The Sense of an Ending

I have been neglecting this blog, but I have definitely not been idle. Several geologic ages seem to have passed since I wrote my review of “Ivanhoe.” I have discovered several surprising new things about characters I thought I knew well. Among them, not to give away any plot spoilers, is that Liam can sing and that Rachel had had a long affair with a (supposedly happily) married man before joining the time travel project. Are these facts important? I think so. Continue reading

Re: Vision

Flaubert and his bears seem distant, or at least they no longer oppress me. Revision. It is what it is. For those keeping score at home, or as a memory aid to some future reading self, today I am through the end of Chapter 13, which now ends at Page 254 out of 461. It’s gotten longer, because I keep adding things, while I have excised only a few extra words here and there, and one scene of any length — the eight pages at the end of Chapter 12 where Rachel visits Henry Austen in the sickroom, which I decided made no sense and wasn’t leading the story anywhere I wanted to go. I did a lot of stuff in Chapter 1, but many of the other changes were relatively minor, until I got to Chapter 12, the part right after Liam and Rachel meet Cassandra Austen for the first time and are trying to decide what to make of her.

This chapter was a bear (sorry, Flaubert) to write, and it reflected the strains of its origins as I read it again. Additionally, it did not seem to lead naturally into Chapter 13. This midpoint seemed exactly where things needed to get thicker and crazier, and instead Rachel seemed to become more vague as a narrator; I had a sense of the narrator getting bored with her own tale, summarizing things she should have shown, indulging in cheap acts of foreshadowing. Like the really exciting stuff was still a little way off, and we had to get through this slightly tedious other business first. A lot of talking, not enough reflection and not enough actual event. There is still a lot of talking — maybe too much.

But it’s better. I think. I hope. I moved up and adjusted an important plot element, Rachel’s moment of self-revelation where she realizes she is attracted to Liam, and I explored another aspect of the altering-the-universe element. Is it enough? Only time will tell. I can say as of March 29, 2012, I definitely do not know where I am going with the love story part of this, and I am rather sorry I ever thought of it.

Lately I am so far inside the world of this story that coming out is hard. Maybe impossible. It’s like a movie playing in my head. Yesterday, finding myself at liberty on a fine day and in the mood for a walk, I walked from East 57th Street (where I had had an appointment) to Union Square. And the whole way I was staring at people’s faces in fascination, looking for people who looked like what I imagined my characters looking like. It was like my imagination did not want to stay inside my head; it needed to find validation in the world.

I passed “Mordecai” on about 20th Street, and I was so excited that I briefly thought of chasing after him and asking if I could photograph him. I tried to think of how I would explain this. Then I realized I had no way to shoot him: I had left my cellphone at home.

I have moments when I am so delighted with my story I can hardly contain myself, and others when I think it is still extremely mediocre and pedestrian. But I do not trust either of these feelings more than the other one.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Writing

Progress report: I started writing The Jane Austen Project in the start of 2008. It is now, as I hardly need point out, more than halfway through 2010. I had hoped to complete a rough draft by the end of 2008. So much for that!

I have just finished Chapter 26 and am starting work on Chapter 27. In the “big file” where I combine the chapters (each chapter is composed as an individual Word file, as it seems less cumbersome that way) I have about 127,000 words or 371 double-spaced pages. My guess would be that 27,000 of those words are excess, but the number could well be higher. A harder question to answer is how badly flawed is it structurally (for that it is flawed is not in question). How much work will it take to get into the shape I want, assuming I get to the end? (I am pretty sure I will get to the end, which is something I have doubted from time to time.) And will I know “in the shape I want” when I see it?

If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.

Lady Catherine’s view of music was more or less my own view of novel-writing, perhaps less baldly expressed, until I actually came to try it. Now I know better. How do people actually manage to organize their thoughts, marshal their energies, keep their metaphors in good repair, and sustain this effort for several hundred pages? Having a computer certainly makes things technically easier — I read once that Sonya Tolstoy copied out War and ¬†Peace for Leo seven times, for he not surprisingly kept making revisions — but the basic problem is the same. ¬†How do you keep it all in your head as a unified work, unruly enough to be a living thing and yet controlled enough to be readable?

I wrote from childhood. It seemed as natural as reading, as breathing. But now, when I think about it, it does not. It seems absolutely terrifying. What do I mean by terrifying? I will try to explain. It’s like a long walk in a dark wood, Blair-Witchy, night sounds all around you, cobwebs in the dark, twigs snapping under foot, a sense of barely reined-in fear. Each step is manageable, but then there is another one after that, and another. You’re very alone, and it’s dark. To turn back is impossible, to keep going seems unimaginable, but you cannot stop either. Speared on the horns of this trilemma, you proceed. Step, breathe, proceed.

I kept thinking this dark-wood sensation would leave me in time, that after a while the process of writing, of finding out what it is I am going to come out with next, would start to seem less dark, less mysterious and unpredictable and scary, but 127,000 words later, it has not, and I begin to see that it must be part of the experience.

Or not. Maybe other people know what they are doing in a way that I do not?