Monday, February 3, 2014

Ghost memory

When I started writing, I hated the revision process. I knew it was necessary, as perfect stories do not usually spring, fully-formed, from the nib of my pen, but I still somehow felt they should. I looked at revision as a marker of how far I was from perfect, of how I wasn't yet the writer that I wanted to be. I agonized over drafts, hanging on sentences, trying desperately to get all of the pieces right the first time, to write the story that wouldn't need revising.

I don't think that way any more. A lot of the change has to do with the fact that I am writing more, that I have to write more to keep up with my professional obligations. But it also has to do with the fact that I trust myself more as a writer - I know if I can get it reasonably there the first time, that I can fix it later. I know that even if it is a disastrous hot mess the first time, I have smart writer friends who beta read for me and say helpful things like, "Kat, this is lovely, but you do realize you forgot to put the plot in, right?"

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It's winter right now, and the cold seeps beneath my skin, and wakes up my old fencing injuries. The ache in my hip from cracked cartilage, the torn hamstring, the dislocated shoulder. My entire right side reminds me of all the places that got broken at one point. I remember the practices and tournaments I got injured in, or that I trained through. Physical therapy, cortisone injections. I remember the frustration of being weak, of having a body that wouldn't do the things that it had done before, that I needed it to do again.

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I usually like revising now. I like the knowledge that I am making my story better and stronger. I like the things I learn about story structure and writing character and my own quirks as a writer when I revise. But there's been a project, sitting on my desk for about two weeks now, and every time I go to start revising it, I turn away. Surely, there's something else that can be written, or maybe my apartment needs cleaning, or anything really.

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I know what it's like to come back from an injury. To get strong again. To rebuild the fitness that was lost, to relearn the skills that aren't in practice. To wonder if maybe this time I can't come back, that it was one stress too many, that there won't ever be strength again, or a way of moving through the pain. 

We talk about muscle memory. The actions repeated in training so often that they become ingrained, that we do them automatically. It's why we practice, for hours and hours, over and over. Because if you had to consciously think each time, you'd never be fast enough to win. 

I know what it's like to be in a body that remembers what it should be doing, and can't this time. Not anymore. It felt like being in two bodies at once - the current, frustrated, failed one, and that past Kat, fast and strong and skilled. I got better, but it was a constant fight against myself to do it.

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There are other pieces of us that remember, too. The last time I was working on this project, the one that sits on the floor by my desk in a stack, it was during a period of tremendous stress and upheaval in my career. It was when my darling dog, Sam I Am, had a period of ill-health, and then died. I look at these pieces of paper that represent the broken pieces of a story, and I am afraid of what it means to fix them, because to do that, I need to put myself back into that story, and that has the side effect of meaning that I am looking back at that time, at that past self, and it hurts, and I don't know what the physical therapy exercises are for this.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks, Kat.

    Every time I look at a picture I took, in a place I was thanks to my late friend Scott, I remember that he was partially responsible for me being able to take that picture. I suspect this feeling won't go away for a long time, if ever.

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    1. You're welcome. May you find peace in your memories.

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  2. I can completely understand what you're talking about, because I went through it a few months ago. I made a decision in July to get serious about my novel and start working on it regularly again, to fix the patches and fill in the holes and make the whole thing less of a mess and more of a book that I wouldn't be afraid to show someone. And I committed to a Kickstarter reward that would provide me a critique of a pretty significant chunk of the novel (40,000 words). But at that same time, I started getting depressed; I didn't know it then, but I had an iron deficiency, and that triggered a serious bout of depression that lasted for a couple of months. The breaking point was at the end of July, when I sent the first chapter to a friend -- someone I thought wouldn't be critical -- and she came back with some comments that blindsided me. I went into a total downward spiral and considered giving up writing entirely.

    By the end of August, we'd finally identified the iron problem and started fixing it, and I was beginning to feel more like myself, but I was terrified of working on my novel again. I associated it so strongly with that dark period, and I was afraid of receiving more criticism that might send me back to that dark place. Still, I had committed to send my story to Nayad Monroe, and I didn't want to throw away that opportunity.

    It took me until the first week of November to pick up the novel again, but I finally did it. Skipping over the first chapter -- the part I was working on when I crashed -- definitely helped. Remembering the things I loved about the story also helped. And ultimately, the idea of giving up on the novel was more upsetting to me than the idea of trying again.

    How important is that story to you? Because I think you need to want the story more than you fear the pain. It may help to wait longer -- or it may be easier to pull off that band-aid and go for it; you may find (like I did) that the negative emotions and pressure you feel from not working on it are worse than you'd have if you gave it a try.

    I hope you find peace about it, and find a path that works for you. Best wishes always...

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you found a way through that worked for you.

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  3. I think most of us have projects we'd like to start or finish. Circumstances and our hearts decide what is important. It's like my friend, a retired newspaper writer, who wants to write about his father, but is battling Parkinson's. Jim is courageous and kind. His son is a writer in England. Maybe it is enough for my friend to come to the Village Inn on Sunday and visit with me, the hobby-writer and talk about writing.

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  4. This was a really lovely piece. I really admire your reflections, and the way you demonstrate that all of these pieces and parts of ourselves that mean so much are intertwined with each other - that loss, recovery, examination, revision, injury - these are such an important aspect of all of our lives.

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