When I started my car this morning I had the CD player running through a collection of Nickelback songs. I can’t seem to get enough of that gravelly masculinity; it pokes at a younger, wilder me deep inside, a me that still echoes in each day I continue to live with purpose and intention. I especially like to run Faraway over and over and over again. I’ve written a music video and it scrolls through my mind every time that song plays–I’ve almost perfected the video’s production–and it narrates the complicated tale of how hubby and I got together.
But that’s a story for another time.
Back to this morning…
I turned off the CD player promptly, not wanting to ruin the songs by overplaying them, and switched to 91.1 FM, my local public radio station.
It just happened that I had tuned in in time to hear the replay of a December 2014 interview of a Pulitzer Prize-winning author whom I’d never heard of, Richard Ford, on the radio show Talking Volumes.
Turned off? Not this time.
I usually don’t listen to author interviews because, quite frankly, they bore me. But Mr. Ford held something different: His tone, his demeanor, his humor, his eloquence in speech during the interview were all… intellectually enticing, and I was drawn to them as a young fluttering apprentice to the flame of a master.
Ford spoke at length about his process, his inspiration, and then, surprisingly about something that effected me directly. He talked about how young authors just “don’t know how to write a novel”. A part of me–that degree-earned, freelance individualist-slash-rebelling part of me–wanted to immediately object, but I couldn’t bring myself to reach my arm out and switch stations. Why?
Because I knew he was right.
Honestly, I really have no clue.
Ever since August of last year I’ve been struggling with continuing Pebbles in a Stream. I feel a bit bad (okay, really bad) about my ongoing bout of writer’s block because I had a small but dedicated group of readers eagerly awaiting each new chapter and giving anxious feedback on characters, plot, and all else.
It was exciting, getting that kind of reaction, getting that kind of attention and interest in something, some place, I had created from thin air.
“In the momentum of that creation I, like an aircraft climbing too quickly, stalled.”
But in the momentum of that creation I, like an aircraft climbing too quickly, stalled. I fell out, the lift subsided, and haven’t yet figured out how, or if, I’ll recover. I’ve adjusted my rudders, raised and lowered my flaps, messed with angle of attack, fooled around with direction, all to no avail. I currently have the start to a very disappointing chapter ten saved, but I refuse to publish that. It’s likely the worst writing I’ve ever done. Yes: Possibly even worse than the seventh grade spiral notebook story I penned about a shore-washed sailor who finds himself on an island inhabited by two species of warring dragon.
Man. That sounds super interesting right now.
I wasn’t patient enough.
Ford, while he inspired me, also shamed me. I am one of those young authors he spoke of. And what was it he had to say about my kind? Basically two things:
- We’re not patient enough
- We simply don’t know how to write a novel.
I immediately knew what Ford meant by impatience in the youthful writer. Had I taken the appropriate time to build my fictional world in my mind before starting Pebbles in a Stream? No. I thought I had, but a mere few days is nothing in comparison to the scope of the project at hand. I had conjured the idea for this story in my mind, fiddled with it for a little while, then–BAM!–decided to start typing away.
After all, that’s how I’d written all my short stories for my college creative writing courses.
But, I forgot an important detail: Pebbles isn’t a short story.
Time [not] well spent
I should have spent at least a few months (if not a full year, as Ford said he did for his latest work, Let Me Be Frank With You: A Frank Bascombe Book) researching, reading, and learning about mid-1900s San Francisco, the setting for the Pebbles story.
I should have took the time to think more about the characters, about their personalities, their back stories, their futures, their faces.
After all, if I can’t even hear the distinct voices of my characters or see their faces, they’ll effectively become ghosts within a fickle plot, without true substance, without solid weight, without worthy impact.
In effect, they won’t matter. And what is a novel without characters that matter?
The meaning of grace
Grace. noun. Favor or goodwill; a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior. Synonyms: kindness, forgiveness, charity, love.
Maybe I wasn’t the only young author listening in on Ford’s interview this morning, but I felt like I was. In a span of 20 minutes the man showed me what I was doing right and, more so, what I was doing wrong in a way that was very particular to my current problem.
That could be considered something more than a mere coincidence.
Reproach can be more helpful than inspiration
I usually don’t listen to author interviews because, frankly, they bore me, but this time, by accident, I did, and I wasn’t.
Everyone’s always talking about finding inspiration in unlikely places–from a field of flowers, from a breeze, from the laugh of an anonymous child–but, sometimes it’s better to get a little reproach from unlikely coincidences. Maybe it’s a radio show, maybe it’s an unwitting reader, maybe it’s a comment from a passerby, but little does it matter.
It’s just a bit of grace by accident, and I’ll take whatever grace I can get.
“I can’t not finish it.” – Richard Ford, author
P.S. To the readers of Pebbles in a Stream: I make no promises of adding any chapters in the near future, though I’ve learned not to discount any possibility. You may even find that those pages may disappear in the coming weeks as I research, rewrite, and reconfigure the tale. Basically, those pages may go into hiding as I learn a little bit of patience for the process.
But, not to worry. As Ford said in his interview, “I can’t not finish it.” And that, surely, is a promise.