Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pushed Process

I was thinking about pushing the process and the results I've seen from doing just that, but I haven't been able to do that in about a week and pushed process has been happening naturally.

Which is to say when I have a short turn around on two short articles I don't know how to find the info for and which I didn't work on over the weekend because it was our 17th wedding anniversary and which are due tomorrow, that seems to be one of the best triggers possible for making the fiction want out.

I wrote something around 850 words last night on two different projects, but what impresses me is this: First, neither had a concrete due date. One was a short story I wrote a very long time ago for an anthology project that instantly folded, like the minute I hit 'send' or something. It's a slippery time travel story mixed with alternate reality mixed with the main character's actual schizophrenia mixed with an incident or event that sets everything in motion. I haven't looked closely at it in years, just knew I've always liked the story and believed in it, so when a magazine I'd very much like to get into wrote back and said if I'd clarify some issues, they'd read it again, because they like it, I decided to. After having put this off for no less than three months, I did it last night when the end of a nonfiction book and those two articles and another article that, now I've done the impossible 12 interviews for, really should be written even if the editor isn't in a panic about it (she knew she was giving me 12 interviews to track down.) Net new word count was something around 400 words. Old words taken out were around 100, since the story ended up 300 words longer than it had been. Probably took around 90 minutes and turns out the problem was the central conceit or instigating incident no longer made sense without the anthology wrapped around it. So I changed it, and to me it makes sense, and it took a good chunk of time away from those niggly deadline mortgage-paying nonfiction projects. The other 400 words came in a story that has no deadline, is just a short, silly little story that I rather like, and which was finished only that market doesn't take present tense, so I spent about an hour changing it to past tense.

Second, I did not head over and work on the novel (which is so close to the end it has apparently frightened me, so work on it is scant) or any of the 4 or 5 short stories in progress or any of the other 4 I think stories that someone as said they'd like to see again if I made changes (I am not particularly good at changing stories - as opposed to just writing new ones with the new info in them - but in these instances the suggestion was usually cutting about 1000 words and I'd like to see how each of these would look shorter, which isn't a process that lends itself to just writing a similar-but-different story.) I didn't go do these things, I did head over to the nonfiction (where I promptly lost myself in the pleasure of the book project and all three articles languished). But the fiction did yammer in my head.

Which is why it's not always necessary to clear the decks and find a glorious sun-drenched (or moody thunderstorm-ridden) two or three or four hours to work on the fiction. Like anything else, fiction can expand (at least in my experience) to fill the time available to it, without necessarily producing more than it would have in a constrained shorter span. Sometimes when I'm on deadline with articles or books I find I write more fiction than ever. Maybe because the writing engine is primed, maybe because I'm contrary. I really don't care which - it's fiction! Other times, having done battle with depression or tiredness or those fiddly little life details that sometimes eat up vast tracts of time, I find that Rick calling from Reno to say he'll be home in 30 minutes causes me to dive into the fiction and write upwards of 1000 words in that time.

So today I'm writing a post when I should be finding the two short articles' info so I can start the minute Rick leaves for work when really I meant to start by now and I can only hope that not only does the nonfiction flow and get itself well done and out of the way, but that the fiction will notice it's being edged out - and react.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

There's a staircase down the other side

I live in Nevada, and desert is my number one favorite most beautiful landscape. I've been wanting to get out into the desert all spring, or maybe since last fall, but without the insanity of going out over the winter. It seems like getting your feet onto the earth and getting yourself into the sagebrush should be simple in a state like Nevada, but wherever you go there's barbed wire fences. Theoretically it's BLM land and the barbed wire is to keep the cows in, not necessarily to keep you out, you're on your own with the cows unless it's posted otherwise. But going out by myself, as a female, I want to stay within view of the street when I'm mucking about in the sage. I want people going by on the street to be able to see me, because I don't want to run into one or two people who can see me when there's no one else around who can. If that sounds like paranoia, I'll point out that one major street in Reno, McCarran which rings the city, where it meets Keystone in the north, was the site of a sexual assault. The guy just pulled the jogger into a ditch. Of course, this doesn't prove my point of being safer near traffic, because she was near traffic, it just proves my paranoia is rational.

Where we live, we're rural enough I should be able to find trails and paths through the sage that are near enough to a major thoroughfare that I can be seen, so I've been looking any time we go anywhere at exits off I-80, Derby Dam, Wadsworth, maybe Lockwood, seeing where the foothills are, where I'd have to go through barbed wire fences, where there actually are cows and while cows don't bother me, I don't need to mingle with them. And in Fernley, where I live under protest, I've been looking at the irrigation canal and the access road that runs along it and keeps me off Farm District Road where people drive like maniacs and the verge is two inches wide then a good angle downward and covered in scree and stickers.

Today I was going to go up behind the medical center out at the east end of Prater in Sparks because I was coming into Reno and we don't have the money or the gas lately for me to just drive into Reno to run. But I came in for lunch with a friend and that meant I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, though admittedly the oldest shoes I've ever had, and not running or mucking about in the sage clothes. So while i wanted to go up the foothill -- I want to encounter a rabbit; my husband's afraid I'll encounter a rattlesnake -- instead because I was low on time and people were returning every call I'd ever made and I have articles to finish, I went across the street from the grocery I'd gone to, over to Walgreen's, parked in their lot and climbed up just a hill. It's all green grass right now, probably sheet grass that everyone complains about. It's rocky and the soil is loose. I saw rabbit pellets and I felt like I was out somewhere even though I was surrounded by streets I recognize that I could see on every side.

But it was a good climb, 20 minutes up and back, my knees telling me what they thought of that, and before I got to the top as I was slipping off rocks and looking at lichen I didn't even know grew here, realizing I was far from the first person to climb up this sort of ornamental hill behind Walgreen's because there were tags on the top, and looking at a circle of rocks weirdly surrounding nothing that looked like a fire pit though nobody would put that in amidst brush in an expensive housing development, I was thinking: Probably there's going to be a staircase going down the other side.

Just seemed like one of those things. You're not really out in the wild. You haven't even gone to a cultivated trail that's out in the wild. You're in a city and you're going up a hill because it's a vacant lot. It's a vacant hill. That's it.

So I thought to myself there's going to be a staircase down the other side. And when I got up there it took me a couple seconds to realize what it was I was seeing because I was looking for rabbits and looking out for glass and other people's tags, and I was sliding down the rocks and I looked and there was a path. Admittedly it was very steep, and the bottoms of my shoes are very slick, and the new ones are too uncomfortable so I was in the old ones, so going up the rocks was more convincing and going down the rocks would have been more convincing for grabbing hold and having purchase. But I went down the path because it amused me. And not only that, but partway down on the side of the hill with a nice view of the valley I didn't really bother to look at, there was a bench.

That was my adventure. It made me think of the process of writing. You climb and you climb and you climb up these rock strewn hills and maybe there's going to be a great view at the top and maybe you're going to find out this project didn't work. But almost always what you're going to find when you get to the top of the hill is there's a staircase on the other side. Either somebody's going to tell you some tool or technique or trick that would have made this simpler to write - whether that's more fun or not I'm not going to debate - or you're going to learn something immediately afterwards, or, you're going to realize right after you get done redrafting, revamping, rewriting, rehashing, whatever it is your process involves, you already knew how to do this. And you made it harder because? Well, because it was a hill, and you thought you'd climb up it. And when you get to the other side, there's that staircase, and you realize what you could have done. And it's just possible that by going up the side of the hill, by climbing over the rocks and seeing the rabbit pellets, and looking at other people's tags, maybe you get something more out of it.