We know more than we think we do
Yesterday I wrote about the confusion I was having with my current WIP, wondering if it was even the book I was supposed to be writing. I could hear my MC talking to me but when I tried to put it into the book I THOUGHT it belonged in, nothing fit. I thought I was working on another verse novel, MTLB. I had a few poems, an idea of where it was going but the more I heard the MC talk the less he fit into MTLB. But doggone if I didn’t keep trying to jam him in there.
I sat myself down and had a little talk about form and function and all the various WIP I have. I was so fed up that I thought about working on a picture book even though I promised my agent I’d commit to novels for a while. Funny thing was, as I reread all the bits and pieces of unfinished stories I started to see a bit of a pattern. Many of them had one really great scene, a few pieces of dynamite dialog, or an image in words that showed exactly what I wanted to show. One them had a perfect title. (I love titles and can’t work on a book until I have the title.) They all featured a boy MC who was a big brother. Yet each of these bits and pieces were in different stories. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe the excitement that got me started fizzled without a plot (a common occurrence for me) or perhaps something else grabbed a tighter hold of me and begged to be written. I think a lot of these are stories that just didn’t work, won’t work, but I was afraid to let them go. They had “pretty pieces” in them and I wanted to save all the pretty pieces until I could fix the story to go with them. And I’m sure I was thinking that if I had 5 unfinished picture books with some good parts in them, with revision I could have 5 new picture books. I was thinking quantity, not quality, which is a bad idea with writing. I know better. I know that’s not the way I work. I know I’m an instinctive writer who needs to trust herself to let go and hold on according to some invisible inner guide.
Annie Dillard says, “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”
It may not have been what Dillard meant but I had the feeling a few of those pieces still spoke to me and still belonged somewhere, just not spread out across 5 picture books that had no future. With some cut and pasting, I yanked the pretty pieces from the gaudy frames of poorly written stories. And as I reread them all I got that little electrical charge of adrenalin, you know the one, your personal geiger counter as Stephen King calls it. There was a voice here. Someone worth listening to. Someone who needed me.
For a few minutes, I confess, I contemplated trying to shove the pieces into the verse novel even though I knew they wouldn’t fit. (Yep, sometimes I’m a slow learner.) Then I got to the title I had saved, TMT. I remembered when I first found the title. I remembered knowing that I would use the title. I remember being sure it would be a picture book.
That was about the time that Frankie tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, that’s me! I’m TMT.” And it hit me, yes, it was time to tell Frankie’s story but MTLB wasn’t Frankie’s story, TMT was.
Nancy Werlin says, “When I write a thing, I write it with a ferocious trust in the unknown stuff that lurks somewhere in my mind.“
Keeping that trust in mind I looked at my saved scraps again, only this time through Frankie’s eyes, and the picture became a little clearer and his voice a little louder. (He even told me about the dog and the little girl.) So this is it. I will put aside MTLB and work on TMT and try to help Frankie’s voice be heard. Most of all I will trust that the rest of the story is hiding in my subconscious and will be there when I need it most.