I’ve chopped off the Prologue from my first draft and chucked the beginning of the book. I’ve begun the first chapter in a new place in the narrative, rewriting it almost entirely. I’ve allowed a few paragraphs here or there to remain, but mostly, I’ve chipped them away. I think it’s starting to be a better book. I hope so.
I’m a little too mired to be sure. I’ve spent the last few days in a writing trance, trying to remember where bits of sentences or images were that I might already have carved and be able to use, trying to hear if when I read over the words I’ve written they sound pungent and tasty or merely banal.
It takes time to tell, but I don’t have time. I have only one full week left here in the luxury of this mania called a writer’s residency. I must forge on, plying my chisel to my old manuscript with, if not abandon, at least boldness.
Taking Time and Getting Into It Again
Don’t tell anyone, but I took the weekend off. Yes, all of Saturday and Sunday. My husband drove four hours to see me and we holed up in a B&B, walked all over Stowe, VT, through woods and shops and the Trapp Family Lodge. We ate dinner out and he brought me champagne and flowers and wheat-free cupcakes for Valentine’s Day. It was wonderfully romantic and I didn’t miss working on my book for a minute.
It was hard to leave him and come back. I allowed myself Sunday night off, though I was back on campus, as it were. Went to bed early and slept later than usual Monday morning. I drifted to my studio and wondered how to pick up the trail to the vision of the book I had so clearly in mind on Friday afternoon.
I finished noting on my wall what Parts II and III of the book should accomplish. I thought I was remembering it all, but who knew? I dutifully started to outline the chapters for Part I of the book, staring at my wall of scribbled pages, but I couldn’t get past Chapter 1.
I decided to just start writing Chapter 1 and see what happened, hoping that, with the themes held in my hand and my eyes fixed on the principal symbols, something would emerge.
I thought back to Mt Tripyramid, the hike that launched me on my quest for all 48 of the 4000 Footers. I downloaded Google Earth and studied the mountain’s contours, turning it east and west. I zoomed in and helicopter-ed out. I wasn’t sure if I was wasting time or finding my way to something.
Then I started to write what I felt and saw and remembered about that amazing mountain. I thought it was good. It was only a page and half, but I was proud. I took the pages to our informal writer’s workshop after dinner Monday night. Their response was encouraging. And they had good suggestions, too.
Tuesday floated by in a dream as I immersed myself.
At home, if I put in two solid hours writing, it’s a good day. If I manage to find four hours in which to work, it’s a damned fine day. When I first came here to the Vermont Studios Center, working 4-5 hours several days in a row exhausted me as much as if I’d been working in a quarry. I couldn’t do anything by 9:00 p.m. except read a book. Somebody else’s book.
But after my weekend off, or maybe because I’ve put in two weeks straight of 4-5 hour days, my writing muscles have grown stronger. I’ve done two 7-hour days in a row. I expected to do the same today, the third day, but I confess I wrote in my journal for awhile first to warm up—which I hadn’t bothered to do the prior two days—and I wasn’t sure where to dig in.
I was reluctant to read my new Chapter 1, the chapter I thought might be finished. Okay, I was afraid to read Chapter 1. If it wasn’t as good as I hoped, I didn’t want to know because I wasn’t sure what I could do instead.
I tried to go back to the outline. At least now I could fill in what should happen in the first chapter since I’d just written it, a kind of backwards approach, but, hey, any port in a storm. I tried to think my way forward into Chapter 2 but I couldn’t get past the fact that I needed to introduce a main character.
So I did something totally different. I did a free-write about this character, reminding myself what she was like, seeing what popped up out my unconscious when there wasn’t any pressure. I found myself writing parts of what will probably go in Chapter 2. Very sneaky.
Because time feels even more precious now, I’m not going to do laundry again. I’ve started turning the shirts and turtlenecks I’ve already worn once inside out and putting them back in the drawer. That way I can wear all the tops I brought before going back to the used ones. I’m sticking dirty socks in the laundry bag to air out in hopes I can get by with putting them on again next week.
It’s the underwear that may be my downfall. If you’ve got any tips, besides hand-washing in the sink, which takes too much time, please advise.
Right now I’m going to try forcing my rebellious self to tackle the chapter outline again.
I’m afraid I’m in that scene in the movie “Julia” where Lillian Hellman (Jane Fonda) asks Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards)to read her first play. He reads it and when she asks him what he thinks, he says, “Do you want really want to know what I think?” She says, “Yes, I really do.”
He tells her to throw it away and start all over again.
If I knew that was what I was going to have to do, I’d quit right now. Probably. I don’t know. I seem to be hooked. I’m still telling myself that some o f those 1100 pages I’ve already got can, please Goddess, find their way into the new, improved book.