On the Tip of My Tongue

March 22, 2008

Tonight, while trying to write the afore-promised post about D and my experience being evacuated from the movie theater, I got to thinking about writing. Actually, the thinking came after the attempt and failure to write and during the subsequent bath-time that followed.

I have mentioned before that for a long time, blogging is the only writing I’ve really been doing. And while we all love our blogs and spewing mundane daily events in the form of quippy, cute sentences, this is not real writing. Real writing is about 80% agony from the knowledge that no matter what I write and how good I feel about it, the first draft is always going to be terrible. There’s no getting around it. Real writing requires re-writing.

For a long time, I’ve been dancing around the idea of writing a novel. I may have mentioned it before… certainly to people in person, and maybe on the blog. I don’t quite remember. This idea has begun to pressure me more and more as I’m settling into my adult life and finally coming to terms with the fact that I will never be a child again, and therefore, will always have to have an adult job. Right now I am working as an assistant. A year ago, I was working as an assistant. And though I like my job now and am thankful for the work, in five years, I do not want to be working as an assistant. There’s nothing wrong with being an assistant. It takes brains and organization and hard work and stress just like any other job. But for the rest of my life? Eh. I think not.

Tonight in that subsequent bath that followed the discouraged blog failure, I believe I may have come up with the first line to my novel. At least for now. At least a starting point. And I realized something I never realized before about writing:

Writing should be like building a friendship. I don’t mean that like it sounds. A lot of writers will gush about how their characters became their best friends in the course of the book and how it was so sad to kill so and so off or do that terrible thing to such and such because man, my characters are amazing and SO REAL that THEY COULD BE MY REAL FRIENDS. Perhaps I’m being a jerk here, but that’s a little pathetic. Characters are a means to an end, the personification of a rhetorical device. Writing should be like building a friendship because one must approach it with a story rather than an agenda. If we make friends to prove something, our friendships are insincere and vacant. A real friendship begins with a story:

Hello, my name is Ann. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota. I have two parents, an older brother, a family dog, and I used to own a cat named Francis who was the coolest cat I’ve ever met. I miss her.

I’ve had such a hard time beginning my novel because I’ve forgotten the simple, lovely value of a story. I get caught up in the outline and the ending and the big picture of it all. Sure, Al Finnigan lives in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and was raised by his grandfather and has a Great Pyrenees named Muldoon who is blind in one eye and was divorced by his ex-wife Pam five years ago, BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THIS STORY? WHAT DOES HE SYMBOLIZE? Tonight I realized that if I write the book the way I am thinking about it right now, it will be insincere and vacant. Instead, I have to begin with a story:

Pam spent most of her first marriage asking questions. Of course, the questions began even before the marriage did: What’s your name? Where are you from, Al? What brought you to Sheboygan? And are you still working in the lumber business? Do you like it?  Al was a man who needed questions. Even after they had vowed to love, honor, cherish, and share, Al needed the questions, or he would spend his evenings flattened against the couch, eating his cornflakes with crushed crackers and peanuts on top and watching the Discovery Channel, saying nothing about the day.

So, my question here for you all is, does this paragraph make you want to read more? It’s a first draft, so it’s rough and clunky and wordy, but are you intrigued? Be honest. For a while I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a novel blog. I’m still thinking about the implications of it, and I definitely need to get this one back up consistently before I take on any other web projects…. any thoughts on the idea of a novel blog?

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2 Responses to “On the Tip of My Tongue”

  1. leisy said

    What a novel idea! I say do it.

  2. Brian said

    Go for it. Everybody’s doing it. Why not you?

    I think the opening paragraph is interesting, although I have to admit that most men are a lot like Al. As a general rule, men are not the happy go lucky “communicators” that women usually are. (I wish I was.)

    If you’re opening is meant to introduce the fact that Al has a lot of secrets no one knows about, then I think you’ve accomplished that.

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