The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Thesis Blues pt. 10

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Sandi and I met for the first time Sunday afternoon to discuss the progress on my thesis. I’m doing better than I thought I was, and I thought I was doing pretty decent in the first place. She did a lot of line editing (cute… she claimed, “I can’t help it!” I know what she means– It has become instinctual for me to do the same thing the last few years). Her main concern was my use of “scene” throughout the writing thus far.

“Scene” is critical to literary journalism. The use of representative scenes, interspersed with digressions for research, commentary, and reflection, is how the structure of the piece is shaping up. But the representative scenes need work. I need to place people physically, provide greater details (using the five senses), and tighten them up so they move quickly and are meaningful. I have to avoid the temptation to include cutesy scenes or scenes that I just think are funny but that don’t necessarily belong. An example of that is a description of Jim and me at keg parties in college, when we used to do a maneuver we referred to as “pick and drink.” He’d use his wide body to block people off so I could cut in front of them to the keg, then I’d return the favor so we could cut the time spent in a keg line in half. Fun to talk about, fun to remember, nice to laugh about… but maybe not the best choice for the story. The amount of detail and the thought processes behind the “pick and drink” are a story unto themselves, but I’ve had to cut back on things like that because they aren’t serving the story (and in this particular case, they make us look like a couple of world-class goofballs… which we were).

It’s the “scenes” that are going to make the story meaningful and pull the reader into Jim’s life. If they aren’t handled properly, the story loses meaning and the reader begins to wonder what the hell the point is other than to reminisce about Jim and how things were in college or what we did the night we went out in Auburn and got completely shitfaced and the cops showed up at 2AM because we were wrestling in his front yard.

I have to give myself credit for managing my emotions and creative energy the last few months. Both are critical to writing effectively, and either one being off kilter can cause significant problems. Writing demands a lot of emotional investment. It requires a lot of getting into your own head and reflecting on times, places, and people in an honest way. The honesty can be painful; hell, the nostaligia alone can make you wistful and melancholy. But you have to think about these things and roll them around in your head and find a way to write about them without being sappy or maudlin while still focusing on truth. So creative energy comes into play along with the emotional recall. This can be very powerful; it can give you clarity and create meaning and understanding that you never had before. I have referred to the whole mess as “second sight.” It is one of the great benefits of writing, and one of the things that keeps me coming back.

But it’s also one of the great consequences. It’s hard to turn off all that stuff when it’s time to go to the movies or when the laptop battery runs out or your friends are coming over. Many times, it overflows into whatever you’re doing subsequent to your writing. I’ve in turn been hyperkinetic, hilarious, sullen, tempermental, exhausted… too many to name. I’ve had many a sleepless night in the past four years. So it’s important to know how to turn things off, to know where the switch is in your brain. It has taken me a long time to find it, and many times when I do find it, it changes location.

One thing I’ve done, and continue to do, is to play video games. They distract my mind, get the focus and energy elsewhere, and let me come down gently. Many times I’ve called a friend and just put it out there that I’m wiped out, and then talked about other things. Working out has worked for me many times (the reverse of this has been efficacious as well: working out and then getting into the writing). Making something in the kitchen has worked. Lately, I’ve been watching clips of The Who perform “Won’t Get Fooled Again” live at the end of The Kids Are Alright. There’s an awesome part near the close of the song when Mooney rips a drum solo, Daltrey screams “Yeeeeeaaaaahhhhhh!” and Pete Townshend launches himself a good 30 feet across the stage, sliding on his knees with his guitar slung at his side. What does it for me is the raw energy, the spectacle that results from being in the moment but so tight in fundamentals and with mastery of your instrument that you can improvise and create something greater than you had before.

But then the song is over. They rip up their instruments a little bit, take their bows, and exit. All in a days work. Now work is over. It’s time to relax and think about something else.

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Written by seeker70

January 13, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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