My birthday was this week. One of those major milestone birthdays. So, I decided to take the week off to relax from a busy period at the day job. A grand staycation to focus on Novel 3 (which has been neglected due to a draining work schedule that’s lingered too long). The staycation/celebration started last weekend when a friend arranged for our fearsome foursome to take in some culture at the Marciano Art Foundation.
The Yayoi Kusama exhibition was delightful. The Glenn Ligon was so powerful, it left the four of us silent. All of the art was evocative and inspirational to the degree that, at one time or another, each of my three friends said, “Heh, I could do that.”
Clenching my BFA, I finally blurted, “Of course you could. But you didn’t. The difficult part is finding the time and courage to actually do it. Then you find out how hard easy is.”
My good friends simply blinked and politely bit their tongues. They know I know how to kill a mood. I also know that kind of comment is the verbal equivalent of someone coughing during an opera. A music teacher explained that phenomena as, “When something is too moving, some need to disturb it without realizing what they are doing or why.”
Art is intense, even when it seems simple. And simplicity can frustrate.
So can writing a damned book.
The irritating thing about this third novel of mine is that I’ve never had something go so slowly, especially when I know the whole story. I see everything that’s going to happen, that needs to happen, from the beginning, through the middle and to the end. All that needs to be done is the doing. Simple, right? But I sit with three chapters completed, another four in fragmented form and an estimated twenty-five to write in total. I’m a far from finished on a book I envisioned more than six years ago. And maybe the problem is that I’m seeing it too clearly.
Fun fact: I went to film school. That’s what I hold my BFA in. I see my books in a cinematic sense and have to pull myself out of that scriptwriting story style. My process begins with pondering which tales need to be written in novel form, and which want to be screenplays. Or which screenplays are ready to be novels now.
Straddling those two mediums, I see the different ways storytellers are viewed. Authors aren’t considered visionaries — not unless they’re writing fantasy or about other, future worlds. Film directors, however, are often lauded as that, even though they are going off what a writer put down on a page. Rarely is the director the screenwriter as well.
Writers are visionaries, almost by definition, even if we are writing about the mundane. Even if the worlds we create mirror our own. Writers see things in the world (this world, that world or another), people and places and bring them to new life. Yet, if that story or its people are too close to real life, the creativity comes into question.
I’ve had a friend refer to my first novel as a “memoir.” I’ve had another author make a dismissive dig about the kind of writers who “write themselves.” Both comments make me grin. I’ve admitted that my stories start from something that’s happened to me or a situation I’m introduced to that makes me ask, “How would I handle that?” Which is the reductive way of posing how an unmarried, no-kid woman in Los Angeles would confront those challenges. Would she allow herself to change, or fight it? I write this way because I think there’s a need for that kind of female voice — stories of women who don’t make marriage or children imperatives. That choice does not make my books autobiographical. Not by a longshot.
Taking aspects of oneself or the folks we know to form the amalgam of characters we create is what makes them relatable. Those who strive to write as far away from themselves as possible sometimes end up with characters that are difficult to connect with. A tad less authentic. To some degree, we want to recognize the people we read about, whether we see ourselves in the characters or recognize those we know. It makes me wonder what those writers don’t want to know about themselves. Or what they refrain from sharing.
As my week off winds to a close and I prepare for the Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books, I must admit that didn’t write one word in my third novel. Not a single word. It continues to run through my head as it waits to be hatched onto the page. It’s not a writer’s block stopping me, but a creative embarrassment of riches. The week before my vacation, a brilliant idea struck and that has been the priority. I’m in a fortunate place where ideas are bountiful. I’m able to see multiple possibilities. And that fragments my focus.
My life has been shifting since I started writing that third novel. I’m becoming a different writer and, perhaps, a different person. Art changes the artist. I went through a similar thing in film school where I cranked out so much work I didn’t have anything else to give and had to pivot. I went into CalArts with aspirations of being an experimental narrative director and came out a traditional narrative screenwriter. I know that I’m shifting out of the chick lit genre, and this book is a bridge to that, but I’m not sure where that will lead me. Aside from writing, I have other creative projects and goals to achieve. Happily, I see a great deal of potential.
That’s a common problem with visionaries.