Saturday, September 26, 2015

Write. Recover. Revise.

I’ve been working on the memoir manuscript for the last month despite my ardent desire to work on the lighter, breezier novel manuscript.  I am averaging 6-8 hours of writing, 4 days a week (sometimes more). 

The days when I produce new non-fiction chapters are the most draining.  This is no surprise, but the completeness with which I feel drained does surprise me.  I can sleep 10 hours after writing a new chapter, and I still feel exhausted the next morning.  It takes days for me to recover and start writing new chapters again.  I know my diet isn’t draining me because when I’m writing, I eat crazy healthy.  Ninety percent of what I’ve consumed this month has been raw/sautéed vegetables with clean protein and gluten-free whole grains (e.g., quinoa and buckwheat).

During my recovery days, I revise previously written chapters.  I may revise a chapter 20-50 times over the course of a year before I am okay with it.  Sometimes I’m still not okay with it.   Even the revision process can be taxing when I have to revise a chapter that involves trauma or a painful revelation.  Last week I revised a chapter about a deceased relative.  After I finished, I felt good about the chapter, but I also felt cranky as hell.  I kept wondering why.  I was having a good, productive day.  Then I started smelling that relative’s perfume.  That hadn’t happened in umpteen years! I was unknowingly transported back to all the pain that person caused me, and it didn’t hit until after the revision.

I completely revised the dialogue for a chapter that I wrote and revised a year ago. The chapter is not emotionally difficult, but it is technically and analogically difficult for me.  There’s quite a bit of dialogue and exposition, and I finally feel like both are equally strong.  The over-arching analogy is quotidian, but the significance for the non-fiction characters is anything but.  I want the chapter to unfold in such a way that the reader thinks, Why are they arguing about this little object? Then, much later, perhaps even after the reader is finished reading the book, I want her/him to see that the character that is introduced in the next chapter is not the impetus for change, but that little quotidian object is. 

I’m working on subtly.  Kym Ragusa, one of my professors in grad school, used to tell me not to bludgeon or overwhelm the reader.  My work, like my personality, can be so fucking intense that it overwhelms.  I don’t have a little smile; I have an electric smile.  I don’t have a quiet laugh; I have a bombastic laugh.  I’m learning to ease people into me.  Give a little intensity here and a little intensity there, so when the power needs to be unleashed, the reader can bear it because I’ve trained her/him to anticipate it in my writing style.

When I write trauma chapters, I handle each word with kid gloves.  Also, I never type trauma chapters (as opposed to writing about the events in my journal) unless:  
  1.  I have had enough distance from the events;
  2. I have reflected upon the events extensively; and
  3. I feel at peace with the situation. 

There’s a scene between my mother and 30-year-old me where my mother reveals something I always knew but never wanted to believe.  This chapter bleeds with tenderness.  When I read that chapter, I don’t even recognize myself.  It was not written by Scrapper Angèle who has busted her ass to get to this creative/emotional place but by Spiritually-Rooted Angèle who is still fairly new to me (i.e., She’s only about 9 years old. I started meditating and gradually changing my eating habits 9 years ago).  Scrapper Angèle is a relentlessly honest fucker.  She temporarily took up jogging after her mother’s revelation.  This was an alternative to cursing her mother out and punching her fists through walls.  In the years after my mother’s revelation, Scrapper Angèle wrote journal entries that were so scathing and frenzied that she occasionally tore through the page with her pen.  Scrapper Angèle vented and kicked her legs in therapy like a petulant child.  Who the fuck says that to her daughter! she once yelled to her therapist.  And thank God she did all the drudge work.

Had Scrapper Angèle not processed through that rage, she could not hand over the experience to Spiritually-Rooted Angèle to make of it a tender narrative.  Spiritually-Rooted Angèle took the experience, meditated on it and contemplated it as she drank her green juice and green smoothies.  She evaluated hundreds of sweet, little everyday experiences and choose one that she could juxtapose with the painful one, all so the reader wouldn’t feel bludgeoned or overwhelmed.  Who knew dissociation could come in so handy?

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