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X Marks the Spot

April 25, 2011

I am writing something in my free time — it’s funny that I spend do so much writing in my free time, because that’s mostly what I do in my not-so-free time too. You’d think I’d want to do something else like ride a bicycle or knit socks or learn to play the harmonica or play pinochle…anything but write. But no, I am writing something in my free time that is making me a collector of things. There is a virtual collage of songs and lyrics and photos and maps and poems. I’ve never written anything before that has caused this to happen, where all of a sudden everything that I notice is cataloged as either part of the collection or not part of the collection. Here are some of the things that are part of the collection:

• William Yeats’ poem “No Second Troy” (a Jeanne referral)
• Sinead O’Connor’s song “Troy”
• Thomas Morley’s song “Fyre, Fyre my Heart”
• Bonnie Prince Billy’s song “Cursed Love”
• A series of photos of the Barnes and Noble in Union Square, NYC
this painting of the Great Fire of London
• Newspaper reports and illustrative plates on the Chicago Fire
• A medieval text on animals both medieval and mythological
• A map of Northampton, Massachusetts
• my copy of George MacDonald’s The Princess and Curdie

I am pleased with this collection, although I don’t believe it to be complete yet. But the arrangement is appealing to me as a thing in itself, not as anything connected to my story. I like the way the threads of connection weave through the various elements of the collection. Most of these things aren’t actual objects. Some of them are things I carry around in my head because I know them well and by heart. Others are just web pages. But I think of them as a tabletop on which they are all laid out, a work in progress. When I’m lying in bed waiting for sleep or out for a walk, I keep mentally moving them around the table. The thing I’m working on is not about any of these things, nor is it, itself, a collage. But somehow these things hint at something I’m trying to find.

I guess that’s it. This feels more like a story I’m trying to discover than a story I’m trying to write. And often things just appear in my day that need to be added to the collection or that remind me of the rightness of the things I’ve got already. Like, for instance, when I went to AJ’s baseball game on Saturday and one of the kids on the other team, a kid I’d never seen or heard of before, had the same unusual last name as I’d given one of the characters. It felt like I’d discovered the right thing. I’m enjoying the element of discovery, in part because it is so different from my usual nature. I am generally a planner. I like to control what’s going on. But this story has a real mind of its own. I have a sense of it being already there somewhere. It’s less like planning and organizing and more like finding and figuring out a mystery.

Does that distinction make sense? Some parts of the story were clear from the beginning. Others I’m still trying to uncover. It’s a very different process than anything I’ve ever tried before. But the difference makes sense, because it’s a very different kind of story than I’ve ever tried to tell before. And here’s something else that’s different: I’m not at all sure it’s working (that’s not the different part; that’s par for the course) but I find I don’t care. That part is unusual. Instead, I find myself working on it a little every day for much the same reasons that I keep turning the pages in someone else’s novel: because I want to know what is going to happen. It’s a method that’s keeping me going through rough patches. I’m trying to figure out if this is something I can make work for other projects.

Those of you who write, how often does your methodology – the actual practice of writing – vary between different writing projects? Has a project ever made you completely change your approach?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2011 7:53 am

    When a project has made me change my approach, it’s usually because I’m stretching as a writer. Often my reach exceeds my grasp, at that point…but the second or third time I try the approach, I have a better grip on it, and I’ve taught myself to harness the excitement of discovery in that first draft and let someone else read it while I cool off.

  2. eleanorio permalink
    April 25, 2011 8:23 am

    Writing for me is a very spontaneous act, usually inspired by a first line, or something someone has said. I never actually know what’s going to appear on the page until it flows out the end of my pen. And yet, having said that, I am trying to write a mystery story of sorts that will become an interactive fiction (IF), and I know what I have to accomplish and yet have a terrible time actually writing it, because it is not spontaneous. *sigh*

  3. freshhell permalink
    April 25, 2011 1:45 pm

    Hmmm. Each time I begin writing something new, I bring into it the lessons from the previous project. A lot of thinking goes on before hand and many notes are scrawled when an idea comes to me. I don’t necessarily have to refer to the notes again but most of them stick just because I wrote them down. A lot comes from spontaneous discoveries as I’m reading and researching. I go down a lot of alleys – some pitch black and others very illuminating. I then just write. Some of the stuff I’ve collected in my brain never makes it on to the page and as I rewrite and re-rewrite other things go and new things are added. I think of it as a circuitous process or a spiral. Eventually the goal is to make it to the center with a decent story to show for all the time and effort.

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