Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bad Pages

Story, in so many ways, is like a cat, unable to decide whether it wants in or out, whether its last choice was the correct one.  You've watched cats and some dogs wrestle with the problems related to decision.  You've yanked many a sheet of paper from a typewriter, pushed many a computer delete key yourself, drawn neat, editorial lines through paragraphs on manuscripts sent you to be edited, written stet in the margin, having changed your mind and now wanting it to come back into the story.

If the story is not going well, neither is its sincerity, the painful result of indecision. How do you or any writer you know of deal with the incessant problem of coping with insincerity, once it creeps into a piece you're working on?

A favored approach is to attempt to stare down the insincerity, write around it, find a way to admit to something without subverting the piece into that most dread essay of all, the confessional.

Thinking at this stage is often bad business because the mind has a habit of sending out communiques of a defensive nature.  As the insincere piece scrolls along, appearing to gain momentum, the sense transmits itself through your fingertips, up your arms to your torso, then a short trip into the brain, where you are thinking when you should be associating, listening to the actual, honest attempt of the piece.

Your favorite diagnosis for those times when work is not going well is the one of Showing off of Intelligence, which on its face is not so bad if you are able to define intelligence as the association, then conflation of two or more seemingly disparate things, calling attention to the unseen similarity that links them.  Not a bad diagnosis.  Often you do catch yourself,wanting to "use," which is to say show off significant (which is to say inflated) information.  Information is information.  You can use it in ways that will bake it appear significant, but you can also try to pump it up with adjective and metaphor, a not so subtle reminder of your intention.

Past ways for dealing with insincerity meant a dramatic ripping of the sheet of paper from the typewriter, crumpling it, then sending it in a high parabolic arc toward the nearest waste basket, using slow deliberation in the insertion of another sheet of manuscript paper, then warning it, "This time, I'm going to get you right."  This is your warning that you intended even more rigorous honesty than before.

You have only moments ago done the computer-age equivalent by selecting all of a blog essay in the works, pressing the select all button under the Edit heading, causing the lines you'd typed to be outlined in blue.  Next step, the delete key.

How pernicious the process can be.  You begin to smell the insincerity, which has a metallic tang to it.  If you're not careful, the tang will cover your tongue.  The insincerity wants to remind you how much time you have invested in the project.  Too far along to say no.  Surely someone with your cleverness can fix this.  A device, perhaps.  A ploy.  A gimmick.

Some years ago, you set your mind against device for device sake, for gimmick to cover the trail of the fact of you thinking you cannot get out of a scene when, in fact, you have not been able to get in.  Are you going to set that resolve aside?

If you delete now, this material cannot be saved.  Nor should it, but you are thinking perhaps another paragraph or so, at which point you'll find your way back to the intent lane, the essay will begin to heal, take care of itself.  Like some of those too big to fail corporations that got our finances in such dreadful shape, you are thinking surely the next paragraph will return to the honesty of statement as opposed to defense or explanation.

The next paragraph is not convinced.  It is in clear need of help, but you have begun to over think, looking for a sentence or paragraph that is a device rather than a sincere launching of an action or opinion.  What threat have you sent forth?  Have you said, I will edit you out if you are not sincere?

This sometimes helps.

You must not be too impressed with previous paragraphs unless, when you read them, you feel the itch of forming tears or a choke in the throat or some bodily sign telling you you've struck a resonant chord.  You must be ready to delete, to send packing.  Never mind there was a good line in there, a good figure of speech.  Are you actually comfortable with the notion of trying to impress yourself?

These are things you must get used to by recognizing how they get in the way of story as opposed to helping it come out of its hiding places.

Bad pages are help notes sealed in a bottle, then tossed into the ocean, in hopes someone somewhere will find them.  They are desperate, bit too much has been said about how good it is to be inside and working, too little about the need to remember how important to the process despair of getting back inside is, and what a gift it can be.

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