Saturday, August 04, 2012

That Tweaking Compulsion

The question that I struggle with today is: When do I stop writing? When is it all enough? There always seems to be room for more -- further development of some scene, adding some new material to support what already exists and the most tempting of all, that compulsion to endlessly tweak.

In these moments of indecision, I feel akin to the late, masterful film director Stanley Kubrick who was known to film a single sequence hundreds of times, from an identical angle, searching for a unique spark. I hoard my intentions and stemming from that oscillating confidence, when my conviction is low, I counterbalance that with an instinct for “More.”

I play by my wits as a writer and when nothing that I re-read has that silky flow of good jazz, I panic and battle the impulse to stuff in more content. It is a manic urge and could easily ruin the hard work I have already invested if I am permitted to govern the final part of this writing process when operating from this low ebb.

I need help and have no idea where to find it.

How I wish this instinct to stop was programmed into me when I made the final decision to be a writer. Like a migrating creature, I would simply know when.

Can this sense of temperance be acquired as we write, guided by mere instinct and under the direction of the vision that blocks out the shape of the thing we wish to create? I try to change gears and establish the economy that characterizes an efficient editor. I ask myself questions, sometimes. Mostly, I wing it. This trust in my own instincts has gotten me this far so should it not accompany me to the journey’s end?

Yet this begs the question once more: When have I returned home? Am I still circling the block, unwilling to open the door that will signal completion or has my drained sense of confidence rendered me unwilling to present a finished product?

I soon began to discover that what I should always aspire to as a writer is not excellence but lucidity. When I write for excellence, I write for that rarefied, difficult to please editor and in pursuing this objective, I either lose the taut thread of a clear narrative or I become over-burdened with clever wordplay. Either course is disastrous to the whole.

{Images by Louise Bourgeois}

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Reader, Projected

As I continue to write, how am I to trust my own eye for detail? What should I include in a story that is in the process of unfolding? What aspects of my character’s verisimilitude are essential to establish the landscape that will best convey their reality? Should these consideration even be made consciously, by me, the creator of this fictitious world? A sensible argument can be made that would suggest this process lies in the harnessing of a muse. As she reveals, I take notes and perhaps it is better not to ask clarifying questions along the way.

Is less more?

Up to this point, I have been obedient to the screen of my imagination but the more I read of other writers I respect, the more I begin to doubt this passive approach. I am falling short.

In my admiration, I lose the objectivity which provides the courage to just keep writing. I become the Dickensian Oliver Twist, going back for more gruel. My self-confidence dissolves and I am left to that device which I mistrust even more -- I try to formulate the reader in my mind so that I might address them directly.

In composite, this person is well-read and hard-to-please; they are brutally judgemental. My efforts to satisfy their finicky tastes knows no limit and it is always detail they seek. They want to know more but I am as dry as an over-pumped well; my imagination has nothing further to deposit. How can I accommodate them and their insatiable appetite for the particulars I cannot presently see? I ask this because I do not wish to change what has already been written. It has been so difficult to write what already exists so I protect it instinctively. Still -- the reader presses; I over-heat and dissociate from the dilemma. Perhaps when I re-visit some of these thinner sections at a later time, I will be satisfied with simply tweaking some of the sentence structure that already exists? This has worked before. The passage of additional time will save me from tearing what exists apart to satisfy my terrible insecurity.

Sometimes, when the wheel turns, I see the whole thing differently.

{Artwork by Leonora Carrington}

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Anatomy of a Default

There is one central image I retain, which serves as a very particular kind of key. The image is impossible to capture in writing, in words, for its complexity is too challenging to convey. Any effort to transpose it into a story will always fall short of its desired impact. It belongs to a place of visual memory and its potency lies in the repeated conjuring of this image. Still I will share it will you for the purpose of discussion, even though it is deeply personal and unlikely to sound the same chord in you, as reader, as I would desire it to. It is the most cherished image I export from an archive of childhood experiences and I have no doubt that everyone has experienced it for themselves, at one time or another.

I still remember and it was so many years ago I cannot recall their number.

I rise early and the morning sun, golden and bright shines over the river that collects in a  small bay in front of my grandparent’s house. I have passed the night sleeping in a screened porch that serves as a bedroom in the summer months. My feet point to the river and the air that I breathe is cool and alive. I look out the large, screened window at the morning vista and a memory is burned forever: It is the hot, white twinkling light that sparkles upon the gently lapping waves which evokes the strongest emotional response today. In that refracting sunlight lies something mystical, where I am pulled from a regular frame of mind into a Whole I barely consider under regular consciousness.

I do not think in images. Not at least consciously. It is through a state of emotional recall which forms the words of long sentences that I am able to play out experience on paper. Time is recalled in feelings. Whenever I expect my writer’s imagination to produce reliable, concise images, I try to evoke this memory and expect it to set some tandem process in motion. It is the impossibility to properly convey this image that keeps me trying to write when the spirit runs low. If ever I was achieve this objective, I might drop my pen; close the book; shut down. Catch me if you can, taunts the image and I balk at the challenge. It always wins.

This default takes me back, as though memory were shaped around a loop. When I begin again, I expect something fresh to surface; something I missed in the first pass through. It is as though time itself were creased like some poorly ironed shirt and under those folds lie the details that will evolve a better sense of what my intention is. I need only peek underneath.

It is the first snapshot in the scrapbook of my mind. There exists other memories but this is the first to distinguish, to astonish, to transform. It is a beginning; time starts here. Repetition is critical.

The merry dance of palliated white gold. In my mind’s eye, it is sparkling promise; rejuvenation in pure concentrate. This image is the gift that surpasses all others. Yet it is bound in memory. On many other occasions I have seen sparkling morning water, dancing below the heralding sun and all this accomplishes is triggering the first memory: the genesis of my appreciation of the natural world around me.

The situation resolves into a paradox -- I must share this beauty, yet it is entirely mine.

A happy nest of illuminated water spirits dance for my sense of recall. The water below the light generates from an unseen source and it is always there to provide the canvas for this phenomena. The impossibility of transferring this memory is one of the reasons I write. Knowing that such a place in myself exists drives the gears of my conscious mind in an attempt to capture the spirit of life itself. I write to capture that life and am resolved to the impossibility of that ambition.

{Artwork by Rene Magritte}

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Letter Envy

"The admirable is inexplicable." - Ursula K. LeGuin

Each time I read a great book, I loose confidence in my own abilities as a writer. The waxing and waning of this confidence serves as the main source of conflict in my narrative as “writer.” I frequently criticize the amount of detail provided in my own exposition, yet this bores me in writers who do this well. It is as though their pen become the lens of a well-focused camera and takes the reader through the microcosmic -- everything is pulled into full, overwhelming focus. Time suspends in the lyrical flow of their patient storytelling but in reading this skilled display of their obvious craft, I find my mind drifts constantly. I have difficulty in imagining what they so carefully describe because I find it too specific.

Still, the envy. It is a mysterious paradox.

‘Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.’ - Annie Dillard

{Artwork by Tomasz Alen Kopera}