Monday, June 11, 2012

Creative Constipation

Yesterday I began a new painting. What should have been a pleasant afternoon lost in brush strokes and classical music in my sun-drenched living room was instead a nail-biting, inner-lip-chewing sweating-behind-the-knees afternoon spent sketching and measuring and colour-coordinating till I was sick to my stomach. All I had to show at the end of two hours was a 2x2 (that's inches) royal purple diamond . 

I've done the same thing with this blog as well. I wondered what witty, snappy entry I could entertain you with and before I knew it, months had gone by. 

What is this thing I do, this strife for perfection which leads instead to a kind of creative constipation? Why can't I just grab a canvas and splatter it with paint like I once did? Why can't I just write whatever comes to my head like I once did? Those were the good old days. If  growing up means getting anal, then no thank you. 

So in the interest of going back to to the way things once were, I shall attempt to write this simple straightforward blog entry whose simple goal shall be to update you on the progress of my novel.

I "finished" my novel in February. That means I got it out of my head and onto the page. Then I sent it off to a few select suckers, angelic souls who were writers or avid readers or both, whose daunting task was to a) get through it and b) tell me their thoughts (which is hard for some people to do as they don't want to hurt my feelings). And these people, these poor schmucks who never dreamed when they offered to help that I'd promptly send them 400+ pages of mush, stepped up. Not only did they read all 432 pages, but they let me pick their brains after. For hours. And hours. More on them later.

The good news was the feedback was consistent: melodramatic in places but overall passable (my words not theirs). After a couple of days of stroking and mending my bruised ego (hey, it happens no matter how sweetly and politically correctly you're told your weaknesses), I got back on the proverbial horse.

Since I'm learning and doing at the same time, it took me a while to figure out the next step: how to incorporate friends' feedback and my own, how to cut out the extraneous and deepen the good stuff, and how to do it all while maintaining the spontaneity and initial integrity of the work. So basically how to change everything and nothing all at once. 

Easy peasy.

After several days- or was it weeks or maybe months- of chewing my nails to the quick, staring dejectedly into my latte (while contemplating how I really couldn't afford it as I approached my third year of unemployment) and eyeing several alternate vocations (barista, pizza dough flipper, grocery bagger at Wolfe India Bazaar where I could enjoy delightful Telegu/Hindi melodies and the soft scent of samosas that arises every time someone opens the door), I came up with a plan, a system, a way of maintaining the spontaneity of the piece but in a planned and precise manner. I made...a graphic organizer. Hey, if it helped my 6th grade students plan their stories, why couldn't it help me?

That's what I've been up to for the past days- or weeks or months. I've taken all the aspects I want to include, maintain, highlight, lowlight and made a handy dandy chart. The chart (which is freaking ingenious if I do say so myself) has allowed me to work on the novel with a birds eye view without getting caught up in the  minutiae of the text.

Filling it in has been akin to having a colonoscopy while getting a root canal but, having resorted to charts in the past, I know that the next step, the writing/fixing/whatever you want to call it, will be smooth(ish) because everything is now accounted for.

There. My own personal hell in 500 words or less.