"How a novel finishes is there’s a moment when you know it has problems, and you don’t know how to fix them. That’s when you’re done."
I don’t write about my personal life in here all that much any longer. That’s for a host of reasons: foremost, this is a blog about my writing life; recently, I’ve seen a cool uptick of the number of professional doors opened in that writing life; but, mostly, because 2013 has been mostly pretty terrible. So, the notion of seeing that calendar page turn? In the words of someone really important who’s recently come into my life, I’m not mad about it.
Nothing has ever changed more in a year than it did this year. Sometimes, change is good. When we’re the catalysts for our own change, we’re lucky; when unexpected change works out well, we’re even luckier. That’s usually not the case, however. Change usually comes in unanticipated waves, and even the change we create ourselves comes with unanticipated side effects.
I’ve learned that, usually, change must be thrust upon us, or we won’t create it ourselves. People, instinctively, don’t like change, and that’s why we sink into our routines, which are comfortable, and familiar, and like a cradle in the chaos. When this happens, however, the worst thing we can do is let it happen to us—to be pawns of a situation. It’s fine to take time to digest. To recover. It’s not fine to use change for blame if we’re doing nothing to ameliorate conditions. It’s not fine to not ameliorate conditions.
I’m not sure what I’ve learned about whether people change or not. I’ve lived a lot of life, but I’m not sure if I’ve lived enough to figure that out yet. I’ve changed a lot over the course of many years; I’ve changed a lot over the course of this year. I’m not yet sure how deep change runs, however, or from where catalysts stem; I’m not yet sure how much one other person—or many, for that matter—can have an impact on one’s change, no matter how people argue that change is only on the level of the individual. People do change together. That I’m sure of.
Mistakes feel permanent when you are in the throes of them. Most mistakes are not. Some, however, are. Some sting less over time. Jury’s out on some of the others. Some will feel like mistakes one day, and not other days. That’s fine, too.
Sometimes people will say bad things are a blessing in disguise, and it’s the last thing we want to hear. But god, they are right.
One thing that is hard to remember in the cognitive clutter of every day is that we are blank slates to other people. None of the ways other people know you are the ways someone new is going to learn you; none of the ways someone knew the other person are necessarily the ways you’re going to learn the other person.
I’ve written before how I don’t believe that the changing of a year is meaningful; people walk into 12:00 AM with an identical set of conditions that they had at 11:59 PM. But maybe it’s time for me to suspend my disbelief for once.
"I wonder what the difference between love and control is, but I’m afraid to look those words up in a dictionary."
Slow drips. The word count has, somehow, mercifully ticked up to 36,000, and I’m still finding this process so strangely different than that of the first novel. For the most part, now, things are coming in steady five-hundred word sections—I am grateful things are coming at all, true. But patience is not my greatest virtue, and neither is a steady stream of ideas, for that matter. I’m finding I’m having to rely on myself to always have something to come back to, which isn’t always the easiest, but I’m training myself to sit down and write, even with no planned trajectory.
Having allowed myself to embrace the fragmented shape of the manuscript without worrying about filling in the lines immediately is also liberating, which is something I talked about with Catherine O’Flynn when I interviewed her for Bookslut this past month.
"In the end, I just had to have a little humility and realize I wasn’t the really the boss of my own process, and I couldn’t impose what I thought was a logical structure on it. The only way I could work was to go back and do what I’d always done, which was go back to writing things out of sequence and piecing it together. It sounds like I accepted a degree of failure, but in the end, I ended up being happier with it than perhaps I have been in the past, perhaps because I struggled with it so much, and we came to a compromise, the book and I."
This morning, I woke up with an idea of where to take the 1155-word section late in the book that I abandoned yesterday because I wasn’t sure where to take it. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I’ve wedged myself into the chair in the café, as practice tells me I should, to try it out. It may fail miserably, and if it does, I’ll head back to the drawing board. And if it works, I’ll be another 500-plus words closer to making this round, making it whole. If this were my first book, I think I would have just let it hang until the idea were fully formed, or until I’d at least talked it through with someone. That, at least, is progress I don’t worry about measuring in a word count.
