working on a ranch in colorado

That’s what I’m doing now. It’s also what my great-great-grandfather did when he was young man (during the earlier part of the 20th century). The work is not easy but it’s outside and that’s nice. And it’s fun to say. I’ve been mending fences and digging ditches. Last week I helped clear a dozen or so trees from a plot of land for a new house. Hard, hard work.

But if I can make enough money now, I won’t have to work during the winter break and I can write the rest of my novel. I’ve come to the conclusion that what I need to work on is Act II. I have a vague idea what it will concern but I’m not sure how to tell.

This class I’m taking with Keith Abbott promises to be very helpful in completing this project. The course is called Sequences and we are looking at how books are put together. This weekend I’m re-reading The Great Gatsby. A couple of things Keith has us looking out for are:

  1. How does Fitzegeral create a collage of varied syntax in the first couple chapters? How does that determine the character of the narrator?
  2. The narrator makes generalizations throughout the book. Does Fitzgerald have a strategy with these? What do they say about the narrator?
  3. Why did Fitzgerald begin chapter 4 with the guest list? What does the list of names do in the novel?

Those are tough questions that I am not able to answer yet. It feels good to come up against something that I can’t figure out. That’s learning. It also feels like these are important question that are concerned with aspects of writing that I’m not wholly comfortable with yet.

I also read an essay in Bitting The Error by Carla Harryman called How I Wrote Gardener of Stars, a Novel. I’m very pleased with this book of essays, which Bhanu Kapil recommended to me last Spring. The Harrman essay has some real gems like:

Development in art practice involves change, advance, and recurrence.

That reminds me of musical methods of repitition and change. And what she’s talking about is the process of writing. She asks Is writing the constructed space where shared thoughts become concrete? ? and To what degree do words make futures? ? She doesn’t answer these questions but investigates them in such a way that they open further into questions.

Telling a story is a performance, a performance of making up something on the spot while reflecting upon the pre-existing words and things required to make up something on the spot. ?

This is another quote that reminded me of music, specfically jazz. It’s improvisation founded upon practice. It’s letting loose and holding on. It’s making things up using tools that have been handed down.

I often edit heavily, treating the work as an abstraction with innnumerable focal points: I scrutinize it like it’s a three-dimensional artwork, and then a two-dimensional artwork. I find simple games for altering sytax: rewrite 50 per cent of the sentences that contain the word as even if you like them might be one of the instructions I give myself

Before this summer I would not have understood that paragraph. It’s kind of a pointless exercise with something like a short-story, which is what I was writing mostly. But now with 140+ pages to work with I can appreciate the value of alternative editing methods.

When I workshopped my story last week a classmate noted on that I began three chapters in a row with the word I and that for two pages each paragraph began with I or my. I’ve gone over this first draft looking for spelling and grammar errors. I’ve also looked at things like character and story development. How long might I have gone without noticing that I was beginning every paragraph and chapter the same way? Using different editing games might help give me a fresh look at the work. And the work itself might be shaped in fresh and delightful ways.

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