January 09, 2009

Proseying Along

Nothing beats the exhiliration of completing a good poem. But there is something satisfying about scrolling through 18 pages of a documents, 5,000 words, that you have churned out in a matter of four days. The stack of printed pages has heft in your hand; if you needed to thwack a passing insect, you could do so (a poem draft would just waft ineffectually).

When my primary task is to write, I treat myself well as I do it. Balanced meals, tea rather than coffee, fuzzy slippers. (Exhibit A: January 1, 2, and 3.)

When I'm trying to jam my writing in between a day job, a social life, and other priorities (Exhibit B: January 6, 7, and 8), I'm a masochist. I purposefully fall asleep with my contacts in and my shoes on, upright, so that when I fitfully wake after three or four hours I'll be motivated to get up and start drafting again. I eat greasy and starchy things at off hours not because I'm hungry, but because I need to commit my body to burning off those calories by staying awake. My hair gets locked away in a permanent bun.

This puts my two primary 2009 resolutions (have a better balanced physical life; nourish the freelance writing) at unfortunate odds with each other, at least in a month with four deadlines, and until someone hurries up and delivers the big pile o'money that would allow me to write full-time.

Enough whining. I'm so excited to see a book forming before my eyes. Not sure it will ever see it into print; given all my investments into the poetry world of editor, presses, and contests, the additional commercial jockeying of the prose industry is not alluring. So I'm going to put this into the hands of a few trusted readers. If they believe in it, we'll see what happens.

But even if this never sees the light of day, the intellectual exercise of plotting and executing a long, coherent work is a good workout for any writer. I'm challenged by the necessary commitment to designing and maintaining a prose tone. I don't mean voice; that's so fundamental to my writing identity, I couldn't change it if I tried. By "tone" I mean the emotional pitch. In poetry collections, the organic variations in tone add diversity and strength to a collection. The poem I write after bad news has a different tone from the one I write after I fight with my boyfriend, which will differ from the one written after walking home on a sunny day.

But in a nonfiction book, you don't want that kind of variation going from paragraph to paragraph (or even section to section). It distracts the reader from the factual content. When I look at this first draft of the chapter, one of my duties is polish away the grumpy (or punchy) tone of a section written after I just woke up from napping for four hours with my contacts in.

Remember this (which I suspect really began with this), then this, and eventually (drumroll please) this? Paul Guest is my idol; I especially love that the memoir went from being on a back burner for a year and a half to selling in, oh, less than a month. May we all have such happy new years.

Hint: Don't Kill the Birthday Girl.


Collin Kelley said...

There does seem to be a feeling in the air. I feel more inspired and creative than I have in a year and there is feeling of big things happening in 09.

I'm riding these good feelings until the wheels fall off. :)

Maggie May said...

I am riding a wave.