Circling, Circling

Like a dog circling her bed, that's me today, circling my novel. I still don't have a first chapter I like, and you know how much I need that first chapter to read just-right, in order to feel as if I'm grounded and able to move forward.

I *am* in fighter mode, though, I can feel it -- when I hunker in with a book, I eat well, sleep well, work well... well... I work, anyway... even if it doesn't feel like it's going well.

I made a concoction of several different kinds of grains early this morning (see this recipe at 101 Cookbooks for the inspiration) -- half-handfuls of brown rice, millet, bulgar, buckwheat and barley in boiling water for 30 minutes -- and made that my hot breakfast at 6am, dressing it with half a banana and some dried cranberries -- I forgot to add some yogurt on top, which would have been grand, but that's okay, I got a good, carb-heavy start to the day and sat in my green chaise with my laptop, opened my novel file (which right now reads "rope sept. 26") and stared at it. [note to self: run-on sentence.]

I was ready for my one-month countdown to the finish, and today would begin a swooping, soaring run for a complete draft, when...

...suddenly, I had nothing to contribute. I began reading from page one, and I had no idea what Franny wanted, I didn't understand my plot, and I panicked. Heart palpitations. Have I entirely screwed up this book? What have I done? What have I NOT done? Surely this is just jitters. Get up, Deb. Get a grip.

So I got up. I don't believe in writer's block. Do I?

I decided to make a vegetarian chili for lunch. A diversion tactic if ever there was one. I took Richard to work. I took a detour on the way home and bought pumpkins. Made a stop at the grocery store. Came home and finished the chili, made cornbread. Jim (home from his Sunday gig) made a salad. We ate in Irene and I told him I was desperate about the novel, and didn't have a clue about the plot anymore, didn't really know what Franny wanted anymore, and what was I going to do?

Jim reminded me that I had used THE WRITER'S JOURNEY when I plotted RUBY. Yessirree, I had. I also used a Writer's Digest book called PLOT by Ansen Dibell. (This is actually a great book, those of you who want to know just what plot IS... I have this version. I wandered around from stranger to stranger (I had exhausted my friends' patience) in the five years I was writing LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, and plaintively asked each person I met, "What is plot, please?" until I stumbled upon this book, but this is a story for another time. I include this book in my personal canon of books that helped me understand Story.)

I knew just where those books were, and I grabbed them off the shelf. I have spent this afternoon reminding myself that I do know what plot means, that I do know how to plot a novel, that I do have rich material on hand, right here in front of me, that I CAN do this complex thing and write a novel, and that I am just having a crisis of confidence right now. Right? RIGHT?

So. Now I am sitting in my living room in front of a small, early October fire in the fireplace. All my doors are open (thank you, Jim Williams, for installing the screen doors this summer). I hear the birds at the feeder. I hear Jim stacking wood, then resting and consulting with Scott and my staff, I hear the jangle of Cleebo's cat collar, smell the woodsmoke and feel the autumn breeze shuffle over my feet.

I'm sitting in my pink Captain Kirk chair --the one my boys plop into and say "beam me up, Scottie!" -- and I've got my laptop on my lap. I'm making notes to myself, right on the manuscript. Asking questions. What does Franny want? I am listing those things, in my notebook, and making snide comments about them, too:

Franny wants to be noticed but feels invisible.
Franny wants to feel safe but feels unsafe - she wants the world to be a safe place.
Franny wants to fit in, to belong, in school and at home and with friends.
Franny realizes she is important to her family and she is not invisible.
Franny realizes the world is not a safe place, but she can create some safety and her family can offer her safe haven.

I swallow and say out loud to no one: This sounds like the most boring book on the face of the earth.

So. Now what? Now I stick with it. Write more about what Franny wants. Answer the question: why? WHY does she want this? What's happening in the world around her? In her home? In her life? What is her relationship with the other characters in the story? What's going on with her and Drew?

Aha. Franny and Drew. Long ago, I knew this book was about these two... a brother and a sister and... I'm starting to remember. I'm coming out of the thicket of my own fear. I feel a tapping on my shoulder, a whispering in my ear, a soft punch to the gut, a little tug on the heart... yes, yes, I remember... I am not lost. I am not lost. I need to trust my material. I need to trust that I know what I'm doing, even on days when I feel that I don't.

I need to stay with the story. Here I sit.

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