Good morning! I’m here again this morning in the chilly dark — it’s time for fuzzy pajama, warm and thick socks, putting the hood up on the hoodie while I’m writing. In the mirror across from me, I look a little like a monk. A sweatshirt-hooded San Francisco monk. There’s a Ganesha batik hanging on the wall just behind me, so in the mirror, there’s Ganesha’s eyes, and then below, there’s my bent head, face lit blue by the computer screen, everything else dark.
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After yesterday’s endless post, I’m going to keep today’s shorter. This morning I finally got back to my novel, put in 1500 words, a good re-entry. It was the first time I’d opened the file since returning from the Tomales Bay workshops. I said I came back charged to do more work with my book, and that’s true — I also came back a bit overwhelmed with how much work/rewriting/going deeper there is ahead of me. It wasn’t a surprise to me, but I got to touch it while I was there, touch the time and effort that was going to be involved in returning to some of the pieces of the novel I’ve already written and opening them up, pushing further in, letting the stories and scenes fall out. The pace, the storytelling: I have to slow it all down. This scares me, too. I like to push it all out, fast, shove the words past you, whether on the page on at the mic, and then maybe you hear one or two things that really stay but there’s not a lot of time for interrogation, for a thorough inspection. What I got at Tomales, what my writing got, was a thorough inspection. These 12 smart, strong women writers told me what I needed to hear: slow down, show us more, let us be in it. (They also said: we care about these characters, we want to read more. That‘s a pretty great thing to hear.) Over the last couple of weeks since getting back, I’ve felt overly confident about my book, and then terrible about it, and I haven’t been able to get back into the story — I’ve been scared.
The book, at this point, is entirely comprised of morning writes, the freewriting that I do first thing after I wake up. Sometimes in the morning I can get deep into story, but often I sketch out what’s happening, stay more in the telling than showing. During this morning’s write, I thought more about the feedback that we gave each other in that big meeting room at Tomales, the one with tables laid out in a square and windows all around looking out at Monterey pine and hills — over and over we said, show us more here; don’t tell us how we’re supposed to be feeling about the scene — show us the details, let us feel how your character is feeling through her/their actions, movements, what their face or body does, how they eat, how they sound, how they smell. Give us all that story and scene, and then trust us to understand without your having to spell it all out for us. Trust your writing to do that work.
Doesn’t it sound straightforward? But it’s so hard to go slow. This morning I pushed into a scene, dialogue and interaction, that I could easily have dispatched with in a couple of lines of expository prose: and then they talked and it was hard. I could have told myself, while I was writing, I’ll come back to this and explain more. But instead, today, I practiced the showing.
It feels good to be back to these women. I like them, and don’t like them, and am looking forward to writing with them again, now that I can practice being more open with and to the story they want to tell through me.
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(Hey! I won one of the BlogHer weekly prizes — books from Penguin. That’s pretty great!)
This would be a great list-making prompt: take a few minutes and jot down your passions (or your character’s passions), both the ones that everyone knows about and the ones that you keep to yourself. Let yourself choose one of these and describe it to us —
My list might look like this: writing, reading, experimental cooking — and then I’d get stuck for awhile and look around the room. What else am I passionate about? Tall shoes? Yes. Being present with people sharing their words, engaging and believing in the power of their voices? Yes. Honesty around sexual trauma and sexual healing? Ok, sure. Any other hobbies or hidden things, Jen? Not much. In that way, I’m kind of boring.
I’m passionate about the beauty of queer folks. Am I passionate about the Midwest That feels almost like a contradiction in terms; midwesterners (maybe I should say white, protestant midwesterners) are uncomfortable with too much passion.
I’m a passionate romantic, which has it’s positives and negatives. The Mr. knows about these. I’ve been passionate, too, about survival. I’ve been passionate about drinking, had a love affair with alcohol that has shifted in recent years, and that’s ok with me.
The ocean. Ok, that’s easy. And the puppy. Can you be passionate about a dog? Is that allowed? City walking is a passion. Ethiopian food. See, sit with it for a moment, and the truth of us starts to flow out.
What about your list? Which one would you write about today? Remember, you don’t have to show the list or the writing to anyone — this is just for you, first and foremost.
Thanks for your passions, all of them, even the scary ones. Thanks for the ways you let your passions shift and grow, take up room in your body and then move through as your attachment to them fades. Thank you, every day, for your words.