December 08, 2004

emotional writing

You'd think with all this writing I've been doing (nineteen thousand words since last Monday, a/k/a 92 pages in EIGHT DAYS) (yes, I'm still in shock), I'd be exhausted. That I'd sleep well, smug and content with myself and my voluminous output.

Not so much. I've been sleeping very badly indeed, in fact. Turns out writing flat-out like this? Not good for your composure. I lie down and my brain turns on. What did I write today? Was it good, did it work? Maybe this part did, but what about that part? What's up next? What shape will it have? What tone? What emotion? Where are my main characters now, after what I put them through today? How do they feel? Where do they go? Does my mental sketch of the next set of pages still work? What do I do if it doesn't? Do I keep going and risk derailing, skidding into the nearest embankment, taking my entire novel with me, or do I slow down and reconsider, rewrite, rethink?

I think as a writer I need time to digest, to dream the story, to feel it deep in myself. And if Iím not giving myself time in between writing sessions, my brain insists on taking it. Late at night. When I'm trying to fall asleep.

Two days ago, I wrote a scene. Not a bad scene, I thought, but afterwards, I was in a terrible mood. I ended up printing it out and showing it to Dan. Verdict: too on the nose, tells us emotional beats we already know. Solution: rewrite. Instead of having the character talk about how he feels about his father, have him give an anecdote that illustrates it in a more oblique way. Simple, obvious even. I think if I hadn't been writing so fast, I'd have seen it myself. But sometimes when you're rushing to keep up with a train, your surroundings blur. You know something wasn't quite right back there at the last crossing, but you didn't get a good enough glimpse to know what.

I rewrote. I liked it much better. I felt much better. My emotional equilibrium is apparently dependent on the quality of my output, a perilous state of affairs.

Yesterday I wrote a scene. A very hard scene. One of those pivotal, center-of-the-emotional-narrative scenes. One of those scenes I usually avoid for days, cleaning out my cabinets and doing lots of extraneous "research" instead of writing. (And you wonder why it takes so long for me to finish a novel!) Now, though, I have a deadline (I want a complete manuscript by my birthday on the 29th and I'm still, oh, 30 to 50 pages away). No avoiding. So I wrote yesterday. Slowly at first. Smoothly at first. Some of the best writing I've done, I think. But partway through it shifted. I kept writing anyway, hoping I'd catch the mood or maybe I was wrong, maybe this was strong after all and I was just too close to it to know.

This may explain why I was awake half the night. It may not. But I was. Up and fretting. I know it's not a big deal, I do know that. So what if I delete and rewrite, so what if it takes a few tries to shape what I want? But somehow it mattered at two a.m. that what I'd written wasn't resonant, wasn't evocative, wasn't what it should be.

It probably doesn't help that I'm currently immersed in an amazing book, The Time Traveler's Wife. It's brilliant so far. It's also written in a style very unlike my own. Spare. Understated. Poetic, yes, but in a vastly different way. My book is more, well, dreamlike. Hallucinogenic at times. I try to keep it somewhat grounded, but I go far inside my characters' minds. And when you're reading something that feels nearly perfect but is so radically different from what you're creating, it makes you question every word, every phrase, every choice. And then you write something that doesn't ring true and ugh. Just ugh.

Bad night last night. Took the day off from writing today. Reread what I had. Cut a bit. I'll go back to it tonight after Damian's in bed and see if I can add the emotional beats that feel missing and alter the ones that feel untrue. I don't want to write forward tonight, I just want to fix what I have. I want to calm my insane writer self down so she lets me get some sleep tonight.

One of the facets of this experience, writing in a rush after having worked on the book such a long time, is that I'm living the novel as I go. It's becoming me or I'm becoming it, I'm not sure which. And so when something's off and wrong, it feels like part of my anatomy's twisted. I need a cast but I have to make do with a rewrite. A kinder sort of surgery, I suppose, though it doesn't feel like it at the moment.

Wish me luck. My sleep depends on it.

Posted by Tamar at December 8, 2004 07:08 PM

If it's any consolation, that book had the exact same effect on me, since what I'm writing is so vastly different from it. I think you're going to really like where it ultimately goes and how. And good luck on the rest of those pages.

Posted by: toni at December 8, 2004 07:12 PM

Yikes! That's a lot of writing!
I did about 2000 words a day for Nanowrimo, and keeping that pace up for a month just about did me in. I'm not actually sure what I wrote, but I've promised myself that I'm not going to look at it until after Christmas.
And then I'm sure I'm in for a shock. ;-) Editing is going to be a very interesting exercise.
Good luck with your novel!

Posted by: darby at December 10, 2004 06:12 PM