Am very sad now.
First, the story got to me
then I read update.
I’m in the process of drafting a middle-grade novel, a story I started six years ago and then set aside after writing 50 pages. Those pages burst out of me with voice and vitality, from who knows where, and while it’s great fun to be reunited with those characters, my process for writing the brand new pages is very different. This time around, I’m using a synopsis as my guide.
I’ve never written a synopsis before completing a first draft. Ever.
Last spring, when I’d let my agent know about the project, she asked if I had a synopsis to send along with the newly revised 50 pages. Um, no. However, I decided to give the loathed document a whirl, with the caveat that I wouldn’t shoot for any specific length, rather, I’d include EVERYTHING. A week later, I sent her the pages plus a 10-page synopsis. And today, I did the unimaginable: I thanked her for suggesting a synopsis. I told her that it was helping me keep on track, which was, in turn, helping me keep writing.
Which is why I decided to devote today’s blog post to my newfound appreciation for knowing-what-in-the-hell-comes-next. So, I pulled THE ELEVENTH DRAFT: CRAFT AND THE WRITING LIFE FROM THE IOWA WRITERS’ WORKSHOP off the shelf in hopes of finding a passage to reinforce my synopsis love.
Except, the part of his essay “Not Knowing” that spoke to me was this:
One night in Iowa City, I sat and listened to our instructor recount his day of writing, how he followed a character down to the basement, where he heard a strange rustling, and the character turned and drew out his gun and shot in the dumbwaiter a rat. “And,” the instructor grinned, “I didn’t even know it was there.”
And I thought, “So you don’t have to know.”
Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!
I admit to feeling momentary panic about that blasted 10-page synopsis. But then I calmed the f*^% down. Just because I’ve charted a path for the story I’m writing does not in any way mean that I am beholden to that chart. It’s a general guide, nothing more. If a rat or gun or dumbwaiter shows up in the story, I’ll allow them time to lobby for their inclusion. I won’t automatically toss out anything that shows up to the party.
And when that panic and angst over being too structured returns, (because I know for a fact those emotions will return), I’m gonna come back to this right here. After all, I set out to write one kind of post, and quite happily ended up with another.
Today I finished reading MY CROSS TO BEAR by Gregg Allman (with Alan Light). I was very sad when he died, and put a library hold on his autobiography. I’m currently listening to Brothers and Sisters, the first full album the group recorded after guitarist-extraordinaire Duane Allman died of injuries from a motorcycle wreck, and am listening to the music in a whole new way.
I’m feeling chock-full of Allman Brothers Band lore, but the anecdote that really gives me the chills is the one about how they chose the name for the band. I always assumed it was because Duane and Gregg put the group together, so Allman got top billing.
Once they (finally) found their perfect musical combination of two lead guitarists, two drummers, one bass player and one organist, Duane called for a vote on the group’s name. The six members each wrote down the band name he wanted. Gregg chose Beelzebub (the right-hand man of the devil) and Duane, a huge Tolkien fan, chose something from Lord of the Rings. The other four guys? They each wrote Allman Brothers Band.
For some reason, that story really makes me smile.
Just now, I sat down at my computer and went to pexels.com in search of a Lamb’s Ear photo. My plan for this blog post was to publicly declare my new-found hostility toward that invasive plant, and to describe how I’d ripped out AT LEAST SEVENTY GAZILLION of them from my garden today.
But when I got to pexels.com, my search results from several weeks ago were still there; I’d been looking for images for the characters in my work-in-progress.
I’ve decided to drop my rant and, instead, dedicate today’s post to this delightful child.
I grabbed my copy of WRITERS DREAMING from the shelf and opened it in hopes of finding something interesting/insightful to share here today. I wasn’t searching for anything in particular and within a couple minutes, I happened upon these two excerpts:
I’m the kind of writer who doesn’t take notes.
I tell myself, trust the unconscious.
If something is important enough in my unconscious life I will remember.
It will come to me when I need it.
So I don’t keep a notebook of good lines, good thoughts or dreams.
~ Bharati Mukherjee in WRITERS DREAMING
Usually I don’t take notes
even when I have an idea for a story until I actually sit down to do it.
Because I always have felt that I have so many ideas that the ones that are important to me, that really are good, will stay.
And the other stuff will fade.
That’s kind of a filing system.
If it was not that interesting, or not that good an idea, if it had a germ of something good in it, that part will come back.
It’ll be in there somewhere.
~ John Sayles in WRITERS DREAMING
What the hell? No notes? Because the unconscious? And because bad will fade away and good will make itself known?
Who are these writers with their functioning memories and bizarre confidence in their abilities?!
I can’t imagine life without notebooks.
I have a variety of notebooks in a drawer, waiting for me to pull them out to write down all sorts of things inside. The good, bad, and everything in between. It’s how I sort out what’s what and who’s who in my stories. Notebooks help me navigate the oftentimes confusing dance of ideas going on in my head.
I take notes because I’m that kind of writer.
What the what?! A paperback in my mailbox? A book without author or ISBN? A book seemingly focused on end times?
Oh, cool. God’s got my back. What a relief to find out I no longer need to worry about Agent Orange & The Billionaire’s Club!