It's odd how events in life can force a writer to compartmentalize. I found myself about two-thirds of the way through a novel when the global pandemic broke out. I'd put the novel aside for some months to work on a number of non-fiction pieces and was planning on returning to it in late April or early May. By that time, the lockdown was in full effect, and though I have a job that allowed me to continue working from home, being in the house every day, with nowhere to go, no commuting to do, allowed me extra time for writing. I can't say at any point that I experienced difficulty concentrating or focusing on work during the pandemic because writing, as always, provides the mental escape from everything going on "outside". It's not a form of escapism per se but provides the means to "go someplace else for a while" and do something you have complete control over.
So, more or less on schedule, I've resumed work on the novel. I've been back at it for about six weeks now and I have been making steady progress. New York City is beginning its gradual reopening as I write this, but it may be some time before I return to work at my office. In the meantime, I'll continue teleworking, and the time I save each day by not having to commute back and forth is time I'll continue to put towards pushing through the book. Maybe, just maybe, I can have this thing done by August or September?
But what does any of what I'm talking about have to do with compartmentalization? It's this: with 2020 being so eventful, first with the pandemic and now with the George Floyd killing and its aftermath, you look at what you're writing currently and you may wonder, "Will anyone want to read this when it's done? It has nothing to do with anything going on right now." There is sometimes a tension between sticking to an original conception for a book and changing that conception, adapting it, to allow in the immediate events of the moment because of the feelings and thoughts you have about those events. But can your original conception, whatever it is, survive this transformation without mutating into something ruinous for the book? It might. The literary graft (Or is it an infusion?) might work.
In my case, I don't think it would work. I've decided no, don't graft or infuse, and so I stick to writing my thing as I originally conceived it. I'm hoping, as I do every time I write a book or story, that it will hold readers' attention through the plot, the characters, the language, the subject matter, and so on. The current book will be about this, and the outside world churns on. I am obliged, for now, to use every ounce of discipline I have to avoid the topical. You're dwelling in two worlds at once, the real world and the one you've devised for your book. Now, this state of double dwelling is perhaps no different than what you normally do while writing a book and living your day to day life. You pay attention to the world while writing your novel, but your novel's not a journal, a collection of daily reflections. You live a life of division, except that now, with everything going on, the divide between the internal fictional world you have and exterior world you live in feels more severe than ever. Not that I don't like my own book anymore; I do. But I'm forced to write it from within a certain mental compartment, a compartment I have to guard against outside intrusion. It is possible, of course, as the subconscious does its work, that current factors will work their way into the book obliquely, symbolically, whatever you want to call it, but I am determined to work this book through as I planned it. It takes place in a slightly alternate world anyway, so the burden and challenge of writing it remains the same as before 2020 started. Make the world shown convincing, intriguing, and you can draw in the reader.
Meanwhile, the virus sticks around, and the intensity of our contemporary history brings something new almost every day. Like many, I protest, argue, discuss, observe, reflect. The different ways writers process what has been going on is interesting to think about, and the books they produce out of all this will be fascinating to read and compare.
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