Cracks in the Block

Thursday night, I regaled my Facebook friends with an ongoing account of my successful attempt to try and overcome both the hypersomnia and the writing block that has caused me some distress of late.  In May, I began a short story, and shortly after reaching the 1000-word mark, I said to myself, “I’ll pick it up again tomorrow,” and didn’t.  One of the characters in Bugsy Malone, Jr., a play I saw way too many times when Susie acted in it, sang a song that laments, “Tomorrow never comes!”  Annoying as the song was, it had the ring of truth when it comes to writing and me.

So, Thursday, I resolved that tomorrow had come.  There was no burning bush, no real epiphany.  I was at work, typing a stack of ex parte orders, and just as I released them to the hearing officer, I said, “I’m going to finish this story tonight, damn it!”  After work, I came home and cooked an elegant meal for Steph and Susie (Kraft macaroni and cheese, with Pop-Tarts for dessert), and then put my laptop into my over-the-shoulder bag and headed to Kafé Kerouac on North High Street (here is their link).  I made a brief stop at the OSU Library, but there is no Wi-Fi access for non-OSU staff or students, so I went north.

One of the few things I remember from my basic chemistry class at Marietta High School was the principle of potential versus kinetic energy.  A boulder at the top of a big hill has potential energy, but once you start rolling it down the hill, it has kinetic energy.  I had potential energy as I slogged through the process of logging on, “ping”-ing off Kafé Kerouac’s Wi-Fi, and making cursory checks of my email and my Facebook account.

Finally, I bit the bullet and signed onto Microsoft Office.  I had to sit down and scroll through what I had already written, and take some notes.  I had forgotten characters’ names, the name of the small city where I set the story, etc.  Finally, when I established continuity, I paged through the notes I had taken for the scenes yet to be written, cracked open a Diet Coke, and began to write.

The first few lines and paragraphs were sheer hell to write.  But once I got past them, and began to establish some momentum, I found myself eager to keep going.  In many ways, writing a short story is much more difficult than a novel.  A short story has a definite ceiling for word count–9000 words is generally the maximum, then you cross over into novella.  A novel, however, has no limit.  The writer can keep adding more and more, and the pages just keep stacking up.

I was a little bothered by how much I had to backtrack to maintain continuity for a work that would eventually top out at 5704 words.  Especially when I am such a stickler for continuity in television programs, other works of fiction, etc.  (My antennae go up when I watch an early M*A*S*H episode when Hawkeye Pierce concludes a letter to his father by sending greetings to “Mom and Sis,” whereas it’s established for most of the series that Hawkeye is an only child, and his father has been a widower since Hawkeye was 10.  Likewise, as much as I love Stephen King’s massive novel It, I can go straight to where Richie, one of the “Losers’ Club” who fights Pennywise, attends Methodist Youth Fellowship faithfully every week, but several hundred pages later, he says he’s Catholic.  Another Loser, Beverly Marsh, lives with her stepfather, but later on King mentions she inherited her artistic ability and hair color from him.)

Whenever I hit a thousand-work mark, I notified people via Twitter (and, by extension, Facebook).  I had to resist the urge to rest from it, and risk losing all the headway I had gained.  I left Kafé Kerouac a little after 12, so I could catch the last northbound High Street bus.  Susie was long since asleep, and Steph was in front of her laptop, communing with her retinue in Second Life–where she spends virtually every waking hour of late.  I knew the alarm would ring at 6:45, so I could be out on Indianola at 7:30 to catch the bus, but I knew that if I quit now, it would be another long stretch before I typed a word.  I took the laptop upstairs and plugged it back in, and finally, just before 4 a.m., I typed that beautiful indication:

– 30 –
at the bottom, and sat back with a sigh.  (- 30 – is a printers’ equivalent of THE END.  At one time, the end of an article or manuscript was represented by “XXX”.  XXX is the Roman numeral for 30, so that’s how it changed.)
I know the story is not ready to go out yet.  I need to go through and edit it, and resist the urge to fall madly in love with my own prose, as I am wont to do.  (I mentioned on Twitter and Facebook that it was time for the blue pencil, and maybe a scythe.)
There wasn’t total spontaneous prose, like Kerouac advocated when he wrote On the Road and many of his later books.  I was quick to backspace and edit whenever I thought I needed to.
The original manuscipt of On the Road, typed in three
weeks on a scroll of Teletype paper, fueled by massive
doses of amphetamines, black coffee, and pea soup.
The story takes place after the funeral of a beloved high school teacher, and my hero (close to my age, 47) and his wife meet up with my protagonist’s semi-romantic interest at the gravesite.  (“Semi-romantic is not meant to be facetious–romantic, not romantic is quite fluid in junior and senior high school.)  There is no rekindled romance, no Same Time Next Year arrangement.  The essence of the story is some legend tripping the major characters do as a result of this reunion.  (Look that phrase up yourself, Caped Crusaders.)
I went to bed at 4:15 Friday morning, and slept until 7, barely made it to work on time.  I was so wiped out that I left work at 3 p.m. and came home and went straight to sleep.  I’m off work Monday (cost-savings day), but I’ll be going down to Mineral with Jacques.
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2 thoughts on “Cracks in the Block

  1. Congratulations on finishing the story. It's an amazing feeling to put the finality of those two words (or in your case, 4 characters) in place. Good luck on your rewrite. I'm slogging through one now, and it seems more painful than the writing was. That's a good sign, right?

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  2. @Bob: One rule of thumb I try to adhere to (and often fail) came from Daniel Keyes, who taught creative writing at O.U. (You may know him as the author of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON.) If you think you've come up with the wittiest, most eloquent, and memorable line ever in American literature… you haven't. I should engrave that in gold and hang it over my desk, or put it on a rubber bracelet and wear it at all times.

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