Sunday, December 18, 2011
Reading Week/Writing Week
This week is a reading week for me.
So, remember last time we talked about writing, I said that I was trying to figure out what to write about next? I believe I managed two more sputtering installments after than, then nothing further. And my partner has lately been wondering aloud what’s going to happen when she finally gets to the last installment of my novel and then there is no more? How would you feel if you were reading along and suddenly the book just stopped and said, “Stay tuned! more to come ... whenever I get around to it”? Might be a bit frustrating, eh?
So I’m trying to get back into it. There are various things I do to recapture my mood, get back into the groove, so to speak, after taking a break. What I mentioned last time was reading through notes, and dream logs, and things like that. I’m doing a bit of that this week as well. But mainly what I’m doing is rereading the novel so far.
I do this a lot. No, I mean: a lot. Almost every time I post an installment of the book, I’ve reread the previous few installments, anywhere from 3 to 8 of them. This not only helps me get back in the swing of things, it helps me recapture my voice, re-establish my style, pick up where I left off. Renew my acquaintance with my characters. Revise any rough spots I find. Find things I never knew were there.
This is key. I talked about this a bit in my discussion of art-as-dialectic. Remember (or perhaps reread) the story about my writing professor finding things in my writing that I didn’t even know were there? Well, that was when I was young and stupid. Now I’m older, and moderately less stupid, and I find that I can find those things in my own writing. Not while I’m writing, of course. But when I go back and reread, I can find them.
It’s like I’m two different people: the author, and the reader. As the writer, I concern myself with writing what feels natural: I worry about flow, I worry about realistic dialogue, I worry about plotting (although probably not as much as I ought to). But, when I put my reader hat on, I start looking at the text very critically. Does it make sense? Are the words well-chosen, or do they make me stumble? Are there any places where the visual can’t match up with the words because the author didn’t lay it out properly (think “The Writer” sketch from the old Carol Burnett show)? And, perhaps most importantly, what is the author really trying to say here? what is his message? his theme? his moral, if he has one?
I’m not much for morals, overall, but I do believe that Art (capital A used advisedly there) has to reflect our lives in some way: it has to tell us something about ourselves, or else it’s not truly Art. Now, whether that something is advice on how to do things better, or simply a reflection of something we have known (like seeing a close friend in a fictional character), that part doesn’t matter. But the writing has to be saying something beyond its mere words.
Now, when I’m a writer, I don’t put much effort into that. But, when I change roles and become a reader, I look for it. Hard. I dig for it, and I expect to find it. And I nearly always do. I may not be trying hard (when I’m a writer) to add it in, but some part of me is: call it my subconscious, or my instinct, or my higher being, or whatever you like. I often feel that that part of my mind is a whole separate entity, poorly understood by the rest of my brain, and he (at least I assume it’s a “he”) should get all the credit for the creativity going on here ... I’m just a spectator for the most part. Oh, I do a little of the work—the stitching together of the disparate pieces into some coherent whole, mainly—but mostly I just kick back and watch the genius at work. Then I remember that he is me and when I call him “genius” I’m really calling myself a genius, which is far more immodest than I feel about the whole thing, so then I scramble around for a rephrasing ... but you get my drift.
So if you ask me what my story is about as its author, I have no opinion. Besides, as I pointed out (in that same blog post), it doesn’t matter what I think as the author. What you think, as the reader: that’s all that really matters. Of course, when I become the reader, then I do have an opinion, and I could tell you what it’s all about. But I’m not going to, because you would be tempted to take that as the opinion of the author (which it wouldn’t be), and then you’d try to see the same things in it that I (reader) see as opposed to finding your own things in it. But finding those things helps me (writer) put together a more coherent story, because if I can just get some consistent themes lodged in my subconscious (or whatever it is), then they’ll come out in the writing, even if I’m not trying to put them there.
Well, maybe that’s all too confusing. But, the point is, every now and again I need to go all the way back to the beginning in order to completely immerse myself in the story, and not only rediscover my voice, but also make new discoveries, find new viewpoints, make new connections, and that helps the story be richer. So that’s what I’m doing this week. Hopefully soon that will allow me to produce the next installment of the Johnny Hellebore saga.
Assuming you care. But I’m also assuming you wouldn’t have bothered to read all this deranged rambling if you didn’t.