The Story Gives Up Its Secrets

Back to work in a real way this morning. Last night I had several breakthroughs while on my walk (exercise is part of process!), which catapulted me out of bed this morning, eager to get to work.

Breakfast on the porch this morning while I contemplate my progress so far this month. It never fails to amaze me how the slog slog slog of days turns into a white-heat for me. I know it's different strokes for different folks. Some writers must write every day. Some go for weeks without writing a word, while soaking up whatever it is for the next story, or coaxing it to the surface.

I am more in the latter camp. Unless I am on deadline, I go for days without writing the actual story at my laptop, but I don't let a day go by without scribbling in my notebook. Of course, right now, during this white-heat, deadline time, I am writing/revising the story, at my laptop, every day.

I use my notebook daily -- even if it's for a to-do list or a grocery list and that's it -- even when I'm traveling (esp. when I'm traveling -- I write on airplanes this way, in the interminable waits on takeoffs and landings, and then I transcribe to my laptop). The physical act of writing in my notebook keeps my writing pump primed.

Here is some of what I have scribbled in my notebook about the novel in the past three days. I haven't corrected spelling or grammar, as this is stream of consciousness, and also quick-recording. Here it is, just as I wrote it.

You can see, there is lots of personal narrative in here -- I am taking my life -- my ten-year-old life -- and turning it into story, a totally made-up story.
Word assoc. with CMC ­ what?
Tie the explorers and fifth-grade exploration unit, note taking, etc., into the narrative.
Note-taking ­ some of the letters, memos? Franny writes like that?
Explorers discovering new lands, vs lands about to be annihilated with atomic war.

MAKERS OF THE AMERICAS has balboa and also cuba in it. Copyright 1947
What about textbooks having incorrect information? Howard Zinn, the people’s history of the united states, etc.
A kid will move in across the street who brings Franny down a notch and teaches her that she is special without being special. Deflates her ego but shows her the truth. No.
JoEllen is a mentor. Magician, whatever.
LOSING BATTLES, no exposition. Can I do this?
Absolutely true diary ­ remember that novel. What I am writing is highly autobiographical.Just found out Franny is the new kid.
My weekly reader, current events
Guns of navarrone
War of the worlds
Franny will be 11 and in fifth grade, and it will be 1962. I’ll start in Sept.
Was trying to make her 12 in 1962 and in sixth grade, but it’s not going to happen, this feels better.
Oct. 9 2008
On my trip to kudzu
HALLOWEEEEEN! Was talking with meg at kudzu this afternoon about Halloween and our childhoods and I told stories about my children’s childhood and the fire at the end of the driveway and everything… what about Franny and Halloweeen might be impt. I have had this thought before but abandoned it. Now it feels just right.
On my walk tonight:
GALE is not a bad girl, although Franny’s mother thinks she is… and Franny will find this out… hmmm… defy her mother? Gravel pit? What? So maybe franny and Margie don’t break up, but they have a tough time of it over gale and Margie growing up faster, gale already grown up a lot
Halloween: noisemakers from the fifties/early sixties, costumes, card table and old woman (work this in somehow with fear)Halloween party at school?

Maybe gale’s mother DIDN’T allow her out on beggars night, maybe Gale’s mother works nights and Gale just went out on her own. Gale can be racy but not bad… risky but not ridiculously so. Maybe her mother is separated or divorced… a no-noin the early sixties.
Mom, can I sleep with you tonight? Dad’s out of town on a trip. Mom will pick him up at Friendship and JoEllen will babysit. What about uncle otts?
Franny’s mother, Nadine, is Miss Mattie’s daughter. So she is Evelyn Lavender’s sister and Ruby’s aunt. That makes Franny and Ruby cousins. Ha!
Drew wants to sleep with mom, too, but it’s franny’s turn. Does she hear him sniveling in bed and how does she feel about that? Does she go into his room and comfort him? Sleep with him in a twin bed? Army men are everywhere? They can still fight later.Oh, I should use those caterpillars! And locking drew out of the house/shed thingie! Can be little flashbacks… to first snow, and etc. the way I did Uncle Edisto and Aunt Florentine flashbacks. This can be a good story.
Oct 10
New kid moves in across the street ­ woody with raccoon ­ goads drew? Gravel pit? Now drew has a friend his age in the neighborhood?
Is gale jewish? Does she not show up for school for rosh Hashanah and yom kippur?
Finish notebook entry.

This is my process now. The story is revealing itself to me, bit by leap. I am scooping it up. My notebook goes with me everywhere, to record what is being revealed, to ask questions, to practice what-if, to capture tiny fragments as they present themselves.

And yes, this far into this novel (years worth!), I am still uncovering layers of meaning and structure. This is the way it is with every novel, for me. I've come to believe that I push a novel at my peril. In some ways, I don't believe I can push it to reveal to me its secrets. I just have to keep showing up at the page, whether it's the laptop or the notebook, the slog or the white-heat. (I like white-heats a lot better.... insert hollow laughter here.)

Nothing is too small to note. Nothing that doesn't work out is wasted. It is all necessary to the whole and to the finished project. This is why I tell my students, keep a notebook. Put everything in it. Everything. You never know when you may need it. Paste leaves in it and photographs. Clip recipes to it and letters. Draw pictures, scribble, pour your heart out, and you will see:

There it is, on the page: your voice.

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