Is there a connection between our lives and the story we are writing?
In an obvious sense yes. And no. Yes, of course it revolves around the writer's experience, but no, it is not a poorly disguised autobiography. I'm reading The Hidden Machinery by Margot Livesey, a gift from my MFA mentor. In the first essay, she discusses both Henry James and E.M. Forester. Forester, she claims, could have finished A Passage to India when he first started the book in 1913. The pieces were all in place, he had four novels under his belt, so he had the skills, but Forester was never happy with it. Until he was.
Why did this novel take Forester longer?
"He needed certain things to happen--a war, a massacre, the discovery of his own sexual nature and of how he too could be corrupted by the white man's power in India--before he knew where the [book] was going." --M. Livesey
He had to mature, essentially, to the point where the novel made sense. He first had to experience the things which would became central to the story.
The writer's life informs and reforms the writing. I could only write Untouchable after going through a hellish divorce. I have a novel in a drawer that languished, waiting for me to get over the hurdle at the first turning point. And since I didn't get through the barrier in my life, the character failed to thrive.
"Both inner and outer events were required before he could write [the] novel."
It's not just physical events, like Forester's return trip to India. It's internal change in the mind and spirit of the writer that impact the writing. I've written eight novels. Seven are published and they are the result of who I was and what I believed at the time they were written. But that one book that's not yet published makes me wonder.
Where do I need to be, what do I need to experience, what must I observe before the book is ready for birth?
What inner or outer events must take place before I feel satisfied with this book? And can I nudge those events into place faster so I can finish it already?
I haven't gotten that far in Livesey's book, but I'm guessing that no, I can't shove myself into the fire to force the inspiration. Instead, I must keep writing and writing, putting in my time and wallowing in the characters, before those internal and external events converge.
Between my last MFA Residency (July 27-Aug 6) and the start of the new semester (Aug 29), I had big plans to write "lots." Yep, my plan was definitive. Lots. After all, I'm used to writing significant amounts in the found spaces of my life. I wrote 6 of my 7 novels while working multiple jobs and studying/writing for my Master of Fine Arts, so 3 weeks in limbo sounded like a finished novel. Right?
Ha. We plan and the writing gods laugh.
First, I had surgery to remove kidney stones (I'm still recovering, but in denial).
Second, I needed a break. The past two years were an amazing feat and I'm thrilled that my first book published in July 2015 has turned into two book series and seven novels, but my creative well is bone dry. I couldn't plot my way out of a B-rated horror movie right now.
Third, I had business stuff, like writing some nonfiction articles and teaching my novel writing class (if you guys/gals are reading this, I love you and I do in fact enjoy it), but that's one more "to-do" that isn't writing.
And the new semester starts Monday. 😲 Somehow I lost 3 weeks and I'll never get them back! I don't feel well rested, I didn't get a suntan or a vacation, and I didn't catch up with housecleaning (my desk is worse than normal peeps!).
I have 3 days until the new semester begins. I'll teach a full load of 6 classes. I'm thankful. I love my students and my kids like to eat, so it's a win-win situation, but... writing? New plan.
It reminded me that I didn't write those last six books with "a lot" of spare time. I wrote it in the spaces of an already crowded life. I used writing sprints, 30-40 minutes at a time to write one sentence, page, scene, or chapter at a time.
In a way, I feel as if my lost time was a waste, but maybe it was good for me to realize that excessive amounts of time actually lead me to excessive amounts of internet. I work best when I'm rushed, pressured like a lump of coal turning into a diamond.
How do you work best?
10 meetings, 1 novel writing class. 21C Writers this one is all for you. Here's the plan:
Writer Reference (Blogroll)
A Little is Enough
Writing 17 minutes at a time
The Unlisted List:
The best women nonfiction writers.
Aubrey Hirsh' Beginner's Guide to publishing with format templates and more
Agent Query 15 posts on writing query ltrs
Platform Action Plan
Writer, college professor, lover of story, fan of all things bookish. Plus chocolate, because who doesn't love chocolate.