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Friday, January 17, 2014

Quiet Days Pass Quickly, Too




We’ve turned the winter solstice corner, and days are noticeably longer. On the other hand, winter has us very much in its fierce grip. Forecast: snow, snow, snow!

I went next door to get a cup of hot chili from the Garage Bar & Grill and was asked by a local person, waiting for friends at a table, “How’s business this time of year? Is it slow?” Ha! If it weren’t slow this time of year, now that would be something to talk about! When I’m posting on Facebook more than once a day, local peeps can tell that business is slow.

But I’m limiting my online time this winter to those slow business hours when no one's in the shop but Sarah, giving myself more time for other activities at home – cooking, drawing, reading (of course), movies, and writing. On Thursday morning I woke early in the dark, around 4 a.m. It’s not easy in cold winter to drag oneself out of a warm, cozy bed in the dark, but my mind was buzzing with a story idea -- the characters, the setting -- and as I said to David today, telling him something about the new project, you just don’t say “Go away!” when a story wants to be written.

So. Coffee. Table lamp. Lined paper. Black ink pen. I knew I needed to get down at least some basic notes before the idea fled, but somehow two hours later, getting up only for coffee refills, there was about two-thirds of a first draft written out longhand. Later yesterday afternoon, at the bookstore, I transcribed the handwritten pages and moved the story ahead a couple of paragraphs.

It’s interesting when something like this is percolating or simmering or doing whatever it does on the back burner while one’s immediate attention is demanded elsewhere. I had a couple of customers on Thursday, sold a couple of books, spent time in conversation with David and a friend who stopped by, and thought about what we’d have for dinner that night. When we got home, I read for over an hour in the book we “Intrepids” will be discussing next Monday evening, and after dinner I told David I had to continue reading, because I have a lot of pages and thinking to get through before Monday’s discussion. Then this morning I overslept! So much for my plan to get to the end of a first draft before breakfast! But it’s all okay. I see more clearly where I’m going with the remainder of the story than I did yesterday afternoon, though I haven't added another word yet to paper or computer memory.

When asked how much time he spends painting, David sometimes tells people, “I’m never not painting.” Sometimes he is awake for hours in the middle of the night and tells me he “got a lot of painting done.” When I have something simmering, pretty much the same way. The burner is never completely turned off. My subconscious is still writing and making writing decisions while my conscious mind is making a grocery list.

The main challenge of this new story is a different kind of structure from anything I've done before. The whole story is told in third person, but the point of view rotates among the three characters. The shifts are, I hope, seamless. Still, I’m curious as to whether it will work for readers. We’ll see. Not there yet.

Meanwhile, bookstore today, reading at home tonight, and – according to my plan – another morning of writing tomorrow, beginning long before the sky is light.


10 comments:

Karen Casebeer said...

Pamela...I could really relate to your experience of waking up at 4 am with new ideas for writing that you HAD to get on paper. I call this continual percolation of ideas "head writing." While I may not get a chance to actually "write" every day, I'm always head writing. I find that an important part of the whole writing process. Karen

P. J. Grath said...

So you know what I'm talking about, Karen. I learned this lesson in graduate school by experience. At first when I'd get up from my desk to hop in the shower or go for a walk, I felt I was "procrastinating" and "avoiding" my work. Gradually, as the water or the walk kick-started ideas and phrases, I learned that plenty of writing is done without hands on a keyboard or fingers holding a pen.

One that thing occurred to me this morning is that perhaps my "rotating" point of view is simply the old-fashioned omniscient POV. Maybe it is, and maybe that means it won't be a problem for a reader, but somehow it still seems not quite that to me -- however, not important! Not at this stage, when the immediate objective is simply completing a first draft.

Karen Casebeer said...

I really became more relaxed with my first drafts after reading Anne Lamott's wonderful book about writing, Bird by Bird. I'm guessing you're familiar with it. She dubs these as " sh**** first drafts" and remembering that has taken all the pressure off these initial writings.

Dawn said...

Interesting that David said he's never not painting....I recognized that immediately...as I am never not photographing even when I don't have the camera. Never really thought about it as it is normal to me. But he's right as are you that an idea is always wriggling around in the back of my head. Wouldn't have it any other way either.

P. J. Grath said...

Isn't that wonderful, Dawn? Seeing so much more and seeing differently than you would otherwise? Karen, Natalie Goldberg makes a distinction between the writer and the editor that live in a writer's head and cautions writers not to let the editor get in the way too soon. One of the best writers I know, Bonnie Jo Campbell, made a startling statement at a reading at my bookstore: "I'm not really a very good writer." She followed it up with "But I'm a really good rewriter."

Dawn said...

I remember Bonnie Jo Campbell saying that...it was an 'aha' moment for me.

Kathy said...

How fun that you're writing and filled with that simmering energy, Pamela. I guess that's a good case for this fierce winter's slower pace. Without the slow-down, perhaps the story wouldn't have asked to be written through you. Stay warm and enthusiastic.

Donald Lystra said...

About short stories, there does seem to be a burgeoning interest (maybe due to our internet habits for taking things in small doses), and great ones are still being written. I read George Saunders Tenth of December recently and was amazed. He seems to have created a whole new narrative technique combining dystopian horror with the most humane impulses of mankind. (On a personal note, I was pleased to see that he started life as an engineer, and states that "...any claim I might make to originality in my fiction is really just the result of this odd background: basically, just me working inefficiently, with flawed tools, in a mode I don't have sufficient background to really understand. Like if you put a welder to designing dresses.") I couldn't say it better.

Gerry said...

I spend a lot of time striding along tethered to dogs and talking to myself. The neighbors (1) are used to it or (2) are sensibly in Florida anyway.

The trouble is the stuff I orate isn't any good. I'm a pin-it-to-your-chair-and-get-'er-done sort of writer. And it's all drudgery right up until the moment it isn't. Can't imagine doing anything else.

P. J. Grath said...

Snowed in for three days, Kathy, my enthusiasm waxed and waned. Meltdowns were few and brief, I'm happy to say. It's good to be in my bookstore today and to know I'll be able to restock dwindling grocery supplies before we return home.

Don, I see you left your comment twice (I only published it once), and I thank you for being persistent! The Saunders quote is a good one. Flawed tools, inefficient, insufficient background -- that feels oh, so familiar!

Gerry, I have a sneaking suspicion your outdoor orations serve a purpose, even if you can't point to it when you're pinned to your chair. It is great fun, isn't it? A reading group I'm in recently read and discussed NATIVE SON, a particularly difficult, painful book to read, and I loved the author's essay on writing it, in which he says that writing for him is always fun. Great!!!