When last heard from, I was cross-country skiing and trying to spy within the marble of my 1100-page manuscript, a book, the book that wanted to emerge from the block of white carrera pages.
I found it! My relief is enormous. I’ll need to change my current title to fit the new slant of the figure that’s almost ready to leap out of the manuscript and I’m certainly going to have to rewrite the beginning of the book to reflect the new focus.
Drafting on the energy of the great readings some of my colleagues here gave the night before, Friday morning I woke up early and wrote a bunch of pages, pounding away at the computer, thrilled to be creating, to be writing instead of reading, sifting, thinking.
Saturday I went snowshoeing with some artists and writer colleagues here.
We had a great time, seeing snow sculptures and some human-made sculptures, too.
Of course, I worked over the weekend, too. Alas, Monday morning when I read the pages, the dewy new beginning to my pristine new book that I so looked forward to crowing over, I realized they sucked. They just didn’t have enough soul or body and I had to chuck them.
But then yesterday morning—O fabulous day! —I dug out of myself two dense, compressed paragraphs that felt like they were right, so right I danced around my studio.
Then I got antsy. I couldn’t waste two days waiting to see if the pages stayed right, so I emailed my writers’ group pals and asked the poet laureate of New Hampshire in the studio next door for their critiques, feeling horribly vulnerable the while. As my friend Lyn says, “First chisel is the scariest.”
What if I had missed the vein? What about all that good marble I’d lay to waste? Had I gouged out too much or cut across the grain or was I liberating the soul that lay within?
Bless their hearts, everyone responded promptly. And bless my soul, they, too, thought I was on the track of art. I printed out their responses to guide and encourage me and pinned them to my bulletin board.
After celebrating my first cut, those two small paragraphs, it occurred to me I had to go on. But in which direction of the several I could see? Toward the head or toward the toe?
Blocking Out the Design
First I let myself just start writing, wherever the last word of those two precious paragraphs took me. Wrote a few pages. They were interesting, but I didn’t get the feeling the hipbone was connected to the thighbone, if you know what I mean. It was a little too random.
I needed an outline, a plan, a sketch of where I should go. Somehow when I set the high bar for my goals for this writer’s residency—to figure out what my book was about and write the first three chapters—it hadn’t occurred to me that before I could write those chapters I needed, now that I was on a second draft, an outline to show me where to keep carving into the material.
I started out with themes. What themes, what veins could I follow that showed up in these two paragraphs? I listed them. Okay, what was missing? I thought about that. Jotted down some ideas that might need to be hammered in. Or should they be cut?
I found myself asking questions and decided to write out what questions the material raised and what answers the sculptured book would give. That was interesting, but not enough.
What was the structure of the book to be? Should the first part ask the questions and the second part answer them? Should the book ask then answer in a kind of call/response pattern? Was that the structure?
Perhaps I should simply order things chronologically. Combine chronological order with call and response?
Or I could organize the book by the hikes within it. As I thought about that, I started doodling. Because there are six major hikes, I wrote them down, chronologically but grouped, and the figurative light bulb over my head started to sizzle.
I realized that the hikes organized themselves into three parts. I named the three. I dated them. I wrote down underneath each title the highlights of what happened in that section. I was very, very excited. Sweet marble chips lay all about the floor. It was time for dinner, then visiting the visual artists’ open studios, so I turned off the computer and closed my studio door.
The Book on the Wall
This morning I arrived fresh, showered and with a monster mug of green tea. Inspired by my visual artist colleagues from last night, I thought I’d let myself get a little looser, even on a subject like organization.
I did a free-write, just letting myself type on and on, for about half an hour, on the subject of What Is the Book About? Now that I thought I saw the figure within the marble yearning to breathe free, who was the figure? What was it saying? What did it want to do?
I wrote. At one point I found myself writing, “This is getting to be dreck. Maybe all of it is dreck.” Ouch! That certainly shut down the creative flow. I got going again by writing “There’s a cold harsh voice in here, the cold water of the critic. Who invited you? Nobody! Shut up. Go away. Nobody needs you yet.” And I kept on writing.
That was helpful. But suddenly, I needed to stand up, move around, pace. I wanted to write on the wall. I wanted a big canvas to put down things where I could see them, move them around if need be, encompass everything, the whole design at once.
The result is what you see in the picture. The top yellow page says, What Is the Book About? I conferred with my free write stuff and pulled out some words or phrases that felt meaningful, that the book needed to include. I wrote them down on the white page stapled below the yellow one. I attached the first two paragraphs of the book to the side of them.
Beneath those central, overarching pages is a row of three yellow sheets, one for each part of the book, with the names of the hikes which define them and, writ large, What Does This Part Do?
On the white page stapled to Part I, I listed the themes and developments that had to take place to form the base on which stood the rest of the book.
And that’s what I’ll do for Parts II and III. Tomorrow.
Hammer, hammer, hammer. Chisel, chisel, chisel.