I hiked into the Grand Canyon. I must’ve been in my late twenties, maybe early thirties. It started out as a walk to look over the rim. I had camped the night before in a tent at one of the sites and woke early (probably about 5am). I was there with a friend and she was still asleep. As the sun rose out of the east, I decided to follow the paved roads toward the rim of the Grand Canyon.
What to do with a great idea? Let’s sit down and map out a novel. Writing in the dark is a popular way of writing short stories. We get an idea. We pull out the laptop. We write until everything is on the page. As we write, we don’t know where the story will lead and this suspense and feeling of surprise keeps us writing, it builds adrenaline, and keeps us guessing as we finish a story. But there may need to be a different approach when it comes to a 25 chapter novel.
Often I sit here in front of this computer and think about how to capture the voice of a narrator. Voice is the darkness around the thief, his soft footsteps, and his choice of victim. There is nothing innocent about what we writers do. We’re persuasive colonizers seeking to intrude on your sensibilities. We’re convincing–softly so.
The sought after and mysterious “voice” of writing. You watch editors salivate like Derridean defeatists about how magical voice can be when it “makes your foot tap to the rhythm.” Aww, how romantic. We are lovely romantic beings who need magic in our lives. Well, I’m about to take the magic out of the what, where, and how to find a literary voice.
Let’s say you’re in the office and you’re telling a story about someone. First you talk about what the person did. Maybe it’s something juicy, like a secret infidelity with a prison inmate, or maybe it’s something subtle, like they moved away from home. Then you go on to tell about something more recent, like, “Just the other day she was caught using her work phone to talk to this guy in prison.” This is the offbeat writing technique of the first person peripheral.
My father was am immigrant from Mexico. My mother a full blood Kiowa/Cherokee from Oklahoma. They worked the peanut and cotton fields when my sisters and I were young. I remember ducking the large rolling water sprayers in the fields; I remember the heat coming from the dirt onto my bare feet; and I remember living in abandoned farm houses in the Oklahoma fields. Let me tell you about cold nights. No, better yet, let me tell you about the warmth you can have from the thin layer of a blanket.
Revision is a little punk b#?ch! There I am toiling away on the second draft, almost to the end of the novel and starting to think about characters in the novel (mentally preparing for the “sweeps” portion of my revision process), and then I come to realize my main character is an asshole.
We writers area equal parts ego and vulnerable. The cliché is to develop a “tough skin” over the years and be able to take criticism. But we all think we’re geniuses, and we are. Brilliant beasts who are magical at hiding our softest parts behind a shield of “I already know” and “You just don’t understand the work.”
“I gotta keep my Capricorn mind straight,” said the planet of Saturn to the writer writing this post. Okay, so that first sentence had a weird third person shift–almost like a third person shift to a different third person gear, but the first third person perspective was oddly different from the latter, which was equally bizarre but uniquely awkward. See what I mean? I do need to keep this Capricorn mind straight. Saturn was right.
Getting bogged down in the muck is an artist’s nightmare. You’ve done the initial work. Maybe you painted the paintings, recorded the songs, or wrote the novels, and then you have to take the creation and offer it to world. Just when you thought you were done. There’s a million more hurdles.
If you’re going to write you might as well write something that’ll potentially change the lives of your readers. Otherwise, shelve your words and save them for someone who needs affirmation. When I sit down to write I don’t want to say things that will safely get me sales. In fact, I care about sales only as an indicator for the number of readers I reach. More importantly, I want readers to be knocked back on their heels and say to themselves, “I didn’t know.”
Champions endure the hardest hits–psychological and emotional–and carry themselves forward with the idealism needed to see through the most barren desert landscapes. We’re charged with getting an education and then returning home to make things better. We’re up for the challenge. But we can’t be surprised when we get hit on both sides of the drum.