Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Naive Narrator, the More Naive Writer

 Relative to the many things you do during the course of a day, you spend a considerable amount of time reading.  Even though you are often judgmental about the amount of writing you accomplish during the course of a day, you for a certainty spend a good deal of time preparing for, thinking about, then revising what you have written on a given day or a previous day.

In the same spirit of relevance, you listen to some music at least six times during the week if not every day.

There are other necessities such as sleeping, exercise, chores, and the clever ways you manage to combine drinking cups of cafe au lait with some sense of relaxation or what you might call moments of reflection.  There are windows for actual teaching and other windows still for preparation for teaching.

These details have relevance when placed in context with your frequent failure to give adequate appreciation to the amount of time and preparation that must have gone into the writing of the things you read and the musical compositions you listen to.  This failure to appreciate effort applies just as well to jazz, which by its nature depends on improvisation.  So yes, your perception often does not take into consideration the hours of practice and study a player needs in order to interact with another player and as well the ability of a player to improvise rather than play informed interpretations of written scores.

Because many of the things you read when you were an emerging reader and, a bit later, when you were an emerging writer, seemed so accessible and so touched you with their range of ideas, information, and well-articulated feelings, you were not only seduced into the desire to try your own hand at writing, you were attracted to the works of writers who caused you to believe writing was easy, that anyone who wished could do so as well as your role models did, that you, too, could with comparative ease, write with as much effect as they.

By the time you recognized your miscalculations, you were already in beyond the point of no return, to the point where today, having worked at learning your craft for over fifty years, you recognize the need for more practice, more growth.  Your hopes of catching up with your role models are so daunted that you are in a compelling sense in beyond the possibility of envy.

Whatever else the warp and weft of your day contains woven into it, the necessity burns for you to put down some words each day, rain or shine and, your recent, departed cold as a case in point, in illness and good health.

 In many cases, you'll not have put down enough words to suit you.  In many other cases, even when you have managed a more respectable number of words, say between three and five thousand words, or the equivalent of between twelve and twenty standard 8 1/2 x 11 manuscript pages, that may seem acceptable for the time being, but of course the number of words captured on the equivalent of a page is no guarantee that these will be keepable pages.

As Oliver Hardy found cause to tell Stan Laurel many times, "Another fine mess you've got us into."

This awareness in some ways ameliorates your early belief that the things you liked to read or listen to were simply set down without revision.  When you first discovered that Mark Twain has set Huck Finn aside for a number of years, you could not imagine any reason for his having done so.  Even though there are some structural issues with the book from about the eighty-percent of the way in mark to the lead-up to the ending paragraphs, you believed in the myth that this book and others you so admired were conceived as an entire unit after some thought and deliberation, and that was it.

Not until much later, when you saw photographs of Fitzgerald's handwritten emendations to Gatsby did you appreciate the enormity of work that could go into a work to give it that lofty sense of standing on its own, above the fray of composition and the editorial process.

You thought editorial process meant changing a few words, looking up the spelling of a few others.  Your first several novels, while not shabby in concept, reflected this cavalier notion of revision.  If you live long enough, there are one or two among them wherein you might wish to rectify youthful folly.

Of the many things you have come to terms with in accepting the greater realities related to storytelling, two have made a lasting impression, often to the point of having major effects on your third and fourth and fifth drafts.

Start late.  No matter where you first see the story beginning, through effective self-editing, you will find a later place yet in which to begin.  This is invariably a place where there is a good deal--eighty-five to ninety percent significant action and movement.

Leave early.  You stay on too long and you find yourself with nothing better to do than explain things the reader should have been able to see without help.  Thus you commit anticlimax, which means the introduction of one or more major distractions from the point where the reader senses that the story has come to an end.

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