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Breathing Underwater

Is this person drowning? Not according to the photographer. All a matter of perspective.

Have reached the point in my novel where I have all these scenes written in the voices of my main characters, and I’m starting to see the general directions (totally unexpected) this story is headed. I used to liken writing a novel to being a blind woman in a darkroom, bumping into furniture and feeling my way around until I could get my bearings. Then I used to think it was like a giant jigsaw puzzle as I slowly grouped certain pieces together until little puzzles fit into the bigger one. But forget being blind and puzzled, I have a new metaphor!

Thanks to Dutch author Tim Krabbé who wrote such classics as Het Gouden Ei, 1984 (The Golden Egg, 1987), which every Dutch teenager has to read at school, I now have a very wooden-shoe sort of way to describe the process of creativity.

All my scenes are so many sandbags, and although it may just look like some random pile, once I heave them into a row and group them in thicknesses of three or four, the dyke will be secure, [holding back the floodwaters of all that other stuff shrieking to be written and attended to, the ever-moaning TDLs (To-Do Lists), or as C.S. Lewis describes it: “It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings: coming in out of the wind.”]

Krabbé says once you’ve built the dyke, you still need to lay a road on top of it, and then come the canals and houses.

So I’m taking all my sandbag scenes and stretching them out to see how far they’ll go, or if they circle back. Then I’ll fill in the gaps, and who knows what I’ll find down there, once the water drains away?

Writing Tip #7–Write as Rain Write every day. Write what comes. Trust the process. At some point, summarize all the seemingly random-as-rain scenes onto individual post-its. Use different colors for the different characters. Then stick them onto your favorite wall or glass-covered painting. [I use Georges Braque’s “Lòiseau et son ombre” (The bird and its soul).] Re-arrange them, play with the silences, ask yourself, “What if?” Then jot down whatever bits of dialogue or action might fill the holes. Choose one and elaborate. Now you know what to write next!

(Photo by Andre Bernardo: “Rebirth”)

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