Hey jerks, I finished rewriting The Lonely Years. I feel pretty good about it. The last draft was great; this draft is 100,000 times better. Now I’m taking two weeks to think about it before diving back in. Kind of miss the book, but it’s good to take time off.
Have been noodling around, doing some short story stuff, trying out some new techniques. I wouldn’t say the short story is a particularly good laboratory for the novel, but when you’ve worked extensively at novel length, you recognize how much more you can get away with in a short story.
In terms of reading, I read Francoise Gilot’s Life With Picasso, her memoir of her ten year relationship with Pablo Picasso. It was boring at times; could’ve been somewhat shorter. But not uninteresting. Picasso speaks very knowledgeably about painting. As a viewer, it’s very easy to see paintings in terms of themes and content, but he also sees them in terms of the relationships of colors and shapes. It made me think about writing. I think for years I was envious of how poets see words in terms of the relationships between sounds, but I realized that the equivalent of that, for novelists, is seeing the relationship between various story elements. I know that when I talk about story structure and how things are put together, I am often operating way above the level of my audience, but other experienced novelists will be like, yes, yes, that is what you need.
There’s an adage, in writing, that style is content. It’s a bit reductionist, but it’s the idea that the way a book is written transmits as much or more information as the actual what-the-book-is-about. But I’ve recently been thinking about the opposite: style determines content. There are certain styles that only allow for certain content. For instance, I’m very interested in the fine movements and subtle shifts within relationships. In order to bring this to the surface of the text, I’ve inevitably needed protagonists who were themselves quite observant and articulate.
In my story writing I’m experimenting with having a more distant narrator–one who’s more capable of commenting upon the action without being a part of it. But this almost necessitates having characters who are a bit on the less observant side. Because if you have an observant narrator and an observant character, everything bleeds together, and it doesn’t quite work. When you start writing differently, you’re suddenly able to write about very different things. I’ve felt a little trapped by my style: I’ve felt like I was only able to write disaffected well-educated middle-class outsider types. But with this different style, I’m suddenly able to explore not just different milieus but also different kinds of consciousness (because, you know, most people, and especially most men, are not particularly self-aware).
We have childcare in place for our baby now, so I feel some pressure to be productive during the day. Like I spent the first hour today trying to get my Airpods to work, and I was like oh noooooo this is one precious hour of the eight hours when I can pretend I don’t have a child. I think ultimately it’ll be good for my productivity. Now, when I ostensibly have much more time to goof off, I’m spending much more time reading and writing. But we’ll see.
In other news, I’ve become a better person! Unless you personally know me, you probably are unaware of the fact that I am riddled with envy and spite towards other successful writers. It’d gotten so bad recently that I actually didn’t want to read good books (by living writers) and when I did read them, I’d be disappointed if they were good. Not a good place to be! But then one day something broke, and I was like, none of this has anything to do with me.
I don’t know, the whole fame machine, the NYT book pages, and the twitter accolades, and all the back-patting and self-congratulation and all the fawning over TERRIBLE books, I was like…this really has nothing to do with me. I’m just a person sitting in my living room trying to write some books.
Not sure why that helped so much, but now I feel completely better! Like, radical change, radical about-face. I even read the NYT Book section for fun! Just to see what people are writing about! I have to say, I don’t like how the NYT book pages are always so judicious with their praise. Like this week they did something on Noah Van Sciver’s Fante Bukowski, which is his graphic novel chroniclin the life of a terrible, self-important male writer-type. I’ve read FB, and it’s incredible. But they were like, it’s not totally satisfying blah blah. These are the kind of people who rejected Confederacy of Dunces (which FB resembles) because the hero isn’t sympathetic. Whatevs bro! The work is totally successful on its own terms, and I stand by that. Buy it.
Okay, blog post over.