Posted by: jeanne | December 1, 2010

nanowrimo over again

so i’ve just finished a month of writing.  counting all my blog posts, i’ve done over 50,000 words.  altho, to be strictly honest, i should only count my actual longhand in my notebook, and that’s approximately 33,000 words, not enough to ‘win’ nanowrimo.  otoh, the year i did 77,000 words was the year i did nothing but write for 8 hours a day, every day.  this year i’ve got the dolphins, and now i’m going to be doing xmas presents and then i’m going to be organizing jim’s paintings in the attic, and then it’ll be summer.  and every week i watch my grandson and do nothing else for more than a few minutes at a time.

i thought i would wrap up my month of writing by revisiting the structure of the story.  i’ve been writing this since the beginning of the year, taking notes since a year previous, and with an aborted attempt at an outline a year or two earlier.  it’s been very hard to get this story down, mainly because i couldn’t find the right tone.  i kept getting bogged down at the way i sounded, which was apologetic, weak, unconvinced, complaining.

when nanowrimo rolled around, i’d written 125 pages already, about three months’ work.  it had poured out at random, all the bits about me and my ex the ax murderer.  a recitation of all the injustices, all the adventures, all the complications, all the lessons learned.  but at random, one thing reminding me of another, some topics covered to death, some things skipped over entirely, some things told with the same words i’ve been using for 30 years.

the first thing that happened when i began writing for nanowrimo was a complete restructuring of the story.  it was originally going to be about my early to mid 20s, my years on the run with my ex the ax murderer.  but i was dissatisfied, because i think my life is more interesting now, and you really can’t understand my early adulthood without knowing what i’ve done with it since.  and what about my 30s when i tried so hard to be normal?  and having cancer, why do i have to leave that out?  isn’t it supposed to be my memoirs?  but it would be too fucking long if i had to run it starting with i am born.

suddenly i saw it as three stories, three periods, and saw the linking themes.  i could run all three stories at the same time.  so one of the first things i did for nanowrimo was rewrite the outline.  and having done that, i started writing the missing pieces.  i started putting myself – the author – in as a character.  the main character.  writing these memoirs that you’re not really sure are my memoirs or are for hire, or just made up.  i have a life, and my favorite tv show is a series called losers like us, about a ten-year marriage of misfits.

i didn’t have any trouble writing myself into the story.  i’d been writing asides the whole time, reflecting on what i know now as i tried to present how i thought then.  intruding more forcefully and often was no problem.  the trouble was in turning my marriage into a sitcom.  i could segment out 13 episodes, i could think up a pilot, i could think of plenty of excuses for comedy.  but i couldn’t write any dialog, i couldn’t actually write any jokes.  the fact that i’ve never written for tv, or screenplays at all, has nothing to do with this, of course.  my life then was dull.  normal.  a waste of time, a tiresome, irritating ten years that i’m glad are over and wouldn’t want to repeat.  it feels as if it happened to someone else, which is why it’s ending up as a sitcom.  or reality show.  something.

and of course, this could go on forever, writing bits of my memoirs as reminded about by things happening in my current life and remembered incidents from my marriage.  and that’s not publishable.  and i don’t want the story wandering like that.  i want structure.

so when it got down to the last hours of nanowrimo, i wanted to make notes about what still needed to happen, because now i have to stop writing and turn my attention to other things i’ve been leaving.  so i wrote a few things i wanted to make sure to remember, and then did some more puzzling about my own (fictional) death.

i was reminded of my friend renee, who had a blog about her 4th stage cancer, and used to comment on my blog all the time.  she died a month after starting a second round of chemo for her metastasis.  i want to use her last struggle as my template, as a tribute to her.  i considered many deaths for myself, this being a work of fiction as far as the dying part goes (it’s a fictionalized autobiography).  but since i haven’t done chemo and haven’t yet actually died, i feel inauthentic trying to write my own death.  so i figured i’d stick as far as i could to my own symptoms, which are already very close to renee’s.  if i throw in my friend marie’s death (pneumonia), i have my own physical condition eerily well.  i’m going to quote or paraphrase from what i wrote in my notebook today.

