Monday, June 21, 2010

speak then to me

Sort of bouncing off Zoe's post here, on the horrors of realising you've been writing down the wrong track, and having to scrap those hard-won words.
Yesterday I took a break from pruning out more superfluities from the first 200 pages of Willow Knot, and went to thin out apples in the backyard. I searched the branches for clusters of three or more, for apples with scars or tobacco-juice frass (from codling moths, I think). I hate to take off healthy apples, but I pushed myself to imagine how heavy the branches would be if they all matured, and how the old limbs or thin shoots might crack and snap off with the weight. And that the remaining apples would be larger for being better fed.
After a half-hour of thinning, I began to feel that this was way, way, too allegorical. Or perhaps too symmetrical with what I was doing at the computer, locating 'pritty riting that does nothing' and snipping it out. Yeah, I thought, this is kind of heavy-handed, isn't it? Is there nothing for me but pruning out false starts?

But today, reading Zoe's post, I began to think thinning wasn't the right metaphor. I was taking out apples-t0-be, that might be healthy or not, to spare the branches from imagined strain. The pruning of the manuscript was done after blossom and fruiting, when I could see quite well the worm at the root, the cracking branch. I wasn't sacrificing potential on the altar of caution. (A month's worth of metaphors in this post alone!)

This further clued me in to what had been muddling me up with writing the novel-length Chimps. I've been trying to write it so as to save myself later revisions. I've been trying to avoid the byways and sidetracks, to guess which fruit will grow to be wormy or rotten or overburden the branch.
And for me, writing doesn't work that way.
Parenthetically, I do edit as I go, in the sense of cleaning up my prose, correcting spelling, smoothing sentences, changing repetitive or rhyming words, moving paragraph breaks around. Line-editing, not structural editing.
But for the first writing, the only way I can find out whether I've started down a dead end or the high road is to follow it and see what happens. If I'd tried, during Willow Knot's first draft, to stick to what deserved to be in a final draft, there would be neither willow nor knot. It was following Myl's stray thoughts, learning my way around her life, that brought Nobble into the story.

So I must remember to be sparing in the writing, and ruthless in the revision. And remember there is nothing wrong with climbing into the story and following the plot and characters around to see what happens. At least for me, since making generalisations about a creative process is a mug's game.

If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear
Your favours nor your hate.

(Banquo's speech to the three witches, from Macbeth, the play that taught me never to trust a prophecy.)


Terri-Lynne said...

I'm always amazed by how I find writing allegories in just about everything.

I write pretty much the way you do--I tidy up along the way, but I don't try to figure out what bits and pieces will end up being cut in the end. If I figure it out as I'm writing, I'll go back and rearrange a little, but mostly, I leave it alone until I'm in second draft.

batgirl said...

Probably anyone who has a craft will see things in terms of that craft. But I'll be glad when I can stop seeing revising allegories in everything and go back to writing allegories.