Adjusting My Goals

I’m not going to finish NaNoWriMo by tomorrow—my word count is hovering around 40,000. That’s a far cry from 50,000. I’ve had to put the manuscript aside to meet some deadlines, applications and otherwise, and I have a sample due Monday and an outline for a new project due next Friday. Today I am meeting a few other NaNo participants for lunch… I’ll have to admit my 10,000-word shortcoming.

But, just between you and me, I have a new goal. It’s not about word count; I’ve never been too hot on numbers. I just want to finish the first rough draft of this manuscript by January. That’s all I ask. It could take 20,000 more words… or 30,000, or more, I really don’t know and I don’t care. I just want to reach the end of the story. If I can do that, I win. Win what, you ask? A sense of accomplishment. Not shiny enough? Okay, maybe a new pair of shoes.

Middle Muddle

As usual, the middle of my story is bloated up with air and foam. I wave an arm through it, can’t see my own hand. This always happens with me. I think I need to go to a plot workshop. You know, come to think of it, I once did go to a plot workshop, sort of. A job I once had sent some of its editorial staff to Robert McKee’s Story Seminar, and I was one of the lucky ones to go for free. Because it was mandatory, and because the seminar was so very long, and the seats in the lecture hall were so hard, I recall some hours of lying prone on the floor, wondering if all the information would somehow seep into my head if I stopped writing it down. Not so. I also remember watching the longest-ever viewing of Casablanca, which Robert McKee shows scene by scene, stopping every few minutes to discuss.

Conclusions? First off, I have determined that I never should have quit that job. Second, maybe I should skip ahead and write Act III?

Sometimes

Sometimes I want to be writing a YA novel, and I move deeply into a scene, sure of what I’m doing, and all is well.

Sometimes I want to be writing simply a novel, a novel I would find on a shelf and read, so then I must be writing literary fiction, and I move deeply into a scene, more sure now of what I’m doing, and all is well.

Sometimes I don’t know at all what I’m writing. I look at the words. And I have no idea what to call them.

Sometimes I want to define it. I’d know which way to end it then.

Sometimes I want to keep going and surprise myself by the ending and then just have whoever reads it tell me what they think it is.

Sometimes I wish I could be sure of just this one thing. It seems like a simple proposition: What I am writing as I sit here writing it. Do I not even know what’s right in front of my eyes?

Driving Through the Fog

It was a holiday and I was obliged to take a break from the writing.

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Upstate had a heavy fog when we landed at the train station. It enveloped the car, so we could barely see the road ahead. And the roads near my mother’s house—a house barely findable, even with directions—are the tiniest of roads. They cut up close to unseen lakes, part seas of trees, bend up the blindest of curves, the lane so narrow only one car can fit at a time. The fog made it all the worse. My life feels like this right now, so it was poetic, really.

This is the barn I say is haunted, but everyone else says no way. I won’t go near it at night by myself though:

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But once in the house we began chopping. So. Much. Cheese. And the zucchini. And the sweet potatoes. And photographs of the donors (otherwise known as our fathers) were taken out and looked at and then put away. There was much hilarity—when my family is together, we get like this.

Later I would be told that my father wanted nothing to do with me because I’m not a part of his household—I don’t live in his house, so he has no obligation to me, is his thinking. It’s an issue of taxes, really. Oh, okay, I thought to myself. So it’s nothing personal. Right back atcha, Dad.

I am not so dispassionate in my imagination. Deep in there I have quite a lot to say. But it’s been hard getting in, and, once in, hard to communicate what I’ve seen. I’m talking about the novel. Yes, the novel I am supposed to be writing in 50,000 words in 30 days, which I’ve about given up, but that doesn’t mean I’m not writing it now and on past November in however many months it will take. The story, the characters were covered in a deep fog all week. What are you writing? (Please, let’s not talk about that.) How do you like your new job? Where are you moving? What will you do with the rest of your life? With holidays come questions. I would like to run out into the fog, but when E went out to dump the compost he heard a large animal in the woods. It could have been a bear. Or a Sasquatch.

The food—my mother’s—was divine.

We got lost on the way to the train station and missed our train back, by a single minute. We pulled into the lot just as its doors closed and it crawled away. So we had to wait an hour for the next train, up in the passage hanging over the tracks. E and my sister sat on the floor, gearing up to wait.

