Sunday, September 28, 2008

Feng Shui: If I Rearrange Will the Story Come?

To the left is a painting by Maurice Prendergast, American post-impressionist artist. As you can see, no details are detected in the subjects. They are faceless; the tree limbs blotchy. Only the theme is obvious - people gathering by a lake.

In April of this year I viewed my first Prendergast in the flesh, or oil as it were. It was part of a class field trip for Art History to the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester. My sister-in-law tagged along and when we stopped at the Prendergast collection I said to her, "See this painting? It's exactly how I see things with my left eye."

I'll never forget that day because up until then, it was hard for me to describe the vision in my left eye and the lack thereof. Eye doctors have no idea what it's like - they usually have clear vision. (Believe me, I wouldn't want a doctor working on my eye if he had vision like that in my left eye - uncorrectable vision.) This has always been a frustration for me because with the left eye in such a state it affects the right, which has 20/20 vision. So when I look at something the subjects are a bit distorted on the left.

I'm not trying to gain sympathy for my eye plight. Been there - got all the "Oh you poor things" I can take. But today I revisited the Prendergasts and realized that my writing is exactly like the paintings, at least lately. Now that's a frustration. The theme is obvious, but the details are missing. Not the five senses thing. It's this: I can feel the story; I can see it unfold in my mind. It's just that when I sit down to write it my pen stutters. Everything is haphazard, scampering across the paper in a nonsensical mambo.

Could it be that my mind is taking up with my left eye? Perhaps it's showing support for the handicap by crippling my creative edge. Or could it be how my office is arranged? I've whined to my friend Marcia and she suggested writing in a different part of the house. She always gives the best advice, and I follow 99% of what she suggests. So, I did. I sat in the living-room, pen and pad in hand, and coughed up a scene which at the time looked brilliant. It smacked Nobel! Pulitzer! Or at least something that might have been written by a published author.

I took hand written work and plopped down at the computer. That's when my work looked like something the governor of Alaska might have written. Two words: It sucked. I kept at it, but throughout, my heart beat a sad cadence. It all looked like shit. All the energy I felt in the living-room somehow leaked out as I walked to my computer.

Is it the room? Do I need to re-arrange? Why is it that the story is clear in my head, but when I spill words to the paper, they skitter around and make no sense?

Is my inner critic on crack?

The BIG question: Is it just me, or has anyone else felt this frustration? Chime in. I have a story to finish.


Edie said...

Revisions are your friend! I love revising, because that's when I can take a lackluster scene and shine it up. I hope. lol Or maybe you realize the scene needs to be deleted or rearranged. I can't speak for you, but I don't expect my scenes to be perfect on the first draft.

Both my CPs edit as they go. I can't do do that. I need to write the whole book, crappy as that first draft is, and then revise it.

Kath Calarco said...

Edie, I must have a lot of friends with all the revising I've been doing. :) The only problem is, I've been revising while writing, and that's just not working.

You mentioned that you don't expect your scenes to be perfect on the first draft, and I think that's been part of my problem. I have to let the draft simmer first, and stop thinking it needs to be perfect.

spyscribbler said...

Hmm, I'm not sure if this relates or not. I find that writing requires both large picture vision and microscopic in the moment detail vision.

They don't go well together. What I do, is I write in Mindola Super Notecard (free), that way the large picture takes care of itself, and I can focus in on one scene at a time.

If I'm just in one scene, I can make it come alive. Just noticing the details. Sometimes I just start describing everything, and then I find that one detail that makes it come alive. (And I delete the boring description, LOL!)

Robin said...

This was a great post, Kath! I also often find it hard to get down on paper exactly what's in my head. It's a masterpiece in our thoughts, isn't it? Yet in translating it from our brain to our hand tiny gems are often lost. But like Edie said, that's when revising comes in. The most important thing is to get it down on paper and go from there. Best of luck!

Kath Calarco said...

Spy, I haven't hear of Mindola Super Notecard, but I'm checking it out today, especially if it's free. Thanks for that gem.

Great description on what is required to write: Large picture vision vs. in the moment microscopic. It's a big struggle, isn't it?

Kath Calarco said...

Robin, thanks for the compliment.

You are so right on! The story is a masterpiece in our minds, yet getting it to fall onto paper is another story. But it's part of the writing beast called "revision." And the one thing that causes my biggest struggle is that my inner critic mocks the loudest when I'm revising.

MUST KILL THE BEAST! I need an internal Dexter.

Aimless Writer said...

Always. My first draft is always brilliant...until I reread it and then think "boy, this stinks", then rewrite and rewrite...
The hardest part is stopping from doing too much rewriting. I find throwing it on a shelf for a week or two and then going back gives me clearer vision.

I always think I have Monet's eyes. Without my contacts or glasses I see how he paints.

Kath Calarco said...

Aimless, I know what you mean about Monet. That said, once a draft has cooled off for a week, reading it is like putting in the contacts. Things become clear.

I rely on my memory and the lack thereof. Many times when I've not read a draft that's cooled for awhile, I forget a lot of it, so the big gaffs smack me good.

Robin said...

LOL at the internal Dexter, Kath! Wouldn't that be great!

Kath Calarco said...

Robin, everyone needs an internal Dexter - he is out ID. :)

Caryn said...

I definitely get this feeling sometimes. When I do, I know that I need to step back and either take a break from the story or ask someone I trust to read it and tell me what I think. If I take a break, then coming back refreshed helps. If I ask someone else for a reading, then nine times out of ten they say it reads like anything else I'm writing, and it's just my inner critic coming out.

One other thing I did when I had that problem was to sit down with an open word processing document and just type out a pep talk for myself. Basically I told myself that this was just a first draft, that I'm just trying to get the story down and I can revise all I want later -- and that even after I revise, I'll have several other people look over it, and then I'll revise again before I send it off. That helped a lot, because I think I was psyching myself out and freezing up. Afterward, I could open up the document and look at it again to remind myself of all these things.

Kath Calarco said...

Caryn, I just had a FABULOUS writing day. Know why? As I typed I kept telling myself "So what? Fix it later - have fun!" Of course it's probably a pos, but it's my pos. :)