Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sing, O Muse

During the wonderful 24 hours that I spent in San Francisco, Kathleen and I talked a lot about writing and a bit about writing our passions.* Knowing that I really love opera, she asked me why I didn't write a story about that, or at least a story that integrated it. I said I didn't even really like talking about opera to my acquaintances, because I have met almost no one in my generation who's interested in opera (aside from actual opera singers, I know a couple of those for reasons too long to go into), and it's an interest that people generally roll their eyes about as weird and snooty and difficult to enjoy. Or at least this is how I see it. Kathleen told me that this did not matter, and encouraged me to write about what I loved, because that's how writers do great work.

*I know I didn't reproduce this set of interactions correctly, so I apologize to Kathleen for my shitty memory. Instead of being confusing and losing my point, I just filled in the blanks with fiction that makes the anecdote cohere.

I was reminded of some unexpected feedback I got on my old SF novella The Apocalypse Experiment. I included a scene wherein Maria, one of the main characters, talks about why she learned to knit. The novella takes place about 150 years from now and knitting has fallen even further out of common knowledge than now, and it's a world where there's no place for handmade crafts. It's partially for this reason, Maria explains, and partially for the exact same reasons that I learned to knit (which she also explains), that she took the time to learn.

I thought this scene was lame and awkward and I was ashamed of it as a seemingly obvious explanation of my own feelings about knitting. I left it in anyway because I felt it communicated something important about Maria and also about the world she lived in. Somebody told me, upon reading it, that he thought this was one of the best scenes in the novella. It was warm and affectionate, he said, and made Maria and her emotions come to life.

Shut the front door, was my reaction, but I thanked him politely and continued to despair about finding any kind of a market for a 23,000-word science fiction novella with dubious science and a very unhappy ending. This was also one of the first bits of evidence in an ever-growing pile that says I really don't know what parts of my writing are good and effective and which parts aren't.

ANYWAY, I had this idea a while back for a SF short story that mostly concerned the human voice and a significant change in its configuration. It occurred to me after the San Fran trip that I could integrate opera into my concept for this story, and that it would be richer with my [paltry] knowledge of and [significant] passion for the form. I drew up a concept and a general arc and sat down last night with my new Moleskine to draft it.

I don't know how many words I wrote, because I wasn't working on a computer, and I'm not finished so I haven't transcribed it yet. But I've set down several pages (on that narrow Moleskine rule - I counted: 45 lines per page) so far. It is mostly rude clay, with a lot of very inadequate work, but as I'm writing through it I'm learning more about the story and the MC and what I want to say, so I think in the end I'll be able to shape it and clear away the rubbish and have an actual elephant story. The opera addition was a good idea, adding a center to the story, and I will be glad to be able to write about this thing I love. Thanks, Kathleen.

Objectively, it's odd to me that longhand feels freer than typing into Word does. Because I type pretty quickly, it takes me a much much MUCH shorter time to draft things on the computer than it does to write them with pen and paper. Also, I am able to edit while drafting, often meaning that cringeworthy sentences are not recorded for all time, a big plus. Since I'm all obsessed with not wanting to write things over and over again, and with wanting to get it right with as few drafts as possible, you'd think that keyboarding would be the way I'd find greater creative freedom.

But no. It just isn't. Writing longhand is messier, in a good way, like a messy living room that indicates real human occupancy. It's easier for me to make notes that make sense to only me, and it feels realer, like I'm working instead of cheating on work. And I have the time to think before I set the next word down, think about how the sentence goes. (Er, sometimes.) And there's something about it that feels romantic. I don't know how else to express that, and it's foolish and has nothing to do with real writer-work, but I won't deny it.

Granted, there's been a real loosening in my work over the last six months in terms of how I feel about rewriting and tossing out the bilgewater. I don't howl and clutch the precious first draft anymore. That probably contributes to how longhand has become an advantage. Plus there's new fearlessness. And seriousness. And glee. All of these things together, not one of them less important than the others, have come to pass for me, and I know it means that I'm doing better work.


In other news, I got a second specific story idea for this big scary project and took a couple of pages of notes on it. For various reasons I'm not really sure whether I should start it or not. The SF story has to finish up first, and after that I'll see whether I'd rather maybe go back to KUFC. It's nice to have a lot of irons in the fire, but my nature is to enjoy finishing things, so I also think of them as nagging loose ends. Oh, well.


Katharine Coldiron said...

Via Facebook, Kathleen sez:

"Hurrah! That's wonderful! And mostly how I remember it :) Something about reading and watching people loving things transcends one's own interests, hence TopGear."

Denise said...

I feel similarly about writing longhand. Not because I am averse to technology or writing on computers (apparently), but because it just feels good... And btw you're making me want to go to opera.

Katharine Coldiron said...

You should try an opera! I really think everybody should TRY one even if it turns out it's not for them.