5 November 2012
It was Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that made me want to be writer. I mentioned this recently to a friend who studied with her at Wesleyan, and he confirmed two things I’ve often heard about her: she was a chain smoker most of her life, and she’s a generous person.
Revisiting The Maytrees, her last novel—”last” by Dillard’s own account, i.e. in an interview she said she was done with writing—I am reminded of what strikes me, again and again, about her writing: intelligence, humor, strangeness:
She was twenty-three. She could not imagine that a brave man could shrink from risking one woman’s refusal. She wanted only a lifelong look at his face and his long-legged, shambly self, broken by intervals of kissing. After a while she might even, between kisses, look into his eyes. No time soon.
The Maytrees is a beautiful story, well told. What a privilege to read it again.
1 July 2009
Happy Canada Day! (A student writes from Toronto: “Today is Independence Day in Canada–although, I don’t understand who we got independent from, given that the Queen is still our Monarch.” I don’t know why these little connections to the Commonwealth — the idea of a Commonwealth — cheer me.)
I report to you on this auspicious day the word count for Sebastian & Frederick, my novel-in-progress: approx. 60,596 words.
A friend of mine used to regularly report on his word counts. I found that quirky and weirdly quantitative, given the deeply qualitative nature of fiction-writing (in fact, “less is more” is a mantra we hear a lot in the writing rooms). But now that I’m working on novel #2 — having had really no idea how many words makes a novel, even roughly speaking, the first time around — the word count carries a little more meaning. Long for This World came in at approx. 85,000 words. What this means is that it’s possible, and likely, that I am into the final third of this draft.
What this means is that the rubber will be meeting the road — or not — over the next 10-15,000 words. My experience as both a reader and a writer tell me that I am entering hard-hat territory. The vague-ish, piecemeal vision I’ve been following over the past year-and-a-half and 170 pages will begin to come together; or, more likely, will show its fatal fault lines.
I’m somewhat “ready” for it, though. Annie Dillard writes that there comes a moment in the writing of every book where an irreconcilable structural flaw makes itself known (I am paraphrasing; can’t seem to find my copy of The Writing Life). Entire sections must be rewritten or eliminated, characters as well. Perhaps this is where one realizes what she is really meaning to write about and must now go back to the beginning and do so.
It’s part of the process, and ultimately a productive one; it’s not as awful as it sounds. It can in fact be very energizing, and liberating, if embraced. If you are willing to begin again. (It’s also, you might say, the place where would-be novelists and actual novelists part ways.)
As I write this, I acknowledge the ridiculousness of my cheerful tone; like a mother who forgets the pain of childbirth. At least — because all pain is relative — it is summer. The last time around, I hit the final-third mark in the dead of winter. Those, I admit, were awful days indeed.
But today, the garden is growing; the dog is lying in a patch of sun; and Canada is (semi) independent!