Friday, June 26, 2015

Digging in

With great thanks to your longtime association as friend and editor with the archaeologist, Brian Fagan, you have begun to see new projects coming your way as a smattering of potsherds, some singular artifact, or, best of all, as an intact skeleton.  Your job becomes getting as much or all of the relic out of the dirt in which it is buried.

Then comes the moments of spreading such materials as you can find on a table top or some at the moment part of the floor not being used for other such melodrama.  At this point, you stand back, cup of coffee in hand, surveying your discovery.  

Of course the dirt in which it had been buried is a metaphor for the ever deepening internal bed of the subconscious, which is below the level of immediate consciousness for at least this very reason, in addition to the others it evolved to perform for us.  And of course sifting through layers of subconscious will stir associations not expected.

For the longest time during these past few months, you'd been obsessed with putting to work one of the bits of conventional wisdom relating to writing you'd taken as a core belief.  Before writing in a genre new to you, you should do some research, find out what the top three or four basics of that genre are, read those, then read about a hundred others.

Part of what you unearthed from this speculative digging is your wish to embark on a novel you'd been playing with for about a year.  But somehow the idea of compiling a list of the one hundred novels that, at first reading, had the effect of knocking you on your ass persisted.  

So you spent some time noting those novels, winnowing your list to a hundred that seemed appropriate,.  But the matter didn't let you sign off on a task for which there'd be no effective use.

After more digging and sifting, you were at the point just below despair, where you saw nothing further to do with your list except the possibility of rereading those hundred novels, but to what effect>  Rereading them could have a splendid cumulative effect on your vision, could even inform buried aspects of the novel you wish to work on.

The way such things work with you, you were preparing for something away from the point of focus, notes, in fact, for a class.  This was pulling the cork from the bottle, allowing the genie trapped inside to escape.  Of a sudden, there was The Hundred Novels You Should Read Before You Write One, which was, of course, your hundred novels.  You'd have to prepare a five- or six-hundred-word essay on each one, describing what tools and approaches you got from each novel.  

But that was still not enough.  You dug, sifted, brushed aside distractions to the point where the skeleton had become whole.  This was a book.  In this book, you would name and describe your hundred novels, then challenge the reader to do her/his own version of your list.  No guarantees that this will make the reader a writer, anymore than it made you one, although, as you think of it, these hundred novels convinced you of your ultimate goal, got you to think about how being a writer would feel.

You weren't comfortable with the idea of simply listing your hundred key novels, then having to explain why they were not in order of preference or part of any chronology.  This led you to breaking your hundred novels into four sections, Coming of Age, The Search, The Puzzle, and The Institution, each to be prefaced with a few hundred words explaining what these four sections meant to you.

Your pleasure at the moment has to do with the way the idea first came to you, almost in chunks and a partial sense of what needed to be done, increasing as more of the shape spoke to you while you were dusting off the skeleton.

Story  has shape, whether it is dramatic, involving characters which represent emotions, goals, and ways of dealing with inner urges, or whether the story has facts, ideas, and theories instead of characters.

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