Today I’ll take a bit of a detour from the reading-around discussion, because today took quite a detour, too. I met with my writing partner Tanya this morning for one of our frequent gossip-and-work sessions at the chocolate cafe. I was thrilled to get the latest installment of her current project, but it felt quite odd not to have some sheaf of paper to give to her in return. For the past two or so years, we’ve been regularly trading work, whether poetry, memoir, or fiction. This may have been the first time I ever showed up to one of our meetings empty-handed.
In this month after having given my agent the “final” version of Jacob Wrestling, It’s not as though I haven’t kept busy. I’m teaching, working on the magazine and scheming about new marketing strategies for the magazine to help get great work into more readers’ hands. When I wasn’t working on those projects, I was busy finding novel ways of injuring myself (see earlier blog posts for more gory detail). I also felt I needed to recoup some of the emotional and mental energy I expended writing Jacob and taking the story through its many edits and revisions. Then, I wanted to research the new project as another way to recharge.
But the research, as with any preparatory measure that delays the work itself, has its pitfalls. It’s possible to research too much, to follow too many rabbit holes in the process, to get lackadaisical, and to forget the initial energy and wildness of the project itself. I’ve been filling notebooks, re-reading craft books, asking myself detailed questions about what’s at stake for my characters, and thinking out the narrative arc to perfection.
But as I sat with Tanya today, talking out my vision for the opening of the novel, she told me to go home and write the first chapter. I had enough material, I knew what I wanted to do with it, and it was time to put it to paper. Yes, there was more planning to do, more thinking to be done about point of view, character and even some important plot points. But I had enough to get me started, and it was time I got on with it.
Four hours later, I emerged from my writing room feeling exhausted, but knowing I’d gotten a good start on the chapter. The research I’d done, while not coalesced into the kind of clean notes I usually like to work with, all came back when I needed it. This skeletal attempt at a chapter is going to need a lot more work, and may even have to be completely revamped before it’s ready to build on. But it feels fantastic to be back to work.