Beyond The Pale

On Writing a Novel, Shattering Me

Looking back, this one seems a little emo, though that’s not the intention. You might just want to pass on this one.

I’ve been trying to write a novel for a number of years, or rather I should say that I’ve tried to write several novels over the years. When I say try to write, I don’t mean that I’ve actually written half a novel and didn’t know where to go from there, as seems to be the case with many writers. If I ever made it that far, I would consider myself not only blessed but lucky. No, despite my ability to write graduate level papers of twenty plus pages on the morning they are due and still receive As on them, and my ability to blog about my childhood comfortably and journal extensively, I can’t seem to pry even the barest outline of a story from my brain where it has attached itself, fully formed yet unexplicated.

As things stand, I have a fairly well articulated world with something of a history, and a full cast of characters, I even know where I want to start and what I want the denouement to look like. What I don’t know is how to get there. In short, I have place, people, beginning, ending, but no story. Still, I plug away, day after day. It feels like banging my head against, not so much an American gypsum wall as the top of a wall in South America. You know, the type where they put bottles in the upper layer of cement and when it dries come back to break them off. Yeah, I have glass shards in my frontal cortex.

The failed artist will play any number of little games with himself to trick himself into believing that he is actually getting some work done, making some kind of headway. Timelines are great ways to waste daylight while pretending to work without creating anything new, as are character sketches, historical research, drawing maps, rewriting the same first chapter yet again, and—of course—blogging about writing.

In all of my delusions of being an actual writer, I’ve come to notice something interesting about my characters, perhaps the very thing that makes me unable to throw them into the stories that will get some of them hurt or killed, turn others into monsters, cause the least deserving among them the most pain, and give some undeserved success in the world: they are all me.

They aren’t me as I am, though me as me does sit in the corner and watch, recording all that goes on and trying not to intervene in the story more than necessary, but they are me as I once imagined I would be, me as I was, me as I think I will be, me as I’m afraid to become. There is me successful, me failed, me the soldier, me the teacher, me the clerk, me the addict, the murderer, the suicide. There is me the time traveler, me the taxi driver, me the fighter, the artist, the vampire. Is there a crime I wanted to commit? One of me will probably commit it before this struggle is through. Is there a girl I could have loved but chose not to? Maybe me clerk will fall for her. Do I want to roll my own cigarettes? Hugh me will take that mantle. Do I want to smoke Indian killers? The murderer me will breathe those fumes. What about a disciplined life of abstinence? It might seem ironic if me who lives in a hallucinogen induced stupor berates others for their poor health choices in smoking or eating processed sugar or wheat.

It doesn’t matter. What I’m getting at here is that I don’t know what I’m getting at, but I do know who I’m talking about. The general consensus is that we should write about what we know, but do we really know anything but ourselves, or rather, is there anything that we know less than ourselves? I know what I want to be and what I’m afraid of becoming. And I know what I believe myself to be, but what I see in the mirror is not what others see when they look at me.

So I’ll keep tooling away, making file after file in the folder marked “book,” writing a paragraph or three and moving on the a new subject because there isn’t any story. And I’ll make timelines, and download maps, and remember what it feels like to fall in love, imagine what it feels like to lose, dream the sensation of dying, and hope that finally, all of the pieces will coalesce into something coherent, something worth reading, but if it doesn’t, maybe it doesn’t really matter because I’ll have still performed the task of sorting through all my identities and finding the one that works, the one that leads me to where I’m meant to be.

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August 31, 2009 Posted by | Writing | 4 Comments