Finding the Words

a blog devoted to the art, craft, and frustration of writing

chapter one May 21, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 1:43 pm

Today I opened up a new file and wrote at the top, “Chapter One.” And stared. And stared some more. And some more. Okay, time to blog.

A whole month has gone by? Really? I’d like to say I’ve been busy writing. Busy trying to write would be more accurate. I’m still coping with the fact that I have 1300 pages waiting for me to go through and rewrite. Much of it needs to be re-imagined entirely. I have not made much progress. In my panic I’ve turned to “how to write” book, a comforting way to procrastinate. I devoured Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird in one sitting and found it to be as comforting as a good plateful of mac and cheese. It’s good to know she gets as stuck and frustrated as I’m feeling now, and that she

I found more practical advice in Stephen Koch’s Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction. Paraphrase your story, he suggests, and write a scenario. If you’re not satisfied with that scenario, write another, and another, until you’re satisfied. “Don’t talk to yourself about the story,” he writes. “Tell it to yourself in this concentrated form… do include images and motifs and moments that you know drive the story forward.” The underlying theory: you have to know and understand your story in order to write it. So if you don’t know it, time to discover it.

So that’s what I’ve been doing these last few days, working out scenarios. And I get stuck just about in the same place. My character is supposed to do something crucial to the story line. The problem is, he’s not wanting to do it. I’m prodding him, poking him, ordering him, ’cause if he doesn’t do it, a good part of my story just sort of falls flat. But it’s dangerous to make your characters do something they don’t want–it’s forcing them for the sake of plot, and usually, readers are on to this sort of thing. It feels forced and unnatural.

Okay, fine. We’ll work on that, I tell him. In the meantime, I can start writing Chapter One. Hence the blank screen. This time I know how much work and anguish it takes to write a novel. I know how much pacing, how many chocolates I need to eat for the moments I feel worthless and incapable of writing, how many bags of chips or loaves of bread I’ll need for those anxious moments of feeling I’m on the cusp of something big, if only… if only… And the thought of putting myself through it all again seems insane. And I will do it, because I love doing it, and because I can’t help but do anything else, but I do wish I had some greater sense of rightness, because when all is said and done and draft two is finished, who knows if it will be any good? Maybe I’ll just have to start with yet another blank screen, titled “chapter one” and reimagine the whole damn thing from start to finish.

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3 Responses to “chapter one”

  1. deano Says:

    As a fan of the ‘hysterical realists,’ life, and physics for that matter, linear plot lines disappoint me. Have you read the intro to Slow Learner?

  2. anne Says:

    i have not! in fact, i have read nothing of pynchon. i will check it out. yes, i like the non-linear, but sometimes suspect they are a crutch for a bad story.

  3. deano Says:

    What’s interesting about the intro is Pynchon discusses why he’s not fully satisfied with these early short stories of his (hence, he considers himself the slow learner).

    It isn’t often a writer, or any artist/craftsperson, publically acts as their own critic – present blog excepted! 😉 And given his notable reclusiveness, it’s also one of the few instances where he has allowed a view, albeit on his terms, behind the scenes. But as a first TP read: always, Gravity’s Rainbow. I still haven’t finished Against The Day – sigh.


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