Though we’re already into the second week of the year, it’s not too late to make a few New Year’s Resolutions for the writers in us. After all, in France, you can wish people happy new year up till the last day in January. At the Park Avenue Y, this period of the year is much feared by the gym rats, since it’s the time when the “Resolutionists,” as we call them, crowd the facility. Before fading away, off course, usually by Valentine’s Day. But you don’t have to be afraid to be a resolutionist if you’re doing it for writing, since you won’t be getting in anyone’s way. On the other hand, you may end up feeling a little disappointed in yourself if you let yourself down and don’t follow up on what you promised you’d do. That’s the risk you have to take. And you sure won’t be alone! (I’ll probably be there with you…)
#1: Write every day: that’s that hardest one. It seems nearly impossible. How will you find the time? The trick here is knowing that you don’t need to take hours and hours every day, but you do want to keep up some continuity and rhythm. Even if it’s just taking a few notes, or rereading a section in order to think of how you can improve it, you want to follow that principle of the more you give, the more you get. The more you give to the project you have on the go, the more solutions to the issues will appear — the more it will give back to you. And remember, keep that little dreambook open on your bedside table. You never know when the subconscious will step in and lend a hand.
#2: Surprise yourself and others: I had a decision I had to make in my novel called “The Fledglings” that will be out in April. The lead character, a young woman, is getting married. It’s quite obvious she doesn’t want to, and her best girlfriend is trying to stop the proceedings. The wedding takes place in the latter girl’s apartment, the hour is drawing closer, the drama is building… Surprise! The “showdown” does not occur the way we think it might or even should; instead, the scene is handled in a quick and interrupted conversation between the two young women in the bathroom. The actually wedding takes place off-screen, if you will. The real heart of the matter — the relation between the two friends — is what takes precedence, and not the walk down the aisle that we never see. If you come at classic scenes in a surprising and oblique way, you may get good results.
#3: Be fearless: a lot of times we’re afraid of our own material. That happens frequently, whether you’re working in memoir, non-fiction, fiction, whatever. We open doors we then refuse to go through; we are afraid of what we have discovered or might discover. Be courageous in your writing. Go to those places you didn’t want to at first; that’s where the heart of the material is.
#4: Don’t hide your candle under a bushel basket: join writers’ groups, submit your work, don’t hesitate to let others read your material. You’ll no doubt get all sorts of comments, some useful, most not, but you’ll be able to sort them all out in due time. Despite the romantic idea of the artist in isolation, writing is created in a community, even if you have to do the heavy lifting all by yourself.
#5: Reading makes writing: read as widely as you can, and not just the books that you feel are “your kind of book” by “your kind of author.” And don’t forget that books of non-fiction and history can be treasurehouses. My “Fledglings” takes place at the end of Prohibition in the United States, and the period just after it ends (circa 1933), and the main character’s father runs a speakeasy. What happened to speakeasies and bootleggers after Prohibition ended (we’re not talking Bronfmans and Gallos and Mondavis here…)? I poured a glass, sat down with a variety of history books and kept a notebook close at hand.
To all those people I met during the first part of the residency, I say thank you and keep on keeping on. I look forward to the extension of the project that the Library has generously offered us. We appreciate it, Mary Jane and staff! And in the spirit of winter renewal, I began with this visual greeting from artist Marie-Louise Gay. Now, go skating, everyone!