Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Fallow Period

I have not worked on my non-fiction manuscript in three months, well, not in any substantial way. At times, this disturbs me immensely. I have set a deadline of completion for myself, and I believe in sticking to my deadlines. Back in October, I set quarterly ticklers on my calendar. I have wasted an entire quarter to-date. I shouldn’t use the word “wasted.” It makes me seem like a lazy fuck when I am nothing of the sort. It also makes it seem like the fallow period isn’t important in the writing process when I know full well that it is.

I’ve been reminding myself that this is and has been my over-arching pattern for years. I write for three months; I lie fallow for three months. But I must have this manuscript finished this year! And I really don’t have time for this fallow shit!

During these fallow months, I have been researching for another manuscript, and I have been interacting with my family.  Some conversations with my family…okay, most conversations with my family exhaust me so much that I could sleep for the following 20 hours.  The fallow period is supposed to be a period of inactivity and recovery. I do not, however, feel “recovered.” I’ve been eating shit on a daily basis—wheat, sugar, ice cream—my crisis foods. I haven’t been exercising consistently. Have I mentioned that my family exhausts me? I don't have the energy or skills to interact with multiple family members on the regular, so I decided to put limits on the number of familial conversations I can bear in a given week. On the other hand, I have been less active when it comes to writing although I have not been wholly inactive.

I read some books and short stories during this time, nothing live-changing except for Alice Munro. I was reading her short story “The Bear Came over the Mountain,” when a simple line in her story led to a deluge of ideas for a novel I’ve been researching off and on for years.

I first developed a Notes.doc for the novel back in 2012, but the inception for the novel happened in 2010. I kept having this dream about a scrawny lil white girl.  She was feisty and vicious.  Couldn’ta been more than 13 years old.  She looked positively feral.  She never talked in my dreams, just stared me down as if daring me to ignore her.  So naturally, I did precisely that. What do I care about some scrawny, cranky lil white girl.  But she was a persistent little fucker.  She started to grow on me. I have a soft spot for feisty, vicious, persistent kids, probably because I was one.  So, I started paying more attention to the dreams.  I figured out that she was German.  Then I really wanted to drop her ass.  How am I supposed to write a book about a German white girl.  Yet, there I was researching German states and female German names and German schools.  Before I knew it, I loved her…was down-right protective of her.  I had a basic idea for a plot, but I didn’t write anything down. I wasn’t ready to commit (I’m a bit commitment phobic). I knew that if I made the commitment, this book would be a huge undertaking.

She crouched down in the recesses of my mind after that. I guess she just wanted a little attention.  She let me be for two years.  Then she came back, not as an aggressor or a dream, but as a whisper.  It was creepy hearing her in that gentle, vulnerable state.  It kind of freaked me out. I didn’t know she could be so fragile.  When a feisty, vicious, persistent person shows their vulnerability, you need to pay attention.  I went back to her immediately. I did not deny her. I did research obsessively for months. I expanded the plot and the characters.  I had committed myself at that point then let it sit some more.

Munro’s short story brought me back to her, now the plot is a whole different animal. It’s far more layered and complex. That seemingly unrelated short story easily led to about 16 hours of research for that novel’s plot. 

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