Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Trouble Always Begins Tomorrow

There are good days in writing and, because opposites tend to come in pairs, there are bad days. You enter the picture with full awareness of both kinds of days, having experienced both.  Being who you are, you bring into the calculus an in-between or so-so writing day , which in deconstruction is neither good nor bad.

In some cases, a good writing day is one in which you discover the name of a character you've been working with, discover being the appropriate verb because your discovery relied upon you listening to the character.  Hi, my name is Frank.  

In other cases, a good writing day is one in which you get the vision of a scene you knew had to be written because the story would wobble without it.  Still other good days call their attention to you because of the sheer amount of pages and scope are such that even if half or more is to be discarded, there are the remnants of vital and valuable details.

Conversely, bad days are days when the output consists of a dreary stream of declarative sentences, all of about the same length, with nary a semicolon to separate the clauses.  Semicolons are always risky because many editors do not like them and some readers tend to think of them as affected or, worse, show-off.  Bad days are also cays in which you press the delete key as often as you press the return key, sending inflated paragraphs and squiggly explanations to the limbo they deserve.

In-between days are those in which you have to overcome some sort of mental or emotional freeze in order to get words to come out, and then, the material from those hours in which you were able to compose does not hold the promise for you of something vital, explosive, threatening to a relationship or a sense of confidence.

The trouble always begins tomorrow, when you start your day reading through what you did yesterday.  Tomorrow you discover what you thought was a pretty good day yesterday was in fact a bad day, with no possibility to write it off as a so-so day.  You make coffee or drink glasses of ice water or read The London Review of Books, or write a letter to the editor of Lapham's Quarterly, to which you subscribed because of an offer of a price so low, you had to try it for a year.  

The letter you write uses the word fuck and the gerund form, fucking, as in, Are you out of your fucking mind, thinking I would re-subscribe at any price much less adjusted, second-year subscription prices.  Because you know you will not send the letter, you reach for metaphor and rhetoric that could possibly cause you tomorrow to think today's output was pretty good.

Bad writing days have a way of sneaking up on you when you discover, perhaps tomorrow or possibly as far into the future as next week that what you wrote yesterday, seemingly a sentence at a time, the metaphor of tweezing hairs vivid in your mind as you write, will turn out to be true keepers, pages you not only like but can say of them that they taught you something you didn't think you knew.

You realize how judgmental a person you are when you read the results of previous days of writing or when you have more or less fulfilled a to-do point on your outline--Chapter Three:  Explanation of How You See X Working, with examples from relevant sources.  You consult the entire chapter outline and all the chapters you've written before, then make coffee to mull over the reasons you got into writing this particular project.  Surely any attempt to work on this project for the rest of the day will enhance your sense of being dispirited.  Surely.  But nevertheless, there are hours left in this day, so you start thinking about how you're going to approach Chapter four.

Tomorrow, you're convinced that the only way to write is to save the material from your bad days and either outright delete or hide the stuff from your good and so-so days.  This is the equivalent of a phrase you hill, Kill your darlings, by which is meant get rid of fancy writing, contrived figures of speech.  In fiction, it can also mean killing off a favored character or two, which gets you to thinking of the carnage in Hamlet and did Shakespeare have any second thoughts about killing off pretty much everyone in this play except Horatio and Fortinbras.

The substance is that you don't know and, in many ways, you can't know, even though you have to admit that there is something special about the days you think of as good days from the beginning,  Such days bring the sense to your brain, as it spirals into sleep wavelengths, that you've made some small advances, which were worth trying for.

True enough, bad days and awful days that turn out to have been good days being a sense of nobility and purpose to your addled goals. They allow you the sophistry that there is some good stuff in the bad, that all is not lost or without purpose.  And here's the kicker; if a so-so day can turn out to be even worse than not so hot, actually awful, there's still the potential for it to turn out all right.

The trick is to keep on, no matter what.  Plenty of time to assess keepers after you've got an awful draft that might turn out pretty well, or a smoking draft that later proves you were off your game.

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