Saturday, September 08, 2012

How books are made.


The dentist did not send us a reminder of our half yearly visit this year and I have used it as an excuse to avoid the visit.  Even though I know in the back of my mind that I should call for an appointment, I use the dentist’s failure to send out a reminder as an excuse to avoid doing what I know I must eventually do.  

I’ve signed up for the Keiser weight training though, that’s a tick in the box of the doing-things-good-for-you category, but for the dentist and the rest I can’t claim much success.  The rest being all those other jobs I put off until I must get them done, the washing, report writing, cleaning out cupboards, but I will get there. 

Procrastination I call it, the demon of progress.  My greatest avoidance is to immerse myself in the book I tell myself I am writing.  Actually it’s written, mostly, only I must put it together, make the pieces into a whole, and eliminate that which is unnecessary.  

I joined a class recently, six sessions,  to help us produce a manuscript, and Lee Kofman who takes this class gave me the task of working on my structure, at least four hours a week.  Lee knows how much I hate structure. 

Even the word sends shivers through me.  I gather that structure is like a skeleton on which the flesh of the story hangs, but then I think of what Julian Barnes has Flaubert say to us in his novel, Flaubert’s Parrot:

Books aren’t made in the way that babies are made: they are made like pyramids.  There’s some long pondered plan, and then great blocks of stone are placed one on top of the other, and it’s back-breaking, sweaty time-consuming work.  And all to no purpose!  It just stands like that in the desert!  But it towers over it prodigiously.  Jackals piss at the base of it and bourgeois clamber to the top of it, etc.

I lack structure, I entirely lack structure through out my life.  The obvious example to me comes in my approach to housework.  I might start to tidy up the kitchen sink, put dishes in the dishwasher, wipe nearby benches, but as I stand stacking and wiping a thought will come into my mind about what needs doing elsewhere or an object will appear in my line of vision that needs to be put somewhere else and I will traipse up through the hallway to the bedroom or bathroom or wherever and while in this new room I will see something else that needs attention, the bathroom cupboard calls for re-arranging for instance, and I will work on this.  Pathetic really.

I hold my experience of my father responsible.  My father may have been a man of structure but he passed none of it down to me.
 The man of structure even as underneath the neatness he was beginning to fall apart.  

When my daughters complain about writing an essay, their father will insist they come up with a plan first of all.  Then he will urge them to work on a beginning, a middle and an end.  Say what you are going to say, say it and then say what you’ve said.  Simple. Hey presto – a typical academic essay. 

To me it’s boring, but if I had learned this, whether from my father or from the nuns at school, I might not be in trouble with this book as I am today. 

I do not plan anything in this way, not anything written.  No, I simply plunge in where the fancy takes me and I wind up with many possible beginnings, several chunky middles and an occasional ending, but they do not necessarily fit well together.   I cannot get the form.  As Julian Barnes writes:
Form isn’t an overcoat flung over the flesh of thought (that old comparison, old in Flaubert’s day); it’s the flesh of thought itself.  You can no more imagine an Idea without a Form than a Form without an Idea.  Everything in Art depends on execution: the story of a louse can be as beautiful as the story of Alexander.  You must write according to your feelings, be sure those feelings are true, and let everything else go hang, when a line is good, it ceases to belong to any school.  A line of prose must be as immutable as a line of poetry.

Blogging is the perfect medium for me because it can be more chaotic than a novel.  My only structure is the weekly post.  The rest I leave up to chance.  And chance is a fickle creature, sometimes she offers wondrous gifts and at other times, a load of crap.  
Post a Comment