Starting Over Again (19)

I’ve decided to rewrite my book. This will be the third time I’ve begun again from scratch, or almost scratch. (Might it be a charm?) This is the manuscript that was one of nine finalists for the New Rivers Press Many Voices Project award a couple of years ago. (The winner receives $1000 and publication by their university press.) I submitted it earlier this summer to New Rivers, as well, for their general submissions, and I’m still hopeful to hear good news. But I always come back to feeling like it isn’t quite right. A fellow writer read the manuscript, and he thought it may be “droning.” (Eee gads. How do you not cringe to hear that?) Because I wrote it over such a long period of time, I’ve always wondered if the voice was not consistent (in spite of all revising). And I’ve always wanted there to be more lightness in the book. I think it leans toward the hopeful and the healed, but maybe not enough to satisfy me? This is the story of my lost love. My big love. I began writing it much too soon—I know that now. I wanted it to be a book when it needed to be only one of the ways I moved through my grief, came back from despair, put my heart together again, just pages shoved in a drawer somewhere until a later time. I know now to write like mad through something like this but not try to shape it into anything when it’s still raw, has not had time to sift through me, time to drift down to bedrock.

On Tuesday I closed my laptop from a round of work and set it aside. I sat on the edge of my bed spacing out before I got up to take a shower, to toss the cabbage salad I made for lunch. And I fell into a newer, deeper sense of how to approach rewriting the book. It isn’t new for me to envision including more in the story about my life today, but sitting on the bed I felt it more fully in my body. I saw into it, felt into it more fully than I have before. The book is written in second person, me talking to him. Even though I wonder if I need to just let this manuscript go, to finish my now ancient novel and let myself finally move on to new projects, I still resist. This pile of pages has some of my best “material” in it, so I become stubborn. And enough time has passed that I can return to that material without reliving it, can picture the new retelling from a place of joy. It seems the perfect thing to “use” this framework of me talking to him as a kind of scaffolding for writing what might become a “real” memoir, one that goes beyond my story of having loved and lost. The timing couldn’t be better, too, because I’ve been flailing about a bit, not sure what I wanted to focus on at the August writing workshop I get to go to. I’m pretty excited about it now (both the book and the workshop), so I wanted to let you know. I can feel you wishing me well even as I write. Thank you for that, now and always.

4 thoughts on “Starting Over Again (19)

  1. Hey there,
    One of the most difficult challenges for any writer is to create tension in the reader. That dear soul who is spending their time with our work needs to be given a reason to keep turning the pages. When stories unfold — this happened, then that happened — there’s rarely a sense that something is at stake for the reader to discover, other than the chronology of events.

    The above may be something you’ve already figured out, Riba. Because I’ve been reading so many novels lately alongside writing my own, I’ve been hyperconscious of technique… and when I’m engaged in a novel, I ask myself why. If I feel bored or disinterested, it’s almost always because the writer has leaned too heavily on beautiful prose (which I love — and it’s a talent you have in spades) and has forgotten the contract between writer and reader.

    Alongside a good story and clear prose and insight to the human condition, writers have to create reasons to keep the reader engaged. Sometimes it can be as simple as opening an idea that needs to be resolved, and then writing about other things… while the reader keeps reading to find out how the idea closes. Or a character says, “there’s something wrong at the barn” but the writer doesn’t take the reader to the barn for another 20 pages… that reader will usually keep reading to find out what happened but hasn’t been revealed.

    When I write this out, it seems obvious. But it has been a revelation for me as a writer. And it has affected everything I’m doing — from character development to plotting and structuring/chapter placement.

    Hang in there — writing a long piece like a memoir or novel is difficult. It’s comforting to know someone else who is sitting down alone in their room and struggling to pass along something of interest and — we hope — of value.

    And yes, I’m wishing you well, Riba — always.


  2. Oh, good to hear from you, Bart! :)

    Yes, these are mostly things I understand in concept, though you may be beyond me in terms of execution! In the current manuscript the story unfolds in pieces, not chronologically. So I think the writer would mostly have to just want to stay with me, though there are some things that aren’t spelled out until the book unfolds.

    I think I kind of like the luxury of a long piece, though this is the only one I have “completed” (twice now). My novel is maybe halfway through. I think I wrote about this a while back, but I just can’t seem to let myself move on until I finish both of these. My fingers are crossed I will soon get on a roll! You are impressive to me in the amount of time you spend writing!

    Thanks again for coming by and for your lovely comments. Happy last weeks of summer!

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