Day 16: Writing
Tomorrow, is my last class of the semester, a creative writing workshop. I have been reading my student's poetry. There were some extraordinary lines there, a few good poems, one extraordinary haiku. They are not good because I taught them to write, but because they were fearless when they wrote. They dared to conjure images out of words, making them into things that didn't exist before or that would have been otherwise forgotten. Somehow, I feel they are going to be fine in the end.
After a morning meeting, my best friend asked whether we could discuss a few other things. He wanted to talk about a grant he's putting together and, since we had a few extra minutes, he asked me a few questions about how I plot. I told him what I do (something that made my MFA classmates smirk as my instructors rolled their eyes): I know where the story is going, I explained, so I write a series of sentences which correspond to chapters. Most the time I stick with that, although occasionally, I get surprised by a character doing something I wasn't expecting. He didn't seem very convinced. Somehow, I felt I had not been as helpful as I would have wanted.
I took the rest of the morning to complete my class preparation, and, after lunch, I worked a bit on the transcription of the Tale of Sir Thopas. Around 1:30, I needed a break so I thought I would read a bit of The Road and, if I got lucky, I might close my eyes for a few minutes. The moment I did that, my mind went racing through the different plot issues of my friend's detective novel. Todorov's essay, "The Typology of Detective Fiction," came to mind. The essay proposes that detective fiction is the confluence of two stories: the story of the crime (which happens before the novel starts) and the story of the investigation (which comprises the plot of the novel). Depending on the type of detective fiction, there might be more crimes and the detective might be safe in his intellectual pursuit or he/she/they might be endangered by the investigation. My friend's plot is more complicated in that there are multiple crimes some in the novel's past, some in the present; perpetrated by different people, for diverse reasons.
As the different elements of his fiction (or what I know from them) swirled in my mind, I couldn't help but to try to write down the different plots, highlighting their chronologies and points of conjunction. I'm aware that it sounds as if I had known what I was doing or as if I were a very organized person, neither of which is accurate. I ended producing a document that I promptly emailed. A few hours later, to my surprise, I received a long reply, with many details of the historical facts on which the whole idea is based. We brainstormed via email and continued the discussion by text. By the end of it, I was exhausted but satisfied that I had managed to be a little bit helpful after all. I mentioned this blog and Anne Frank and he pointed out that he had written an article about her, It's a good article too. It deals with Anne Frank's refashioning of herself in her writing. It reminded me of Frederick Douglass' reworking of his autobiography, particularly of the Covey episode which changes so much because it is a key narrative moment in the construction of the Douglass character. These are serious considerations in reference to self-representation in non-fiction, but they might be a matter for some other time.
Of course, thinking about someone else's writing is also an act of self-reflection because it ends up being about one's own work. In this sense, it was my most productive literary day since the start of this isolation period, when I cannot get physically together with my writing partners (one of the most productive times in my week).
This exercise of writing daily is also productive, although not in the same way as when I'm writing fiction. Besides recording what I'm thinking, it also signals that I'm still alive and there are important things I must keep working on. Besides everything else, today reminded me of the significance of the act of writing. It made me think of Isaac Asimov's quotation:
"If my doctor told me I had only six months to live, I wouldn’t brood, I’d type a little faster."
I wonder whether we should start typing a little faster.
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