Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Leap!

“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how . . . . We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” - Agnes de Mille, dancer and choreographer

On March 15th I sent my entire book manuscript to my M.F.A. advisors - 229 pages - the whole thing, all the pieces, all together in the same place at the same time. In the weeks prior to the deadline, I had to throw the schoolbook out the window. Oh, it was helpful to have learned about plot trajectories, character development, dialogue, and tension building. All that stuff about Aristotle’s incline came in handy too. But for the most part, it went out the window - right out onto the lawn next to the barely budding crocuses and the daffodil greens that aren’t quite ready to pop.

It had to go under the ground with all the acorns the squirrels planted last autumn and the leftover birdseed that the robins didn’t get this winter. In its place came intuition and raw nerve. I had to leap, leap, leap. I put something down and moved on to the next. Does this piece go here? Don’t think too hard. Just put it down and move on. Piece after piece like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

I’d spent a ton of time sorting which pieces to use. Years deepening the pieces so that they were the right shape and color and just the right pitch in sound. And then all I could do was lay them down. It felt something like what I think dying might feel like. I was convinced it was all wrong and anxious that I would just have to do it over again and I still might. But it fell together. The pieces fell together and at the end, like winning a game of solitaire, I had only a few pieces left and they fit together. The queen of hearts went atop the king of diamonds and I had a draft of the full manuscript sitting on my table, and most importantly, extracted from my mind.

It will need more work. My advisors have read it and while they are impressed with the work I have done, they agree that it needs more work. And someday, hopefully, an editor will read it and she too will say it needs more work. And when that day comes, remind me that I already know how to do it. Remind me that I know how not to be sure, how to guess, and move forward, and how to take leap after leap in the dark.

Leap!

“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how . . . . We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” - Agnes de Mille, dancer and choreographer

On March 15th I sent my entire book manuscript to my M.F.A. advisors - 229 pages - the whole thing, all the pieces, all together in the same place at the same time. In the weeks prior to the deadline, I had to throw the schoolbook out the window. Oh, it was helpful to have learned about plot trajectories, character development, dialogue, and tension building. All that stuff about Aristotle’s incline came in handy too. But for the most part, it went out the window - right out onto the lawn next to the barely budding crocuses and the daffodil greens that aren’t quite ready to pop.

It had to go under the ground with all the acorns the squirrels planted last autumn and the leftover birdseed that the robins didn’t get this winter. In its place came intuition and raw nerve. I had to leap, leap, leap. I put something down and moved on to the next. Does this piece go here? Don’t think too hard. Just put it down and move on. Piece after piece like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

I’d spent a ton of time sorting which pieces to use. Years deepening the pieces so that they were the right shape and color and just the right pitch in sound. And then all I could do was lay them down. It felt something like what I think dying might feel like. I was convinced it was all wrong and anxious that I would just have to do it over again and I still might. But it fell together. The pieces fell together and at the end, like winning a game of solitaire, I had only a few pieces left and they fit together. The queen of hearts went atop the king of diamonds and I had a draft of the full manuscript sitting on my table, and most importantly, extracted from my mind.

It will need more work. My advisors have read it and while they are impressed with the work I have done, they agree that it needs more work. And someday, hopefully, an editor will read it and she too will say it needs more work. And when that day comes, remind me that I already know how to do it. Remind me that I know how not to be sure, how to guess, and move forward, and how to take leap after leap in the dark.