Friday, February 22, 2013

What's in a Weekend?

O for a Muse of fire.

I started a new book this week -- this time, it's a novel. It's a story I've tried to write before, without success, but this time, having already written another book, I may be able to bring it in for a landing. I now know that doing something daunting one time can be enough to break up your mental reservations about what you are and aren't capable of for good. Actually, that's one of the themes of the book.

It's not exactly true to say this is my first novel, because I did finish one during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) about seven years ago. That was my first novel, and if it wasn't stellar (or even remotely publishable), it was a fun exercise in creativity. With only a month to work in, your fingers really have to blaze to meet the deadline, and the speed is freeing in and of itself. There's no time to edit, ponder, or second-guess. Whatever comes into your head is what ends up on paper. It's a great way to show yourself that you can produce a story with a beginning, middle, and an end, but it's very unforgiving as far as allowing you an "out" if you start down an unproductive plot line.

I'm intrigued by limitations. Haiku are my favorite kind of poems to write because I like having to get it just so in a few simple words. My new novel has a built-in limitation in that it tells the story of a single weekend. No tortured, extended Proustian remembrances here -- my challenge will be to try to relate how one weekend can change your life, even if it does so in a different way than you imagined it would. That's another of its themes, the disconcerting experience of looking for one thing but finding something else that may in the long run be more valuable.

Patience, ambiguity, the seizing of the moment, the fallibility of the heart, truth, illusion . . . all of these play a part in my story. Actually, it may be more of a fable, something you can read in less time than it takes the described events to unfold. I'll play with it and see where it goes. Unlike some other stories I've started in the past, I already know the ending of this one. I've sometimes thought that not knowing where a story is going can be one of the most exciting inducements to write it, so that you can find out what happens. I think there are times when that's true. This time, though, having the plot sketched out lets me concentrate on how to tell the story, which to me, in this case, is a much more interesting prospect.

Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, which tells the tale of a series of game-changing events occurring in the course of a single day, comes to mind as a literary example of how much life a single day can hold. As I recall, it revealed how a number of seemingly inconsequential events led to completely unforeseen and devastating consequences. A bit of an existential nightmare, that one, but very well told. Mine will be more light-hearted than that and deals with intentionality instead of chance. Rather than leave you shuddering, I hope to leave you smiling.

So far, I've enjoyed the writing. As always, the process of putting things into just the right words is exciting, frustrating, painstaking, difficult, and liberating. I may be at it for a while, but this time there's no rush.

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