Writer Notes: Build from movement, make chapters from what strikes you. The novel forming scene by scene; that intuition Take messy note, figure something out later
Tonight I was supposed to be spending time with the third project but I could only think of the novel-in-progress, of one character in particular who keeps reinventing himself every time I want to write something new. All his ways of speaking, his voice the only thing I’m capable of writing at the moment. He never leaves me. Better to leave words before they get you down. There was only one thing to do: I went into the night, went to find the things the corner of my eye might hold onto the longest, hoped some pattern would emerge so I could find my way back to the project/task at hand, tune into a voice I hadn’t been able to find for a few weeks. After 30 minutes, a pattern: light and window, people living just beyond eyesight. The way dark leads you to memory and repetition. That’s when I heard the woman’s voice, the character that has evaded me for weeks. She was back. And she was thinking in memory, was living in them, …
Another night of tracing paths for my characters: They walk, I walk. They live in shadows, I follow. And so. Here are the walks that are building a novel. Some are based in Melbourne, other scenes are character ‘memories’ of European cities. I don’t always like to give away too much of the interior of a work-in-progress but these are some of the images I’ve been staring at every day. Melbourne: 8:35 pm, Monday 19 February 2018 Prague: 3pm, 12 January 2018 Leipzig: 5 pm, January 2018 Berlin: close to 3:30 pm, January 2018 Berlin: the day before, 10 am. January 2018 Leipzig: 10 am, 2 January 2018 Melbourne: late afternoon, September 2017 Melbourne: mid morning, June 2017 Melbourne: late night, my house. Probably June, 2017 Melbourne: early morning, storm warning. My house, approx June 2017 On the way to Canberra, toward a mountain: probably noon, early January 2017. And this road. This road is Eleanor
By the end of 2017 I was creatively and mentally exhausted and beginning to hate the second novel, all that stagnation. Then I briefly left Melbourne on holiday and took mediocre photos of things I found interesting, whispered in my ear. For the first time in a long time I didn’t write a single word while I was away. I simply walked, explored, thought, let myself give into all feeling and emotion, stayed silent as much as possible. And then I returned home. I now have the hauntings of future work somewhere in the back of my mind. Suffer my (very selected) holiday photo reel: Photo 1: my favourite holiday photo Morning. That cold, made heart burn. I walked further into the forest to make warmth from blood movement. The sound of unknown birds, of old-bone tree limbs stretching. The wind, the wind. I made eye contact with the top of trees, saw X-Ray lungs, a cancer. Reminded myself that I am just another human on the continuum of a spinning planet. I kept walking.
My mind is a rush. For weeks I’ve divided days into categories: See What I Have Done and Blue Mountain. I find it difficult to generate new scenes or ideas for Blue Mountain on any day I need to deal with Lizzie. It’s emotionally and mentally tiring to have to deal with all those characters while they congregate in the same place. Which is frustrating because right now I need to be working on both. I moved on from See What I Have Done around August last year. Although I was knee deep in edits and still had proof reads to look forward to, I’d fallen in love with a new novel that germinated from a strange dream I’d had years before and which had been waiting for me to come back to it when Lizzie was done (yes, I’m aware I’m beginning to hang a lot of respsonbility on dreaming for writing but whatever). Suffice to say, I got shitty when the Bordens interrupted my dates with Blue Mountain. But on we’d go and …
As much as you want ideas to turn into good then great prose, some days and weeks it just doesn’t happen. Last week was particularly bad. All that turgid writing. I was working on a new section, my characters going down paths so completely wrong in tone and emotion that I felt I’d lost them, that I no longer had control. I’d had bad periods of writing before but this was something else. The things I told myself: this was proof that I was a weak writer, that I really don’t have anything whatsoever to contribute to the world of literature. I told myself to walk away now while the going was good. No one need to know about this failed novel, you imposter. Maybe allow a more talented writer to find the seed of this novel and turn it into gold. I realised after a few days that the problem was that I wasn’t connecting with anything that was happening on the page. And if I wasn’t connecting, what hope would the next draft …
A small snapshot of last week: My publisher sent me a proof of Sally Abbott’s debut ‘Closing Down’ I returned to Blue Mountain and wrote more scenes for one of the many difficult characters who’ll live in the fictional town of Winton (yes, there are Winton’s that exist in Australia but not quite like the Schmidt version of Winton). I also started notebook 4. Writing longhand. That shit really slows things down. But I love it. I saw these boys riding their bikes, heard them talk footy, tv and school, heard them sibling-tease each other. Old young friends. I hope when they grow up they don’t shed this particular skin of theirs. That’s it. There’s nothing else. I was pretty much writing the rest of the time.
I often forget I should regularly post to this blog. I’m working on a new post about Lizzie Borden and writing history ( I figured rather than my usual ramblings, I should, you know, plan a post ) but felt like adding some photos here today. I’m in my composting and early writing phase of my new novel and that has led me to be drawn to particular images as I walk around and explore. All of these are foundations for theme and aesthetic but may not necessarily turn up in the novel in quite the way you imagine. WARNING: Some of these photos are of dead animals I came across while walking and may not be your thing.
In the lead-up to my child’s birth, I’d set myself the task to finish yet another draft of my manuscript and send it out to a publisher. I had already written five, six or more drafts over seven years about the Lizzie Borden case. Now that I was pregnant the current drafting felt different, urgent: I had convinced myself that if I didn’t finish it then and there I never would. Writer friends who were parents warned me that once the baby came, I’d have no time for anything else. The brain would no longer have the capacity to move beyond itself. I may not even know who I was.
There’s been another draft. I won’t go into the specifics (not just yet anyway) but let it be known that I’m really beginning to tire of this novel. There’s a small part of me that feels that I could potentially write this novel for another ten years, that I could keep drilling down, write about the Borden’s all the way back to their genesis, write the code of their DNA and still discover something new about them. To keep my mind focussed I’ve gone on some amazing walks lately. Nothing exceptional – just keeping in my immediate neighbourhood – but these walks have been a crystal time: the onset of winter in Melbourne has produced so many different species of fungus, that I’ve been reminded that there is always something new to be found along well worn paths. And so with that (minus photos of fungus):