It is the ultimate day of May, and I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the current draft of “The Swan Harp” is progressing very well. The bad news is that I had hoped by now to be finished it, and the Muse and the vagaries of my characters have decreed that I am not – yet – finished. I have a solid two weeks of work left yet, and I won’t be able to do all of it on my laptop in the car. Some of it will require work with a printout, and no doubt I’ll need at least one full day of writing time at a desk somewhere.
Those who know me know that I’m in Duke Ellington’s camp: I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline. I work really well when I know something has a due date. I’ve been working well on “The Swan Harp”, and I’m very pleased with my progress, even though I am now behind deadline. (All right, technically I’m not, at least until midnight, but I know there’s no way that the rest of this work would be done by the end of May even with the aid of uninterrupted time and an espresso IV.)
In a way, even the bad news is good news. I’m pleased that I’m behind deadline, or at least for the reason I’m behind deadline. I’ve always been a writer who was in control of her characters and plot. I knew how things were going to work out, what my characters would do and when they would do it, and how other characters would react. That is, that’s the kind of writer I was. During these weeks writing in the car on the way to work, my characters got away from me. Now I’m no longer sure exactly what they’ll do, and there is at least one piece of the new developments the resolution of which is a complete mystery to me.
A couple of years ago in the writers’ group we did an exercise in which we quickly wrote a list of fifteen adjectives, and then fifteen nouns, trying not to think too hard about them. Then we matched them up, looking to make incongruous pairs. Then we wrote a poem, using at least eight of the pairs. Part of my poem went:
“….my characters have all
pulled free of me, and lead me where they please.
from pliant pagebound figments they become
sarcastic puppets, finally to emerge
into the world, where they assume free will”
When I wrote this, I wasn’t at all sure that I believed in the possibility of characters who could get out of my grasp and go beyond the bounds of the plot I’d outlined. I certainly felt I knew Kiar, my protagonist, well enough to predict everything she’d do. Now I’m not so sure, and there’s an element of excitement and mystery now for me in writing what comes next.
At the same time, I believe – although I could be wrong – that I’ve written most of the new material for the book, and that I’m now into grafting the new work into the old, inserting things that will blend those pieces seamlessly into the whole. It’s still a big job, but the end is in sight. The story is much more complex than when I wrote the first draft in the autumn of 2010, and I think it’s much better. Not only that, but the world has given me ideas for two more stories with the same characters.
No, I’m behind schedule, and not on deadline. But what I’m writing now has a spontaneity and a life of its own that I’ve never seen in my work before. That’s definitely worth it.