July 20, 2004

writing act three

A few weeks ago, Damian had a play date with one of his best friends. We were hanging out chatting with said friendís parents. This is the conversation that led to the photo gig, incidentally. But at one point I was describing my novel to them. The dad asked how far I was from the end. Answer: pretty close. At the time I was around 335 pages in; Iíll type The End somewhere around the 425 page mark, give or take a whole bunch of pages. So Iím in the home stretch. Act Three. Climax, denouement. End.

He asked how long it will take to get from here to there. I sighed. Life has a way of making the answer more complicated than youíd think. He rephrased: How long would it take if you had the time to devote to it? Answer: probably a month.

Since then, Iíve found myself thinking about this a lot. A month of concentrated work. A month and Iíd have completed the first full draft of my first full novel. It wonít really be a month, I know that. Dan goes back to work on August 9th, we have projects to finish up first. Damian has the end of August off from school. I wonít have unlimited, focused time for this. But this guy made me see it that way for a moment. A monthís worth of work. A pile of pages: beginning, middle and end. Tangible.

We went on vacation shortly after that afternoon and when we got back, I went down to Irvine where I worked my butt off last week. So writing time hasnít exactly been at a surplus around here. But Iím back now, caught up on my sleep (well more or less) and settled into my life (well, kind of). Back to exercising regularly as of this week. Back, too, to writing regularly.

As always, I start slowly. Two pages yesterday, three today. Sinking back into the dream in stages, like wading into a pool: first you dip your feet in, testing the temperature, then you stand at the shallow end, your legs submerged to thigh level, then finally you slide your body beneath the surface. Itís like that. Acclimating myself to the words and the story. But itís different now. I find myself thinking Ė not while Iím writing but before and also after Ė how this is the last act, this is the final stage, this should be climbing toward a crescendo, the final clash of characters and emotions in a messy mix. This is where the plot threads and personality disasters come to a head. This is it.

Fortunately, like I said, I donít think this while Iím writing. Because thatís too much in a novel like this. Itís more organic a beast. I can shape it, sure, but after I do, I have to trust in the material itself to build appropriately. Maybe this is part of the difference between screenplay and novel or maybe itís just the difference between my screenplays and this novel, but I canít push-push-push the material. Past a certain point, past the imaginings and the figurings and the mappings out, it simply is, and my job seems to be mostly learning to be true to that. To still the chatter in my brain that wants to overlay a certain structure, a certain tension. To let it have that on its own. To trust the story, which I suppose ultimately means trusting myself.

Which is maybe what this heading-toward-the-finale is about. Because then itís done. Complete. An entity, no longer unformed. Re-shapeable, yes, of course. But existing as a whole. No longer theoretical. And I have to trust that too, that this is what it is and what, on some level, it should be. Thereís always, I think, this Platonic ideal of the novel in your head, the dream before itís been dreamt, a book that hits all the right emotional beats and feels real and sure and strong and heartfelt, that makes you cry with its beauty. Is this that book? It canít be. Itís not an ideal, itís real.

Or, rather, it will be real in a month or two. Because slowly or quickly I am surely heading toward The End. And then Iíll see what I have.

Posted by Tamar at July 20, 2004 10:09 PM