect intuition is lethal. But, to his credit, he offers concrete suggestions for achieving this dream state. He also shows examples of what he calls”from the head” writing and contrasts them with more immediate, sensual work.
That's when it hit me. I've wanted to force myself to write a REAL NOVEL, full of complicated plots and reversals and deep meaning. I've tried to graft them all to the myths that offered the original inspiration. I've wanted to show off what I know, sound smart.Oh, I have a lot of ideas and psychological insight and theories--the problem is that they feel false, shoved onto my poor characters. And to that teetering tower, I've piled on a concern with the mechanics of skill.
You know those wedding dresses that seem to be drowning the bride in festoons of lace, net, taffeta, and billows? Yep, it's like that. I've made my little tale so complicated, I can't approach it anymore.
Butler talks about trying not to force your material into a structure too soon. Some stories naturally lend themselves to novels, while others to short stories or even poems. See, this isn't even something I want to face—the possibility that I am really a nonfiction narrative writer, or at best a short story writer. Those are the forms that have brought me the greatest writerly pleasure. But, oh, my dream is to write a novel. That's all I have ever wanted
So I am scrapping the cosmic MEANINGS and artful plotting and getting back into the humble things of my core story—even if they're not so smart. Even if they result in yet another underwritten novelette.
Because at least then, I'll be writing from the white-hot center again. I'll be writing true.