I’m bound to run out of ways to get back into writing, and I may have nearly reached that point. But once more into the breach, friends.
Morning pages lasted two days, and then I forgot I even had a brand-new notebook to fill. One and a half pages the first day. One and a quarter pages the second day. But my attempt, abortive as it was, to submerge myself in stream of consciousness writing, did get me to thinking. Maybe somewhat productively. We’ll see.
I know very well that one of my major faults in writing — maybe the major fault — is obsessive perfectionism. I was reminded of it again the other day, reading Pretending to Be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome, by Liane Holliday Willey. She says of her own writing: that she spends “far too much time selecting which word to use and too much time reworking a sentence so that it looks and feels and sounds right.” She’s a more visual person than I am, so I’m not concerned with how a sentence looks. But it has to sound right in every way. It has to say exactly what I mean it to say, so the reader isn’t dragged out of the story by having to figure out what it means. There’s a place for ambiguity, but not at the word or sentence level. The sentence also has to have a natural flow that doesn’t trip the reader up. If I stumble over it, then the reader is sure to.
For me, perfectionism is a necessity — up to a point. But when it becomes a stumbling block, I’ve gone beyond that point. That’s what came through to me from the two days of morning pages. The free-flowing stream of consciousness doesn’t have to be limited to morning pages. What if I could use it, consciously, in a writing project? It’s tempting to say that’s what I actually did during several years worth of NaNos, but it wasn’t really. All I did for those frantic thirty-day periods was to try to catch myself when I was obsessing about a word or the structure of a sentence.
What I’m trying out now is quite different, thanks to the failed morning pages and Liane Holliday Willey. I’m applying it to A Well-Educated Boy, and will see how far I can get in a novel that’s been stuck right at the start. It’s only been one day, and I wrote only 167 words, but those 167 words look like the key to what comes next. Over the last year or so I’ve made something like a half-dozen starts that didn’t lead anywhere. Suddenly, I know the time and place for the next scene, and why it happens the way it does. That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of just 167 words. Right now, it looks as if they’re strong enough to bear it.