cancer offers its own range of deaths.  pain and drugs, of course.  but also radiation burns, chemo gut, pneumonia, heart disease, kidney failure.  complications from surgery.  staph.

and then i struggled with the enormity of the task ahead of me.

it needs inputting, tagging, sorting, enormous amounts of rewriting.  it starts with the memoirs, and after awhile it becomes apparent who’s writing the memoirs, and my current story progresses along with the memoirs, along with the middle period set as comic relief, the ’80s and ’90s.  each new level begins after the prior one is established.  by the time the cancer shows up the memoirs should be mostly over and the tv show only have one or two episodes.  the timeline is going to be interesting.

perhaps the whole first section should be how they met, leading to their flight.  and then the present breaks in, and suddenly it’s a writer struggling with a memoir, and it’s not clear if i’m ghostwriting or making it up entirely, or have lived it.  only slowly does it become apparent it’s my previous life.  in the meantime, i watch the tv show like it’s someone else’s story, and never flinch on that.  when, then does it become apparent the tv is also my life?  when the tv character gets cancer.  it starts overlapping around the curse of studioplex.  in memory it’s a warning sign and dwelt upon because of my mystical outlook.  on tv the deaths’re slapstick macabre (dead like me).  as the tv character gets cancer, i get a recurrence like renee’s.  i start chemo, the final episode gets told to me in hospital, my kid writes a process note about my favorite show, happening so fast, then a short note about my last breath, all this from renee’s blogs.

i messed about in this vein awhile, and then realized that i had a bunch of threads that needed weaving together, and i was getting lost.  so i made a visual aid.  i can’t figure it out without seeing it in symbols.

it hinged on the period in my memoirs after my ex the ax murderer and i settled down into a ‘normal life’ and went until i left him and made my own life. it was a long period, and a very frustrating one, not only to live, but to write about.

i could easily link this period of my memoirs to the end of the tv show, the period around september 11 until i took my farewell tour thinking i was going to die from cancer real soon now.

then i matched the events in my current life, from the paradise i find myself in now, to my death.

then i went back and looked again at my current life, from my farewell tour to the place where i started writing my memoirs, which comes right before that period and sort of overlaps it.  it’s the place where all is revealed, and i really hesitated while trying to include it into the final structure because the flow is so awkward.  in the end i put it in backward, with the farewell tour is what cinches the identity of the tv character and myself.

next i laid down more tv show, the middle part of the marriage to the breakup and my establishment of another life on my own.

then i put in the first part of the tv show marriage, from wall street to atlanta.

lastly, i put in the beginning of my memoirs, from my college days until we settled down on the run.

that’s 7 threads, all with an establishment, a plateau, a turning point, a reinforcement, and an ending.

but.  i can’t run all 7 simultaneously.  there’s got to be some lag, because i need to hide the fact that all three main characters are the same person.  so.

i start with the memoirs of years on the run with my ex the ax murderer, from when i met him to when we settled into out home away from home.  and then i break in with my story – the author’s story – and it all cascades from there.  i have a favorite tv show about a slightly autistic woman trying to be accepted, sort of a sitcom, and i follow the episodes with interest.  i continue writing my memoirs and struggle with them.  my health continues to deteriorate.

turning points are reached at about the same time in 3 threads, while 2 others begin or end here.  it becomes clear that all three stories are about the same person only at the very end.

here are the turning points:
meeting my ex the ax murderer
taking a lover to bolster my confidence
getting pregnant
the trial and the 10th wedding anniversary
healing/facing cancer
greg breaks his neck
cancer recurrence

it all fits around these turning points.  these events drive the climax and are inevitable from the opening of each thread.  each echoes in the sounding of the others.  i love it when it works out conceptually like that.

and since life is a metaphor, plot structures can have conceptual resonance and perfection.

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