Building on a Fault-line

July 24, 2009 at 12:45 am (Uncategorized)

Busy day yesterday. I apologise for neglecting you, truly I do, but I really, really wanted to finish rekeying my MS before I went across town for a casual freelancers-in-poverty lunch with writer friends that promised $10 meals and cleanskins (wine without labels). Mission accomplished: I have rekeyed 62,000 words, shedding 17,000 from a document that was 79,000 words long when I began retyping it. 17,000 words dumped. Yep. That’s what I said, too.

Next I pulled those 62,000 remaining words (all looking pretty nervous now, like army recruits before their first cold shower) into two documents. I have a story-within-the-story, so I pulled that out, putting it in one document, and then I put the story in another. The story-within-the-story is in reasonable shape, although it needs an ending. Just a small detail, like, say,  leaving flour out of pasta. The story, on the other hand, that narrative arc bizzo that is the bane of my existence, needs not just its main ingredients but much more work besides, and so I’ve separated it from the story-within-the-story so it can’t continue HIDING behind a support act that has actually taken over the entire show. What I’ve discovered pulling them apart is a real imbalance, whereby the story-within-the-story has taken the lead role, while the story itself has been become a sort of mediocre understudy. Not. Good. Must. Change.

I was concerned from the outset, in fact, that the two documents would reveal a heavy bias in favour of the story-within-the-story and that the story’s own word count, without this misleading buffer, would be so slim as to warrant serious creative and existential panic. The good news is it’s not quite a landslide, although personally I wouldn’t build my dream house there. It’s just not a solid enough foundation. So it’s going to be incredibly interesting going through the story today and just seeing how it reads without the story-within-the-story propping it up. I’m expecting it’s going to throw up all sorts of  really fucking ghastly gaps and hazards, but that’s exactly what I’m looking for.



  1. Charlotte said,

    Good lord girl, you are POWERING. More strength to your typing arm (and your drinking one at the end of all this …)

  2. doctordi said,

    Funny you should say that, Charlotte…! I basically drank my way through the rekeying. Staggering toward the end of each long day’s typing, I routinely required wine.

  3. charlotteotter said,

    Good luck with facing the narrative. Without wanting to be pretentitious, here is a quote that hangs above my writing desk and inspires me when things get hazardous:

    “It is by going into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the centre.” (Joseph Campbell)

  4. Simonne said,

    Good God woman, this is inspiring stuff! And I’ve been dithering around, like a flounder without the lounder. Please keep writing about this. Yes. That IS coming from an entirely selfish perspective.
    Well done. Good luck for the next bit. xx

  5. doctordi said,

    Charlotte O, that quote is incredibly appropriate, and I don’t think it’s remotely pretentious. That damned thing in the cave – I can’t just leave it there! I’ve already tried!

    Oh yeah, Simonne, I’m definitely going to keep writing about this infuriating, frustrating, demoralising, exacting process (are you kidding?! Purge posts are the only thing keeping me sane!), although I don’t know how inspiring you’ll find this. Personally I think it’s a bit depressing. I’ve gone through both documents today and realised that a large part of what I previously regarded as story is really only more story-within-the-story *masquerading* as story. The landslide is really gathering pace. Evacuate, evacuate.

  6. Lilian Nattel said,

    Good work! I’m looking forward to hearing what you do with the main story.

  7. Grad said,

    Doctordi, did you start your novel with an outline? Or, did you just jump in and start telling the tale? I’ve been wondering about this whole process of writing a book. Do you know how the story ends when you begin it, or does it just sort of evolve?

  8. Grad said,

    Are you on Twitter?

  9. doctordi said,

    Thanks, Lilian. I rewrote the first few paragraphs of the opening page yesterday, and I am pretty happy with them and their arc-creating direction, so it’s a reasonable start. I am also pretty clear now on my thematic major keys, so that’s really going to be useful from here on in. I’m looking forward to it in a twisted head-fuck kind of way…

    Grad, no, I really had very little idea what I was doing or what I was going to be writing about. Initially I was guided only be a question of alternate fates. Like, what if this had been the case when that happened? What would that have been like? But one of the reasons I have so, so much dumped material – from the start of the process to now, you’re probably talking about 60,000 words – is that I really didn’t know much more about the story than that I had a deep desire to find it. Some people start with very clear outlines and outcomes; that’s not my experience here and I doubt it will be in future manuscripts. I have resigned myself to being a massive flotsam producer. That just seems to be what it takes for me to unearth the story at long last. And if you looked at the very first draft against the most recent, you’d see the gulf between them, story-wise, is vast. For me, back when I first sat my bum in the chair (if you were the knuckle-cracking type, this would be your moment!), it was more simply a question of banishing the blank page and answering this unrest in my – and I am not trying to sound like a tool, I mean this sincerely – soul. Life is short; my disquiet persisted until I was fully embarked. Come what may, I’m trying as hard as I can to honour the thing I am compelled to do, and that’s write. It took me such a long time to give myself permission to do that; it took the death of someone too young to die for me to realise I didn’t have a moment to spare. A long answer… but the short answer is it evolved over time, and it’s still evolving. You have an excellent basis for a novel there in your recent ‘Girl Graduate’ posts, and I hope you jump right in.

    (No, I do not twitter.)

  10. Pete said,

    Well done on the rekey and it’s sounding very promising. I get the whole thing about the gaps and the anxiety about the main story. But you just sound so much clearer about this. Knowing what you don’t know (to quote that old saying) is so much better than not knowing what you don’t know. I can’t drink this weekend but I’ll be toasting to your progress anyway.

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