Losing sentences, holding onto story

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I was nearly destroyed by my ten-year-in-progress manuscript yesterday.  The pacing was off, and I couldn't find a cure.

I sat with my old photographs, my boxes of books, my research.  I sat with all 240-plus pages half on my lap, half on the floor.  I sat, and I'm glad that I couldn't see my own face.  Frustration?  Bewilderment?  Exhaustion?  All three?  You're all washed up, Kephart, I said.

But then last night I slept a little (sleep is something else, I tell you), and when I woke I knew just what the problem was, a problem I should have discerned at once (this is me writing, I reminded myself, me, with the same built-in flaws, the same go-to tendencies, the same great love for landscape and sky when the point is, the point is, the story).  I threw pages away, pages and pages.  I was ruthless with every excess word.  I blue penned the book like its life depends on blue penning, and, in fact, it does.  The pace is back on.  The tension has tightened.  So much more is at stake.  I'm losing sentences like I always do.  I'm holding onto a new kind of story. 

Novels get harder as we push ourselves beyond what we know, my friend Alyson Hagy wrote to me earlier today, after listening to me go on about this book I won't give up on.  She's almost always right, my friend, Alyson.  She's definitely wiser than I am.  Because even though I've been writing this book for almost all of my published writing life, it is the book I've not known how to write, the book I've had to grow into.


Beverley BevenFlorez said...

Nice post! I agree it's all too easy to lose the big picture (story) when you've been working on a project for years.

Melissa Sarno said...

It sounds like you have a really important story to tell and that you're taking the time and care to tell it. The fact that you use only your last name to yell at yourself must mean you've become the tough-as-nails football coach you need to be right now :-)

Erin said...

this post is so inspiring. keep on writing and living and rocking, beth =)

Sherry said...

ditto erin. love ya.

Hi I'm Jennie! said...

This book will be powerful because of your pain and your commitment. Keep the faith!

Sarah Laurence said...

Your words are really speaking to me. That’s interesting about growing into a novel.

I’ve gone back to a novel that I’ve been working on for 4 years on and off during which time I completed 2 other manuscripts. My solution was radical. In March I threw out what I had. I started over on page one with one less central character and plot string. It has also shifted genres and setting. Now I’m past 100 pages and it’s singing.

I've found that some stories come easily and quickly, but others need nurturing, pruning and space to grow. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

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