It sounded simple: spend a couple of weeks putting down diary entries my main character might have written that would give insights into his thinking and feelings. And since that would be a cinch, why not finally write the text of that picture book biography I kept talking about. And, hey, since that shouldn’t be a problem, read a couple dozen books and pick a few on which to write a compare/contrast essay of 8 to 10 pages.
Yeah, it’s called biting off more than I can chew, or at least chew comfortably, but I’m not ready to cry uncle. Not yet at least.
The thing is there’s still seventeen days to deadline. That’s a lot of time. The thing is there’s only seventeen days to deadline and that’s not a lot of time. I lose five of those days to work, another couple taking a short vaca with the fam, so it’s really more like ten days.
See, I should never look at a calendar. If I could just have this magical system that told me what I needed to do each day — without knowing the deadline — then I could just work on the daily goal without the deadline stress. Despite how much work I give myself, it’s all manageable as long as I don’t know what I’m up against.
All my classmates, and you wonderful occasional commenters, have been kind in their faith. Gwenda’s point a while back about learning what my process is turning out to ring more true that I imagined; I am learning which things I do that work and which don’t, and methods to keep myself focused. And my Suze wasn’t off the mark recently in pointing out how the residency probably serves as the vacation time we otherwise don’t get with our at-home, deadline-driven lives. I remember how charged up I felt after the last rez, I can totally see how that’s going to feel even better this time around. Like how good diner food tastes after you’ve spent a couple weeks living off granola and ramen in the mountains.
The diary entries, you would think that would be a snap. Ha! It isn’t like plunking down your thoughts in a blog, oh no, you have to crawl inside the character’s head and say “Look over there, at that playground — how does that make you feel?” Like going back in time and hunting down your younger self on the playground and poking that younger self with a stick saying “Why was this tether ball thing so important to you this week?” And the next thing you know the question “Why doesn’t the character have any sibling?” turns into an awkward moment between child and parent where the discussion of miscarriages gets brought up, only explained through the vocabulary of an 11 year old boy.
It’s as emotionally draining as if I were putting myself through therapy. Wait…
The picture book biography is another beast altogether. I’ve known this story for going on two decades now but I never conceived it as a book for kids. Why not? They’re the ones who would appreciate it better. That’s not the problem, the problem is that in telling the story I realized I had only worked from two sources, both mostly matched up but it would take a third to confirm various differences. Then there was the background details I wanted to nail. And in the twenty years since I first stumbled onto this story more and more resources have become available. Movies lost in archives spread all over the world are now available to watch on YouTube at all hours. The casual mention of a bit player in the story prompts another half hour of internet searching. There are easily five pages of documentation and bibliographic notes for every paragraph I’m going to end up with in the final draft. I feel beholden to get the story right the first time (a) to avoid the same pitfalls I’ve seen in other non-fiction for children concerning sloppy research and (b) so that mine enters the world as the definitive version, at least for a generation. You shoot for the moon and hope for a cloud.
I haven’t even got a clue about the essay yet, mostly because I’m not happy with the books so far. Usually having bad books, or at least deficient one, spurs the creative juices. But the reality is that I’m looking for clues and answers to my own problem in finding a character voice and I’m not getting any traction in the places where I should. I’m tired of every book I pick up needing to be read so closely that I can’t enjoy it on its own. I don’t want to have to pick apart the meat and bones in order to reconstruct the skeleton and show how adept I am at literary taxidermy. Yes, yes, I understand how this helps in my own work, but right now everything is working against each other — voice and essay are not in line with biography and research, neither of which is helping with feeling and motivation. In theory all this should be providing clarity but in reality it’s all siting like an oil slick on the top of a pond preventing the water hydra from getting any sunlight.
I just know a year from now I’m gonna stumble back onto this post and want to throttle my whiny self. Maybe I’ll be adept enough to have my 11 year old character visit me and we can swap places, maybe he can write my diary entries for me while I sit t/here trying to understand how to insert tab A into slot B.
I promised myself I wouldn’t spend more that 15 minutes complaining. Back to work.