The Story Takes Flight

  I clicked on "Compile" and Scrivener, the writing project management program I'm using to write my novel (italicized because I feel so goofy saying it, the cliché that I am as I tap away on my laptop in this Seattle coffee shop, with my travel mug at hand. At least it's not raining and I am drinking decaf) pulled together a multitude of scenes, a handful of chapters and the lump of Part One into a WORD document, formatted, paginated, appearing to be something so much more than it is.

And now it sits beside me, 159 pages in dreadful Times New Roman font, the 31,900 words I have written since July 7. I just had to see what all those words looked like on 8.5 x 11.

If I flip through the pages and don't read the actual sentences, it looks like a real manuscript. Paragraphs are indented, quote marks indicate dialogue, there are even chapter headings. Scrivener helpfully (hopefully?) created a title page for me, though I do believe I changed the "A" in my title to "The". Hmm. Scrivener. Must fix that. One simple word shifts the meaning and tone of the story.

If I read the pages more carefully, I see scenes that end in mid-paragraph, ellipses where I left a sentence dangling. I see "NAME", which stands in for a character (as in, "NAME crouched next to de Castelnau's supine form") who is a John Doe until I decide what he should be called. I see tenses that shift mid-page, I see notes to myself typed in a scene instead of into Scrivener's handy sidebar. I see what Anne Lamott assures writers they will create in a project's early days. I see a shitty first draft. The first third of a shitty first draft. There is far more excrement to be written before I even attempt revision.

But I see some wonderful things, too: tension and surprise, attraction and intrigue. I see darlings I'm certain I'll have to murder in future drafts - those bits and pieces a writer thinks are the best things they've written, those clever turns of phrase and evocative descriptions that really only get in the way of the story. But they are fun to look at. I'll save the assassinations for later.

I compiled and printed this happy mess out of curiosity, but also out of anxiety. I am stepping out of rhythm with the tango my story and I practice every day. It's holiday time. In a short while (I've since left the coffee shop and type at you now in the dark of my living room, the wee light of dawn still hours away), I will heft a bag full of hiking gear into the trunk of a car and Brendan and I will make our way to the airport, through security, and onto the train that will whisk us to the North Satellite and our flight to Dublin.

I fear I will lose my characters along the way, that the momentum which has carried me these past two months will stall somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean and slip beneath its cold, grey waters. So, in addition to my writing practice notebook - a brand new Moleskine with pages so white and fresh my hand trembles in anticipation - I am packing these 159 pages (double-faced, not to worry - tucked into a manila enveloped and slipped in the outside pocket of my carry-on, you'd hardly feel the weight). Just in case.

I may never once open the envelope in the sixteen days we are away. In fact, I probably shouldn't. We take vacations to escape from our current life, perhaps to rest the body or challenge it in new ways, but certainly always to rest and reinvigorate the mind. Getting some distance from my story's cast and setting, from the sticky plot points I haven't determined how to resolve, may be the best way to ensure I'll see this thing through to the end of its beginning. Because that's all it is. A beginning. My obligatory shitty first draft.

So I bid you farewell. It's 3:30 a.m., finally time for more coffee - the full throttle stuff this time. I've got my morning writing to get done, in my brand new Moleskine. Then I've got a flight to catch.


Is It Afflatus? Indigestion? Feels A lot Like Love.

  I wake thinking of you. When I'm not with you, I resent the hours and the obligations that separate us. When I run or swim, I create a mental list of all the things I want to do when I'm alone with you again. Today while hiking, I had a sudden vision of our future that was so potent I stumbled, alarmed I wouldn't get home in time share what so bewitched me. I cursed myself for having no means of reaching you when I needed you most.

There are anxious moments when you don't seem real, pathetic moments when I fear you are beyond my grasp, vincible as I am to the sussurant black angel on my shoulder who fills my head with doubt. Are you really meant to be mine? Will you be fickle or fidèle? My work in progress. My story. My crush.

These first weeks of writing are as giddy as the early days of a new romance. Since that afternoon in the park overlooking Elliott Bay, cradling my Mac in my lap as I typed the opening paragraphs (chronicled here), I find myself aching to work. I've reined in the writing to spend time getting to know my characters, to begin exploring the scope of history and the details of the setting. I downloaded Scrivener - the best invention for writers since the thesaurus (or, you know, Wikipedia) and I'm slowly filling Scrivener folders with Setting Sketches, Research and Character Sketches. I just thought of a new character today - he's what happened while I was hiking. I think I may have shouted aloud when it occurred to me who he was and how the story pivots on his motivations. I've started a Lexicon folder - words and phrases that relate to the eras and settings of the story. I've outlined Scenes for Chapter One, which may be one of the last chapters I write. I spent the better part of one evening deciding on a name for my female main character. And it will probably change.

I'm an early riser. 4:30 a.m. It's my best time to run or unroll the yoga mat. It's also the best time for unfettered writing. I have a book of writing prompts - one for each day of the year - and I spend fifteen or twenty minutes every morning scribbling free-hand in my notebook, writing without stopping to the prompt of the day. Well, I stop to sip my coffee. Nothing happens before there is coffee. But since starting the novel I have directed my morning practice to my story. I write as a character, I write with a specific setting in mind, I write to work out problems, I write to create problems I hope will further the plot. I write to figure out what the hell my plot is. Suddenly, I have ten pages. Barely legible, but still - ten pages that reveal my story when my mind is most open, not constrained by the logic of a scene or the confines of a paragraph. And each day this work grows.

I find that in the late afternoons and early evenings - after I return home from work, the pool, the grocery store, when the dinner dishes are clean and the laundry folded - I am too tired to craft sentences. It's a good time to jot down scene ideas, to add to my character sketches, to muck around with research. Scrivener has a cork board function I'm crazy about. I can pin virtual notecards, insert, delete and rearrange them on my Chapter-Scene cork boards. I'm a visual writer, but I hate clutter. Having several cork boards tucked away within a binder within a program within my computer is a swarm of bees knees for me!

Scene/chapter writing is reserved, at least for now, for long stretches of quiet on the weekends, for hours spent in a cafe, a park or my favorite library branch. It's an indulgence, a respite from the work of building a plot, since I still have so much background work to do. But writing out the meat of the story is a way to let my characters play, to learn how they walk, talk, what they eat, what they are thinking. I spent a couple of hours on Saturday taking a bath and drinking a bottle of wine with my girl, my heroine. Good, clean fun. We were both tired - it had been a long flight -  and a long soak seemed like the thing to do. Oh, and there was a pivotal event just before she climbed into that steaming hot bath with a bottle of wine. But I can't tell you WHAT. You'll have to wait. And wait.

I write slowly. I'm a slow writer. It freaks me out that 80,000 78,000 words are in front of me. I know this first draft is supposed to be a brain dump, that should let it pour out, not edit, not fuss.

For the moment, I'm following my own rules. For as Dorianne Laux tells us,

There is so much about the process of writing that is mysterious to me, but this one thing I've found to be true: writing begets writing.