Monday, June 21, 2010

speak then to me

Sort of bouncing off Zoe's post here, on the horrors of realising you've been writing down the wrong track, and having to scrap those hard-won words.
Yesterday I took a break from pruning out more superfluities from the first 200 pages of Willow Knot, and went to thin out apples in the backyard. I searched the branches for clusters of three or more, for apples with scars or tobacco-juice frass (from codling moths, I think). I hate to take off healthy apples, but I pushed myself to imagine how heavy the branches would be if they all matured, and how the old limbs or thin shoots might crack and snap off with the weight. And that the remaining apples would be larger for being better fed.
After a half-hour of thinning, I began to feel that this was way, way, too allegorical. Or perhaps too symmetrical with what I was doing at the computer, locating 'pritty riting that does nothing' and snipping it out. Yeah, I thought, this is kind of heavy-handed, isn't it? Is there nothing for me but pruning out false starts?

But today, reading Zoe's post, I began to think thinning wasn't the right metaphor. I was taking out apples-t0-be, that might be healthy or not, to spare the branches from imagined strain. The pruning of the manuscript was done after blossom and fruiting, when I could see quite well the worm at the root, the cracking branch. I wasn't sacrificing potential on the altar of caution. (A month's worth of metaphors in this post alone!)

This further clued me in to what had been muddling me up with writing the novel-length Chimps. I've been trying to write it so as to save myself later revisions. I've been trying to avoid the byways and sidetracks, to guess which fruit will grow to be wormy or rotten or overburden the branch.
And for me, writing doesn't work that way.
Parenthetically, I do edit as I go, in the sense of cleaning up my prose, correcting spelling, smoothing sentences, changing repetitive or rhyming words, moving paragraph breaks around. Line-editing, not structural editing.
But for the first writing, the only way I can find out whether I've started down a dead end or the high road is to follow it and see what happens. If I'd tried, during Willow Knot's first draft, to stick to what deserved to be in a final draft, there would be neither willow nor knot. It was following Myl's stray thoughts, learning my way around her life, that brought Nobble into the story.

So I must remember to be sparing in the writing, and ruthless in the revision. And remember there is nothing wrong with climbing into the story and following the plot and characters around to see what happens. At least for me, since making generalisations about a creative process is a mug's game.

If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear
Your favours nor your hate.

(Banquo's speech to the three witches, from Macbeth, the play that taught me never to trust a prophecy.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

farewell, my lovelies

Removed in revision:

In an untended lambing pen a ewe with twin lambs skitted away from them. Myl trapped her against the hurdles, their charm of stay-not-stray, stay-not-stray buzzing into her ear.
Thick oily wool swallowed Myl's shoulder and half her face. One-eyed she watched the pale stream of milk swirl into the wooden bowl she'd slipped into the basket while cook and housekeeper stared each other down.
Tyl drank a bowlful, then carried it refilled over the hurdle while she kept the ewe pinned. They found shade under a scanty bush nibbled branchless to a sheep's height, and soaked scraps of bread in the second bowlful. The ewe bleated angrily until her lambs, drawn by the smell of her warm milk, forgot their startlement and nosed under her. Stay-not-stray, murmured the drowsy wattle weave.
"Less hasty, brother," Myl warned. "We shan't see more bread till the Dear Lord knows when. This must last us."
"'Twill turn stale," Tyl mumbled through a mouthful. "Like a block of wood by morning."
"Then we'll soak it, in water if needs be." She wrapped the loaf in its napkin. "D'you think I don't long for a full belly? Someday we'll have all we've lacked, but not today. Today we must be wise."
He grimaced. "Aye. With full bellies on so hot a day, we'd soon be sleeping. They'd take us like conies."
He put his head down and licked out the bowl. Myl wiped it with a hank of grass, cast an eye to the sun to find their direction, and pulled him to his feet. She didn't say what she thought: that it wasn't in full sun they were most like to be taken, but in the night. Nursery tales, she insisted to the coward thoughts. Shadows to fright a stupid child.
Shadows don't come of themselves, said the stories. There's something casts them. Myl walked faster, leaving the voices behind.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

peonies in the rain

Last year, no peonies. Something ate all the buds. This year, some were eaten, one scalloped away to show the layers of petals inside like tree-rings, but over half survived. I nearly gave up on them, all the same, because the volunteer peonies across the street flowered weeks before and had already begun to lapse when I cut one of the buds and brought it inside to flower and die. Too soon! Because the rest have bloomed.

What amazes me about peonies is how they keep on expanding, not just spreading but pushing out from the centre like some sort of Giger alien flower. This one is only about halfway done.

In the front yard the Dortmund and Sir Clough are blooming happily, though the Dortmund's companion rose doesn't like the wet weather we've been having.
In the backyard the albas are washing over the garage again, and the gallicas are putting out buds. Bees forage among the comfrey and rocket, and today I saw the blackberries white with blossoms, and a fat black and lemon-yellow bee bobbling among them. Maybe it will be summer for a while, instead of a blustery spring.