Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Things I Know

Last night as I tossed and tried not to toss in order to let L. sleep, images and characters and entire plots raced through my head. I am terrified about taking a novel writing course. I can handle a month’s investment into a short story that goes nowhere. Somehow, a semester for a novel that may flop seems scandalous.

Yet, here I am, on leave in Boston. Isn’t that already scandalous enough? I may as well climb all the way up to the high dive and take the plunge. I am not going to save the world or reach nirvana in the next few months. I might as well try and write a novel.

The wise ones who plan such a class know that it is impossible to complete a novel in one semester. Thus we are expected to have a working outline and bring in three chapters for review. I know the professor. I should not be a lily-livered quake. But I am.

A rakish young man once rashly told me that you should do the thing that scares you the most. (I’d love to check in with him and see how that advice has governed him.) So, with one week left until the class begins: I remain on the roster.

Okay, so the title of my entry is “Things I Know.” People always say: write what you know about. This is useful, especially in terms of landscapes and politics, but requires the gumption to bald-faced lie when you do if what you know happens to reveal deep dark secrets about those you love, or those who love you or those you once loved or, even worse, your inner ruminations about near-total strangers who share your dinner table on occasion.

Last night, per usual, my mind raced along the Things I Know. None seemed to bear fruit when placed under the microscope of a novel’s strange and provocative distortion. Then I had a mini-revelation: It is not the THINGS I Know but perhaps the things I KNOW that matter. In other words, I know a lot of stuff (who doesn’t), but I think that I should write about the things I KNOW emotionally. This is why we read fiction after all. We read novels to watch other people make decisions and empathize with them. Empathy is the novel. So I have to start with emotions to get at emotions. Now I am thinking like a writer.

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