Every time I write I’m writing for my life.
This is a novel update.
I’m on chapter 16 and the further into this next section I get, the further I get away from any definitive structure I may have imagined would exist when I planned out this section over a year ago. The plan for this chapter was essentially this: Thomas and Elaine backstory. I had some prewriting, sure, but in considering this chapter and how it would fit into this spot in the novel I was just like, yeah, that part. That’ll go... right about there. Perf. What happens in that chapter, oh there’s that prewriting you did in 2013, that’ll go nicely. You’ll turn that into something.
It’s not unlike planning a vacation to somewhere you’ve never been, and then getting there, and suddenly your perspective shifts and you know your entire plan was ridiculous and maybe you can still hit the fun theme restaurant but even though the Tower of Fun Stuff is only like a mile and a half away as the crow flies now that you’re here you’ve become suddenly aware of the traffic and how the most direct route runs right through downtown and your backup plan of public transportation is more of a hassle than you’d expected and your backup backup plan of walking there is getting less likely with every square foot of potato skins you cram down your throat.
But vacations are for fun and I’m writing for my life, so it’s more like I’ve brought my secret crush but longtime friend along on this vacation and I’m planning on confessing my love to them at just the right constructed moment and I’ve built in seven potential perfect constructed moments into the weekend but we’ve already missed three of them irrevocably unless we want to for some reason return to the airport baggage claim so I can say hang out here I need a do-over and then actually find an airport security guard this time who looks like they might accept a bribe and let me set up the man-sized cardboard box in wrapping paper I’ve got jammed into an unnecessarily large suitcase for a three-day weekend and then tumble my own clumsy ass onto the conveyor belt and hope I pop out in just the right spot because as it turns out I forgot to cut eyeholes.
It’s a plan without the plan part but I know the way through is in there somewhere, and so I’m breaking my loosely defined cardinal rule of keeping the prewriting in the prewriting document. I’m freewriting in the double-spaced confines of the Main Document. I have to. I don’t know where I’m going. No, that’s not true, I know essentially exactly how to get where I’m going but I don’t know why I’m going there, and I’m spending valuable time and space figuring that out. My measure of success is my word count, my page count, and I’m throwing that by the wayside for the time being because if I can’t figure out a way for this section to mean something then I’m afraid it won’t mean anything. I have to keep reminding myself, the how can be as clever as I’m capable of making it, but without the why it’ll only feel empty when I’m done, which I’ve learned is something not so easily objectively seen.
I had an agent read my entire first novel, once. She said she thought I knew how to set a scene, but that she just didn’t believe this was the right project for her to represent, because the story in the end didn’t speak to her. This is what I’m afraid of, now. I’m afraid of perfecting the sleight of hand, but never mastering the magic. So I am writing for my life. I’m squeezing every drop of soul that can be wrung from these characters, I’m demanding they teach me their life lessons, not just the ones the want to talk about, more the ones they don’t, or the ones they won’t, or the ones they can’t, because they don’t understand them, but I don’t need them to because I have a narrative presence in this novel and I am not bound to survive on mere hints or clunky dialogue cues, which are hard enough to avoid as it is, given the amount of influence television and movies have had over my experience with other consciousnesses.
Recently I had my first experience with Agatha Christie, and it’s inspired me to have an alter-ego, a pseudonym to write under, a place I can dispense of all my urges to cleverly plot my way through a story, through a whole book. Maybe not all. But for most of those Ooooo moments I get when I think of the next unexpected thing that could happen, like oh god if I make the antagonist the dude’s father then my whole audience will be like That’s not true! That’s impossible! at least until they realize how inevitable it was the whole time. I don’t need a moment like that on every page, in every chapter. You can write an entire book without a single plot twist, if you’ve got on your super-fancy pants.
Of course I’m never going to be able to swing the pendulum completely that other way, I can’t carry a story with language, that’s above my pay grade, why do you think I’m constantly, relentlessly making fun of poetry and the poeting poets who poet. Seriously, though, I don’t like poetry, because most poets have been taught that writing for your life leads to bad poems, so they tend to err in the opposite direction, they yin when they should continue to yang only with more skill than they had back in high school when every scribbled trigonometry brown bag rhyme held the keys to their souls, I mean for reals though, maybe it’s not the most clever turn in the world to rhyme “inspired” with “tired” but you don’t have to throw out the baby, you know. Maybe clever isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, either.
Clever is writing for other people. Clever is writing for status, for a high score tallied in clever points. I am writing for my life. Like, literally, I am consciously aware that what I am working on I am hoping one day to be able to look back on as a part of the body of my life’s work, as an accomplishment, an achievement, something that yeah, I fucking did that. Which has the capacity to overwhelm you with gravity, if you let your fingers stop moving, but if you don’t, you’re fine. I am haunted by the potential of a premature exit from this existence, by which I mean before I even get one solid book out there. The other day I watched Linkin Park’s posthumous concert, with lots of guest stars singing in Chester’s place, and about three-quarters of the way through, his widowed wife came out and talked about how much Chester would have loved the concert they’d put together to show the world how much they missed him, to which I thought what a pointless sentiment, I mean I know she has to say it, she can’t just walk out there and say fuck all you guys thinking you can sing like my husband could sing, and fuck all you fans, you fed off of him and his dark lyrics and demanded more authentic hoarse-throat declarations of the pain of existence so that you could feel something close to real in your cars on the way to the mall to work your part-time shift at the Buckle doing a job you pretend to hate but really you’re just taste-testing rebellion the same way you sample my husband’s depression in small safe doses which you turn the volume down on when a cop pulls up at a light next to you, the reality is you like your shit job because it suits you for now because it doesn’t demand too much effort and lets you practice flirting with coworkers hired mostly for their resemblance to the mannequins. What, wait, where was I. Oh right. I think it would’ve been torturous for poor dead Chester, seeing this cross-sampling of talent attempt and mostly fail at recreating the exact magic he brought to this band. The best were the ones who interpreted the songs and transposed them a little bit, singing with their own style. The worst was Jonathon Davis from Korn who didn’t seem to know his song very well, but the second worst were the people who tried to recreate Chester’s presence on the stage, his presence in the song. I know a lot of people quite hate Linkin Park and that’s fine because I can easily hear through their ears what this music probably sounds like to these folks, and that’s this, that’s borrowed angst, sampled sorrow and rage, a joke told by Siri, and to be sure even Chester couldn’t hit his own level every night, but he practiced relentlessly, sang scales loud and bold backstage before concerts like he was Adele, wanting his voice to sound its best over the DJ scratches and drum kicks and low-buzz driving guitar riffs. But when he was at his best, he sang for his fucking life, and it sounded like he was standing there, right there at the edge, looking over, singing out into the next existence, declarative and proud, defiant, afraid.
The Sum-41 guy really nailed it, though. They should’ve let him sing the whole concert.