Monday, September 17, 2012

the other side of the page

When does it happen?

When in the life of a writer does the story stop being a story?

When does the story start to lack the emotional attachment between the reader and the written word, surendering that romantic involvement for the combination of recognizable techniques and structure conventions established by the cadre of writers who came before us?

When do we realize the pages of a book are the true Matrix?

Although I have embodied the love of writing since I first penned a humorous one page story in third grade, I have never taken my writing as seriously as I do today. Let's face it, when I first saw age 45 coming up in my windshield, I started to experience what the Germans call Türschließpanik. Literally translated it means door closing panic. If I am truly to make something of this one chance God has given me, I had to stick it in high gear writing-wise.So I wrote. 

I had several goals in mind, not the least was the desire so many have, to see their book on the shelves of their local Borders book store. Then Borders went belly up and my goal shifted to Barnes and Noble. Incidentally, after visiting an B&N over the weekend, I get the feeling I may have to substitute Amazon when I retell this story in a year.

I also want to write and get published to help complete my identity within my family. I am the youngest of three children who were spaced apart by about 4.5 years each. This means I will always be the 9 year younger brother to my older sister, who at age 54 likely still thinks I am in grade school as I was when she went to college. As my older siblings went to college and started their lives I felt less significant within the family. Mom and dad got older and lets face it, the family vacation over the summer isn't as much fun with only the last kid. In fact, those vacations stopped happening all together. The last vacation I took with my folks was in 1993. I was 26 and we drove to Virginia to visit my Aunt and her family (my brother and sister backed out at the last minute). On the way home dad left his wallet in a men's room stall at a Denny's restaurant in Pennsylvania and didn't realize it was missing until we were in Indiana. At first he thought I took it and was hiding it from him. I remember him staring at me with a mean look before asking about it. I was 26 but felt like I was five.

This may also be a chance to make a big impact on my son's lives. By setting my sights on getting published in the traditional way, I can be the example of hard work and perseverance our youth are lacking today. I doubt my lesson will overtake the "let's make a sex tape and surreptitiously leak it to the press" way of getting famous these days but at least I won't have to take a high-hard-one from Ray J that ends up on TMZ's website.

Much as Bruce Wayne needed to climb a mountain so he could study under a bunch of Ninja Monks before whipping Ra's al Ghul's ass, so must every writer immerse themselves in the training of kicking their story's ass. Our mountains are a little different. They exist for a great part inside of our own minds and to a lesser part in the form rejections encountered on the way from the evil, clad in black from head to toe, literary agents (if any agents are reading this right now I want them to keep in mind their portrayal as evil and clad in black is necessary for my visualization in this blog, and let's face it, they've been called a lot worse).

My journey was hard fought and continues to this day. With many days under my belt learning, researching, listening, and pounding away at the keyboard, I am tired but not ready to give up. Sure my index fingers are shorter than when I started (I still hunt and peck) and I am yet to get an agent to take a risk on me, but the goal remains the same. It just looks different from when I first set eyes on it. I am starting to see it as Neo saw the Matrix at the end of the only one of those films worth seeing again. I see structure, convention, application, and cohesion. I can now see the story for what it is, what it needs to be to reach a connection with the reader. The big change in perspective comes when the writer realizes the words are never in the right order the first time around. Every writer whose advice on writing I have come across stresses this point. Writing is rewriting. 

What about Dr. Seuss? When at B&N this weekend I picked up some of his books and looked them over, trying to imaging how his re-writes must have gone and what in the world the original text must have been. Text from Fox in Socks especially stands out in my memory. Here is a sample:
We'll find something new to do now.
Here is lots of new blue goo now.
New goo.  Blue goo.
Gooey.  Gooey.
Blue goo.  New goo.
Gluey. Gluey.

Well, if writing is rewriting, someone tell me what this was originally? Was "Gooey. Gooey." originally just "Gooey." and his editor circled it and wrote something like, "'Gooey.' doesn't have enough impact; try 'Gooey. Gooey.' instead." in the margins of his manuscript? Who knows and who cares? It works for me as a child who was captivated by the melodic writing and as an adult who realizes the word use and placement was carefully crafted not in a moment but over hours and days. 

Back in college I would read books and my thought was it became a book because the writer in one fell swoop threw each word down as if they were stitched together in his head by unseen angels. Now I know it is different than I thought then.

Then thoughts.
When thoughts. 
Chased by a hen thoughts.
Circle it with a pen thoughts.
Thoughts about writing.
Writing thoughts.