Don't Look Down!

September 21, 2006

Issue #5 of A Novel in One Semester
by Mary Kay Zuravleff, copyright 2006

Panic set in this week, panic and doubt. The MacArthur geniuses got their calls, while the phone here was conspicuously silent, almost as if embarrassed. Other peopleís books were shortlisted; other authors were asked to share the stage and witty banter; we were solicited for monetary contributions. Thatís the kind of week where one is tempted to revisit the words thus far written. If you did this, you already know why itís a mistake. Iím all for critical reading, and Iím a stickler for craft. But we are walking along a rickety bridge; in fact, weíre actually constructing the bridge as we take each precarious step. Recycled planks, rubbery beams the width of a straw and composed of untested materials, mirrored funky buttresses that may or may not hold weightónow is not the time to invite the inspectors over for a look-see.

And so, we continued our exhilarating, ridiculous bridge-building. Every single person in class made it to 12K words, and Iím proud of them all. For those of you running in our pack, you are to finish 16K words by Wednesday, September 27. Even if I canít check your flash drive.

My Aim Is True
In yoga, the way to stay upright in balance poses is to focus on a spot in the distance and imagine a tether from that spot to you, holding you vertical. Of course, the challenge for those of us writing out on a limb is: can we see that spot in the distance?

With that in mind, revisit books you admire. See how all the authorial decisions contribute toward the story. We donít know if the authors had the footprint and span of their story when they began, or if choices they made determined the architecture of their tale. So why not indulge your first impulses. No chapter breaks? Present tense? First person who is reliable as long as she stays away from the scotch? Main character reports for Voice of America and can only use words from the approved list of Basic English? Nail that story down.

If the novel we build dictates structural changes, then weíll cross that bridge when we come to it.