Life gets in the way of the writing game, but I keep playing. This week, with help from members of my writer’s workshop, I got through Chapter 6 of my new novel and will push into Chapter 7. But, I can hardly fight the urge to dawdle with research and layer substance into the narrative, instead of plowing ahead with the story, which is what readers want.
I’m working with Adair Lara, San Francisco-based memoirist and acclaimed writing teacher, who, to use a football metaphor, is urging us to “air it out” and throw a long bomb, instead of taking it up the middle for short yardage. For me, using the short-yardage approach meant it took four years to complete my first novel, not a great way to score in the publishing game.
Right now the main character in my new book is ensconced on a classic wooden yacht, sleek and beautiful, tied up in a small slough that’s overrun with blackberry brambles off the Sacramento River. She needs to get to work on renovations on the estate’s crumbling mansion, but she’s stuck in the swamp feeling sorry for herself. (Sounds like where I’m at.) But, there’s a flicker of my character’s purpose, and she’s about to burst out.
One of the things Adair does so well in her workshops and in her new book: Naked, Drunk, and Writing is guide writers at all stages of creation to the universal meaning in their experience that connects with readers. She wrote a first-person column for the San Francisco Chronicle for many years and built a devoted following for her funny, poignant and entertaining pieces that touch people in their real, everyday lives. The author of more than ten books, Adair coaches writers to break out of their shells and write with honesty and power from a place that’s deeply personal and widely shared.
In her new book, Adair says: “Most … writers know that emotional truth (how it felt to you) is more important to the story you’re telling than the literal truth (what day it was, whether or not it was raining). What happens is fact. Truth is how we react to what happens. To remember is partly to imagine. It’s a creative act.”
Fact, truth, imagination – that’s where stories come from. Ran across this odd reminder to reach for the truth in writing on the urban hipster website The Daily Rumpus. Don’t know if the repose of truth is between the legs, but here’s one writer’s observation.
From The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker:
You have some control over what comes before your mind—you can influence the influx by reading, or by looking through your old notes, or by going to movies, or by talking to people, and you can choose what room of the house or what corner of the yard to sit in, and you can choose to write before or after you’ve masturbated—this is crucial—and you can choose to tell the truth or not to. And the difficulty is that sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth because you think that the truth is too personal, or too boring, to tell. Or both. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth because the truth is hard to see, because it exists in a misty, gray non-space between two strongly charged falsehoods that sound true but aren’t.
For those with a story to tell—whether it’s a family history, memoir, personal essay or full-blown work of fiction—Naked, Drunk, and Writing shows you how to shed your inhibitions, get to work and craft a compelling story that editors want to print and audiences want to read. In other words, it’s about how to step into the pocket and pass your story for long yards. Time for me to huddle and get back to work.
Naked, Drunk, and Writing, $14.99 in soft cover. Order online at http://www.tenspeed.com/.