Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Riffing and dwelling

I have *so* not been blogging. Obviously. As I recently learned from a highly scientific test, I am a creature of routine (but no less fascinating for being one!). When my routine is thrown off, say by lots of paying work, which, I hasten once again to add, is a very, very good thing, I start dropping regular tasks faster than famous young movie stars shed their spouses.

But this situation has allowed me to reflect, again, on the topic of how to write when you don't have time to write. It now seems to me that there is a benefit to being away from my writing. I don't mean taking a break from it; I mean being physically away from the text, which, in my case, resides on a computer. Because my other, paying work is on the computer, by the end of the day, I am really interested in being in a different room, if not a different county, from the screen. And that's when I've started to dream up ways to enhance my second novel.

My particular problem as a writer is that I actually write too little in early drafts. As Ann Patchett once said, my writing is like "concentrated orange juice," which needs water. I cram what should be extended scenes into summaries, asides, or complicated metaphors. Usually I am so enamored of these summaries and metaphors that I need someone else to point out the problem to me.

But going back and staring at the text doesn't always inspire expansion. The lines on the screen start to look like the wires of a chain-link fence. Whereas when I'm (say) lying on the sofa, or cooking dinner, or playing with the cats, I can start imagining how I might untangle a tight knot in the narrative. I can "feel" places where the story seems jammed up, and start playing around with dialog, images, etc. The stakes feel a lot lower, and the space for exploration a lot more open. Before I know it, I have written a scene. Then it's just a matter of sitting down and recording it, and which point even more ideas start to occur to me.

I made a note to myself on top of my notebook. It consisted of two words: Riff and Dwell. This is what I need to do in my writing--open up spaces to riff and dwell. And being physically distant from the writing itself, I find, is often a tremendous help.

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