Just Ask

I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes when I’m writing I hit a wall. There’s clearly more to be done on the novel, the essay, screenplay — whatever — but I’m not sure how to proceed. The thing needs new hands. The thing demands new ways. The thing needs what hasn’t come before. What I’m writing hasn’t been done before so what makes me, or you, think that what we know is going to be enough to finish the job?

It isn’t. But once we know it isn’t — then what?

Ask questions. Of the material, of yourself, of the things that take your attention. A couple of words about these. The material, trust me, already has the answers. Your early drafts, and mine, are a wealth of information. Before we start pruning with a hacksaw, consider interrogating the material. Is it doing what you thought? If not, what is it doing? What are the patterns, rhythms, repetitions, sounds, motifs, objects, etc. that jump out at you? These things are jumping out at you in part because of trace but also as neon signs saying “Look Here!”.

Ask yourself where the thing resonates with you and where it doesn’t. Both are well-worth interrogating. The gut don’t lie. If you can’t feel it, neither can we. That’s the vagal nerve system in action.

Interrogate the things (ideas, articles, people, smells, sounds/songs, etc.) that are taking your attention day to day. Develop an inventory of these. This is your intuition guiding you. It is also saying “Look Here!”.

For instance, I’ve been working on a novel for several years. There’s a lot of inner speak/thought/monologue. The challenge is to not get mired in that non-sensual world even tho’ the characters are. They are self-absorbed to the max. All for good reason — according to them. Fair enough. But my challenge is to keep the plot visible enough that the reader stays bitten and engaged. One plot is happening on an exterior level (the guys hide their teacher’s body, a mom and TO police officer hunt them down, etc.). But the other plot is happening in the minds and imaginations and fantasies of these people. It is one heckuva ride to write but it is also challenging.

My latest attempt, after an editor I trust encouraged me (e.g. practically rapped my knuckles!) to keep the plot more at the forefront I had to ask how. And I thought of the thing I always suggest to my students, ask questions about your work. Ask of the material, of myself, of where my attention goes. I took my own advice and almost immediately was gifted with a revision strategy that suits the goal, the material, artistic goals and — I hope — the material. I’ll pluck out the ‘plot’ lines from the MSS and see what’s left. Then, with that clarity, I can honour the characters’ (who always buck their own plot) and the reader (who’d like to follow what’s going on). I say all of this knowing that every reader is different and so is every writing project. Still, we do what we can.

The fiction I write doesn’t fit into the same-old, same-old box. Since that’s the case, I have to be willing to go out of my comfort zone, be patient, keep working the material and wait for intuition to lead me. This is much easier when I just ask.

If you are interested in writing workshops and classes, please visit thomvernon.com.

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