Monday, April 15, 2013

Building a house of cards, part three: The process of construction.

Reflections of Undertakers of Rain

The moment I set foot on the Goddard College campus that cold January morning in 2007, there was one statement I heard chanted like a mantra: trust the process. Oddly enough, I didn't really understand the statement then, nor did I for the remainder of my time at Goddard. I mean, yes, there is a process, and I'm told a creative process; for me I was, and still am, just about doing something. I suppose I can trust a process, but I would rather just get to work.

When I left Goddard two years later I had a few things to show for myself. I had what I would consider a hefty student debt. I had several new thoughts about how I wanted to work and who I wanted to be. I had one manuscript, From Ansbach to Color, and that was saying something. I spent the full two years of grad school on that one manuscript. I had three advisers telling me, oftentimes, three different things. I had good direction, yes, I had a process, I got through grad school. Please see my ideas of graduate school here, here and here.

A few January nights in Vermont will change the way you think about things. I remember scribbling on a piece of paper what I thought I could do in 2009. I thought that ten short stories and one novel would be a good goal for the year. I wrote 14 short stories. I also wrote 4 novels. Dysphoric Notions, the first novel of 2009, was a great way to start. It was not a definition of process, but rather defined the mode of work I would adopt post graduation. Two manuscripts followed, one right after another, before I started work on Undertakers of Rain. In short by the time I got to Undertakers of Rain, I had the experience of the writing of four other manuscripts.

Process vs mode?

Well, I suppose that both process and mode are the buzzwords of the day. Process, I would think is the map of a project from conception through fruition. Process is more about the mental mechanics than the act of construction. Process is the internal grappling of word on page overlaid with toil of work. To me, mode is the method of work. For instance, you can see the exact detail of how I work in The Novel, Guerrilla Style series. My ideas of the Guerrilla Novel came about during Undertakers of Rain.

I think anyone can write a novel. What makes a manuscript length jumble of nonsense different from a readable novel is not in the first draft. Probably not in the second draft. It's several drafts down the road. To just write a novel is easy.

How I wrote Undertakers of Rain:

The first day of work I had a strange dream. I wrote a few pages in my 9 ¾ x 7 ½ composition notebook. I thought about it while I worked at the restaurant that night. The next day when I woke up, I stood at the mantel and wrote the first 2000 words of the manuscript. Then, I did the same thing the next day, and the next day and the next day. All it took was the desire to write a story, and the time to write it. Very easy.

More than the time, I was writing a first draft every afternoon in my notebook. First thing in the morning I took the previous day's first draft and worked it into a second draft. When that part was done, I was several hundred words back working on the third draft. By the time I began Undertakers of Rain I had not only my process, but my mode.

The last day of construction.

If only it was as glorious as some old queen or other smashing a bottle of champagne on the bow of the novel, the last day would really mean something. With this novel, the last day was a beautiful one. I had limited time that morning, this I remember. I had taken all of my characters to the place they all needed to be. I also knew that the novel was done. I knew I had told the story and that there was nothing else to say. The final cadence. The fat woman singing. The end. The last pen stroke happened the afternoon before. The last keystroke came about 10 in the morning. I had just finished a 55,000 word novel in about 6 weeks.

Then what?

I moved onto the next manuscript. It would be months before I looked at Undertakers of Rain again.

Next time: subsequent drafts

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