Until a few weeks ago, I was fog-bound, uncertain where I was going with a work-in-progress that I'd put away for a couple of months. Now I’m in the midst of another revision.
It’s one of those love-hate relationships. It goes like this: After a while I can’t stand being with the manuscript anymore and need to put some distance between the words on the page and my sense of frustration and failure. And then, after a few months have passed and the feelings have abated, I can feel the seed of love out of which the work evolved, and I'll pull the manuscript out of the drawer and work on it again until the fog settles in once more. And then I have to put the manuscript away again for another few months.
This back-and-forth process, this diving into the fog-bound water and pulling myself out again to dry off, continues even as I make revisions in the current draft. It isn’t easy going to my desk each morning because of the emotional excavation that the work requires, so I put the work off by checking e-mail and Facebook, posting links on Twitter, then checking e-mail again, going through the same cycle until I feel that I’m wasting the precious time given to me to write... and then I’ll summon the courage to review the manuscript again.
Only a week or so ago I had an unexpected breakthrough. It came, the way these things do, as I was sitting at my desk staring at the same page that I’d stared at in the same way (ie, without results) for hours. Fog-bound. Unsure which way would lead me into deeper water or back toward shore. The words made sense when I re-read them. They were placed in a logical order. The sentence structure was correct. There wasn’t anything wrong. Yet the words, the sentences, didn’t compel me to keep reading. In fact, they did just the opposite.
And then, staring at the page one morning, I saw the words not as individual words but as part of a larger whole. Somehow my vision had changed, or the fog had lifted, and I wasn’t focusing on a particular sentence or paragraph or scene anymore. I was viewing the scene as part of a larger story. And, suddenly, I could see where the scene fit into the puzzle of the unfolding narrative. Indeed, the entire manuscript began to shift and re-arrange itself. I didn’t do anything except sit there and watch the scenes move to different places on the story-line. It was one of those light-bulb moments that a writer sits and prays for.
Once I could see where the scenes belonged in this new design, I could cut-and-paste them into place. But large chunks of text are difficult to cut-and-paste on a computer screen, and I gave up after a few minutes, unable to keep track of all the changes. Instead, I resorted to the old-fashion method: scissors and tape. And after a messy session of shredded paper and sticky fingers, I found that I had a new shape for my manuscript, a shape that contained the same pieces of the puzzle that it had contained the day before and the day before that, only the puzzle pieces were re-arranged in a different order.
Now I’m back working with language, moving back and forth between my vision (the picture that I see in my head) and the words (the language that best describes the picture). It feels exhilarating! The wind has blown away the fog and fills my sails. And I can feel the ocean currents carrying me across the sea toward the distant horizon.
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