I’m now 23,500 words deep into this new manuscript. That’s, I suppose, enough heft that it’s time to really own it; I have a new book going. (It’s weird—and at times somewhat horrifying—to say aloud.) And although I have felt myself taking things I have learned from the last book and putting them to the page—or subsequently not, if that’s been the lesson—what’s been most surprising to me is how incredibly different the experience of writing this project has felt.
Here, I know how the story ends. I’m not pushing against a question and climbing up an arc and wondering when the drop off will come; rather, I’m on the other side of it, shaping it backwards. I’ve written a lot of the last third of the book; not a lot that connects, but many of the scenes that happen with my main character that drive the unraveling of the final action of the story. Filling in going the other direction is a challenge of other magnitude, with lots of TKs for details I haven’t built yet, and I’m composing with the understanding that a lot of what I write will have to be overhauled and re-infused with the emotional stakes of the pages I’ve yet to write. Having penned an entirely psychologically-driven book before, I feel almost like a poorer writer laying down a barebones framework of plot, action, whateveryoucallit that I know will need to be pulled apart brutally. It’s strange when someone asks me, “When can I read something new?” and I tell them, “There’s nothing really to read” in 80 pages of prose because everything is so disparate. I know I need everything that I’m writing in the back every bit as much as I need what will exist in the front, but what’s there feels so naked without the sections that precede it.
Being in first draft mode, I have the ability right now to face only the prose I want to face, the characters and settings and situations I am feeling that day. And that, I have learned, is a luxury. When comes time for revision, I don’t get so lucky. Regardless, I’m happy I have momentum to write at all. I thought it’d be a long, long time before I’d have an idea for a new story, a character I’d want to write, and some semblance of words on a page — no matter what it all looks and feels like.
"…they talked of intentions and projects, convinced, as only new lovers can be, that saying what you wanted was the same as saying who you are."
"It hurts me how inefficient the novel writing process is."
It’s been six years since I’ve had a clean slate.
I started my first novel in May of 2007, sitting in my summer sublet in Williamsburg on South 3rd and Berry Streets. It was about 11 P.M., and that summer, I wrote furiously, mostly in the sidewalk portion of Bedford’s Verb Cafe, until thousands of words coalesced into a story, something I was forced to see as a larger project because its trajectory begged it of me—because I could see it no other way. Everything I Want You to Be‚ at the time called You Destroyed Everything, was never meant to be a novel. But it took shape, took on a life, and became the project that steered itself into shape.
In 2013, everything is different. What I had in 2007, the organic—it feels like a luxury. I have started, in earnest, a new novel. I’m nervous writing that declaration down, but here it is, in pixels. But the experience of starting over is different. When I have had an agent, when I have been in talks with an editor and ultimately lost a book deal, as much as I want to see the clean, white pages as fresh and new and full of possibility as I did six years ago, there is something heavy about them. I can’t shake my past. I’m scared it won’t take shape with the ease of the first, yet I’m the only one who knows what this was like, and there’s no burden of comparison out in the world. For whom am I performing? I am impatient. I should lift the weight and breathe.
Maybe, for me, there is no such thing as a clean slate. But I have what I have, and I will sure as hell try.
May we introduce you to the sumptuous, dark, and brilliant writing of New York’s Meredith Turits?
In New York, it’s not the changing leaves that indicate fall is in full swing. Regardless of how much time you spend with chameleon pigments while walking through Prospect Park, trees aren’t the ultimate barometer. It’s not the texture of the air, either; sure, it doesn’t hang with paralyzing humidity as it does through the summer, but cool breezes off the water and steamy air vents at service hatches manipulate the temperature year-round. Quite simply, you can’t trust what your senses feed you.
In book news this week, Joyland South author Eric Barnes has a new novel out with Outpost 19 Books while screenwriter and podcast guest James Greer is releasing a collection of short fiction with Chicago’s Curbside Splendor called Everything Flows. It’s available for pre-order now.
Oh, goodness: Seeing a photo of yourself while you’re scrolling through your Tumblr dash is a bit jarring. Here’s a reblog to say that an excerpt of my novel is in the fantastic Joyland this week, and I’d be humbled if you’d read it.
Reblogged from Joyland Magazine's Tumblr Presence.