Marlon James and Notes in the Dark
A good story makes you ask better questions. It’s scrawled twice in the margins of my notebook. I took notes last week in a darkened audience, attending a lecture by the 2015 Man Booker Prize winner, Marlon James. He received the award in October for his sprawling, intense novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings.
One of things on my writing hit list this year was to seek out better writers and better writing. I am fortunate to live in a metro area for some of the big name writers who give lectures, but I’ve also watched a lot of videos, listened to audio books and stepped up my reading habits. It isn’t that I’m seeking some sort of osmotic reaction. It’s that I want to live in that world where writing matters, where people value telling really good stories.
While whinging on about this novel I’ve been treading in for the last three years, a writer friend responded with silence. What? She hesitated. “Maybe you should write something else.” As I have done with numerous people, I adamantly held on to the premise that this must be done. This was the novel that was going to teach me how to be a proper novelist. I needed to just work through it. My argument has come to sound hollow and unenthusiastic.
After another mucky, miserable writing session yesterday, I flopped down on the couch. It was time to quit trying to ram through the novel – this door that would magically unlock the novelist within. I’m on a third rewrite and feel like my compulsion to finish and do it right will eventually stop me from writing it at all.
Marlon James shared advice he’d gotten early on: “Write about only three things: what you love, what you hate, and what you’re deeply conflicted about.”
That quote has been playing in my head repeatedly. The novel I’ve been working on is rooted in the past, in things I once hated and loved and things I’m no longer conflicted about. I wasn’t asking better questions. I was asking questions for which I’d already found answers. It makes sense that I’d be sick of the whole damned thing and unless I could bring something new to the story, it wasn’t worth writing.
Today I pulled down the story board cards, packed up the notepads, filed the drafts in a binder and backed up all my digital records. I’m taking the month off from working on it and diving into another story. Since it’s November and I have some writer friends who have been hemming and hawing about participating in National Novel Writing Month, I’ve had a change of heart and will give in to this particular, peculiar compulsion. A little free range writing might be fun. Or not.
This post by The Bloggess made me laugh so loudly this morning that I woke up my family.
It reminded me of volunteering on kindergarten registration night, when I had to request documentation for enrollment, to include birth certificates. An acquaintance arrived with her kindergartner, older son and a newborn. I smiled and proceeded to ask her for a copy of her birth control. I morphed into the worst volunteer ever, as I had to keep leaving the table to stop laughing and/or dying from embarrassment.
If you wonder how artists spent their days, I just finished a fun read in which I learned that having a wife, servants, a drinking problem and Benzedrine are really the tricks of the creative trade. Having none of those, I did also find that on average, many creative talents worked a solid 3-4 hours a day and spent a lot of time going on walks. I can do that.
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, Editor
For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, best wishes!
For those of you not participating, keep your eye roll at the ready, as writers lose their minds but always, always know their word count!