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I decided to take pictures. While spinning. Jumping. Spazzing. Don’t ask me where all the energy came from. And soon enough, time had passed and the train was due to arrive. We even got seats. Here I am, spinning:

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And then there’s this:

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The above drawing was found in my Baby Book: a warped white book, half-filled out and stuffed with random tidbits like this drawing I made in nursery school. I remember, probably for some Thanksgiving something-or-other at school, having to dress up as Pilgrims and Indians. I had a construction-paper feather on my head, so guess what I was. That might be the inspiration for this drawing. I’m not sure what to say.

But I ask you: Why are all the people falling over? (A few of my drawings found in the Baby Book were like this; I seemed to be incapable of drawing people straight up and down.) Also, take notice of the boy on the right. Are those chicken pox? Are we leaning away from him because he is contagious or because we are afraid? Or, even though the sun is shining, are those tears?

Interpretations welcome. My memory is as foggy as the rest of me.

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Disclaimer

It’s November 19, nighttime, which leaves me a .03% chance of writing anything before bed. I am going away for Thanksgiving on Wednesday. I have 26,526 words. And I just agreed to a project (deadline forthcoming) and to write a sample chapter for something else. (We need money to move.) And I’ve been sleeping late.

I don’t think I’ll hit 50,000 words by November 30.

There. It’s been said. Now I can move on and write like a maniac when no one’s looking. (Hey, you never know…)

Behind, But No Matter

I’m somewhat behind. But this morning I think I came to a good stride. I finally got out some words that gave me my high, so as of now, even if I don’t reach 50,000, it doesn’t matter.

Silly confession to follow:

I felt a tad ill on Thursday. I was at work and noticed that my left arm was going numb. It started in this one spot, in my inner elbow. I happen to be right-handed, so I kept on working. The numbness stopped, then started up again after lunch with more of my arm. I thought maybe I was feeling it in my leg, too. I was cold, then hot. By the day’s end my arm was practically entirely numb. I just wanted to get home, on the subway, to tell e and ask him what he thought I should do. But on the subway, the left side of my face started feeling numb, too. And the leg for sure (I think). Plus, the train was especially crowded. I was standing, holding on to a pole, but I couldn’t use my left arm because it was shaking. Finally I got a seat. I was sitting there being all melodramatic thinking yeah, yeah, I know I’ve been eating terribly *you have no idea* and not exercising *and walking less because I now commute to work* and et cetera and I got sick from eating and acting like a child about two years ago *and I haven’t had the bloodwork done in a while* so… logically, I thought it was something serious. But nothing can go wrong! I thought. I want to get back to this novel. How silly is that?

Either way, I seem to be fine. My arm feels fine. And a few people said maybe I just had a pinched nerve in my neck, which can make an arm go numb sometimes. No biggie.

But my resolve is the same. I want to keep writing. Finally I think it’s worth saving.

Oh, and by the way, I guess I’m on a diet. (Sob.)

Internal Dialogue

Admit the following things to yourself, self.

You are not sure if your skill meets up with your vision. The story is better in your head. The pictures in your head, so much better. When you try, and you cannot say that you haven’t been trying, the words that dribble out just don’t have that sparkle. Where have you put your sparkles? You are not your day job. You are not your debt. You are not your rejection letter sitting on the kitchen counter torn open but not yet discarded because what’s the point anyway. You are not Chuck Palahniuk either, so stop it.

And then this meeting coming up in December, someone wants to meet you—this has not happened before. This is to get advice on the novel manuscript, which is not ready, she said so, and you agree, and also on the story collection, about what it could be, and whatever discussion you will have will help you move forward. You’re grateful. Also nervous. How to explain there are better things in you, you’ve just let the smog get in the way?

Spending the month counting words is odd. Counting all the words in total makes them seem substantial. Counting the words you actually like would make you ashamed, so you know what, don’t do that.

Conclusions:

Sometimes hard work does not pay off.

But you could always work harder.

Not everyone will find success.

But you never know if you will, so best to keep trying.

You’d rather vanish off the face of the earth than keep doing what you’re doing. It’s not bad; it’s just not right. As you get older, you see no point in doing what’s not right. Your past mistakes keep you treading water. You are not drowning. Can’t you smile, seeing as you’re not drowning?

Time for a flashback.

Remember Mom? Remember the man who was more Dad than Dad? Remember their misery? Seeing their traps? Thinking if that’s what being a grown-up is I never want to grow up? And you are grown up now—you couldn’t stop it—and now you know.

Mom is happy now. She proved that it is never too late to change your life.

Dad who is not Dad, who knows where he is, but it could be argued that he did the same.

So stand up. WRITE SOMETHING GOOD THIS TIME.

And stop talking to yourself. It distracts me.