In a thrilling display of solidarity, the 90-Day Novelists finished their first drafts a couple of weeks ago and have begun their rewrites. The first draft was about diving into the unknown, invoking the muse, and writing from our right brains. This next step, the rewrite, is about switching gears. Basically, it is about becoming still, listening more deeply so that we can get even more specific. What follows are some thoughts that I hope may shed some light for any of you currently engaged in the rewrite process.
Writing a story is a setup. We are asking ourselves to solve a problem that is impossible to solve. At least in our minds. You’ve probably noticed if you go to a lot of movies or read a lot of books that at some point in the story, the hero experiences despair, a dark night of the soul. This is a rite of passage. Because it is through the dark night of the soul that we are introduced to our true nature. Nature is beautiful, but it is also brutal, insofar as we are confronted with the stark fact that we have no say in the matter. Nature trumps everything. We are all going to die, whether we like it or not.
Many first-time novelists write their coming-of-age story. I think about this term, and I realize that it doesn’t mean becoming a man or woman in the traditional sense. It means becoming the age that we are. The dark night of the soul in a coming-of-age story is the death of our youth, or our childish expectation of how things ought to be. It is crucial for the writer to make the shift from the personal to the universal and become more interested in the “nature” of the problem, than what he “perceives” the problem to be.
Waking up is not necessarily a pleasant experience. When we wake up, we are confronted by a world that does not operate the way we would wish. It is at this moment that we are presented with a choice. We can rail against the injustices done to us, stomp our feet and retreat into the endless myriad of survival strategies that sustained us in Act 2—force of will, manipulation, pleading and bargaining, hoping against hope—or we can make a new choice.
We can allow our hearts to break. We can be truly brave. We can live with our true nature and accept this world as it is. And it is from this perspective, when we are more interested in our nature than in our problems that we are able to see the problem for what it really is: an opportunity for our hearts to open, an opportunity for us to reframe what we thought the problem was, an opportunity to perhaps even have a sense of humor about the reality of our situation. It is through this experience of our hearts opening that we are transformed. And it is through this transformation that our world is altered and what we had once hoped for but had seemed impossible, now has a chance to live.
Which leads me to my next thought.
This seems to come up in the process.
Shame is impossible to solve because it is a double bind. The writer sets out to tell a story about this character, e.g., himself, with the intention of showing the reader how how he overcame his childhood trauma, or some particular pattern that stood in his way. As he examines it, he realizes that the pattern hasn’t gone away, and believes, falsely, that he hasn’t overcome anything. And then the shame. He feels like a fraud.
This is not a kind situation to put himself in.
And if he is resourceful, he tells himself that he needs to try harder, hack away for another couple of weeks, months or decades, just so that he can prove to himself unequivocally that he is, in fact, ungrateful and flawed.
Here’s the conundrum.
There was nothing to overcome! The victim in the first act does not overcome reality. He accepts the reality of his situation, and in doing so is introduced to his true nature. All stories are, at heart, existential, in that the hero needs to meet himself, that place that is primal, free of guilt or obligation. It is ONLY from this place that he can make choices that don’t create obstacles for himself.
When we’re connected to our true nature, we’re not so susceptible to the patterns and beliefs that rule us. We are connected to our basic nature which is love.
We live in a culture that is threatened by creativity, yet craves it. When a person chooses to be creative, it sometimes pisses other people off. And so, of course, shame and self-doubt seep in because we are pack creatures and crave validation. When this obstacle arises, we’re presented with a choice. We can succumb, or investigate the nature of our experience. It is through this ongoing process that we are lead to the deeper (and often simple) truths of our story.
When we write from a place of humble curiosity, we are able to tap into the vastness of human experience. And it is through this curiosity that we are able to reframe our hero’s experience in a way that restores him to his rightful place.