I’m gonna get this quote wrong, I’m sure. It’s from Kierkegaard, as cited somewhere (in The Moviegoer, I think) by Walker Percy:
I am unable to speak upon this subject in any way but the edifying.
That’s how I feel as we continue this series today with “Report from the Trenches, #5.”
I’m, what, eight or nine weeks into this revision and all I can say is it’s hard, hard work. There doesn’t seem to be any trick or magic stroke that splits the stone. Looking back on prior books, I realize I either got lucky and got it right, more or less, in the first few tries … or I’ve blocked out the memory of how freakin’ hard it is to crack this walnut.
What I am feeling, however, is that I’m dealing with blind spots. My own uncharted areas. That seems to be what’s making it so hard. Which I suppose is the way it’s supposed to be.
I was watching the movie Se7en the other night on TV. I wonder how Kevin Spacey felt, trying to figure out how to play that villain. Or how Bryan Cranston got into the Walter White character on Breaking Bad. Clearly neither one of those actors is like either character in real life. No doubt they took the roles (apart from career considerations) for the stretch it would force upon them.
A lot of the Resistance I’m experiencing on this book is “character Resistance,” as opposed to “work Resistance” (though there’s plenty of that too.) By which I mean what’s hard isn’t just the sitting down to write, it’s the writing itself, specifically “getting into” a character (actually more than one; actually three).
These characters are not “like me.” I can’t access them like I could other characters from previous books.
I said in last week’s post that laziness and fear are two of the primary factors that are blocking me.
That makes sense.
We, none of us, want to go where we don’t want to go.
It’s a push.
It’s a grind.
I’m having to try to understand characters I don’t instinctively understand. I’m asking over and over, “What does Manning want in this scene?” What does Rachel want?” “What does Instancer want?”
It’s not coming naturally to me. I can’t do it on instinct alone.
The other aspect that’s making this reworking so hard is that the back-breaking part is the Middle.
I find myself recalling what David Mamet always says,
It’s hard to remember that you started out to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.
Or another great quote of his from Three Uses of the Knife:
How many times have we heard (and said): Yes, I know that I was cautioned, that the way would become difficult and I would want to quit, that such was inevitable, and that at exactly this point the battle would be lost or won … but those who cautioned me could not have foreseen the magnitude of the specific difficulties I am encountering at this point–difficulties which must, sadly, but I have no choice, force me to resign the struggle (and have a drink, a cigarette, an affair, a rest), in short, to declare failure.
Bottom line: this struggle is as it should be. Our Muse has put us here, in this place, fighting this fight, for reasons that we are blind to at the moment but that are essential to our hero’s journey, not just in the story but in our lives.
It’s hard work overcoming those blind spots.
We have to force ourselves where we don’t want to go. The process hurts. It’s not fun. But, as Mamet says a little farther on in Knife:
The true drama, and especially the tragedy, calls for the hero to exercise will, to create, in front of us, on the stage, his or her own character, the strength to continue. It is her striving to understand, to correctly assess, to face her own character (in her choice of battles) that inspires us–and gives the drama power to cleanse and enrich our own character.
Thanks, David. I will try to remember that, as this book continues to kick my ass.
[P.S. If you have not checked out David Mamet’s MasterClass on Drama, please do yourself a favor and go for it. It’s ninety bucks but the class is great and Mamet is hysterically funny.]