Writing and Relativity

IS IT POSSIBLE that time is flexible rather than fixed?

I know. The idea flies in the face of everything we think we know about—-for example—-astrophysics, Carbon 14 dating and the mechanics of clock-making.

But how often have you complained to someone about how slowly the day is passing only to have them say “I was thinking the same thing.”  And we all know how slowly time passes when we’re waiting for an oil change, or how quickly an hour turns into two (or three) when we’re fooling around on-line.  Our language even has common words and phrases to describe the phenomenon. Time “flies” or it “drags;” an event “seems to last forever” or it “passes in a flash.”

I started wondering about this because May has been the most social my social life has been since before Christmas and yet I’ve done a lot more writing than I did in April, when I didn’t have much going on.

My guess is that most writers, being solitary folk, have social lives somewhere between “retiring” and “moribund.” Speaking for myself, unless I make an effort, I can find myself at the end of the week having barely left the house. Because I’ve set aside a few months to write; I feel, dammit, as if I should be writing.

But this month, for no particular reason, I made an effort, and my friends seemed to have the time and interest at the same time. I went on a garden tour, the ballet, several lunches and brunches and an art show. And the dissipation continues: I’m going to a decorator showcase (tomorrow) and the newest Star Trek movie (on Wednesday), a hike (on Thursday) and another brunch this Saturday.

Through all this, instead of having less time to write because I spent time with friends, I seemed to have more.  I would come home from whatever I’d been doing and I’d write for the same amount of time as I normally do on a day when all I’ve done is walk the dog and have a peanut butter sandwich for lunch.

I’m just not sure how this happened unless time isn’t a constant. Same number of hours in a day. Different amount of stuff getting done. My new model has time resembling a length of elastic, with the same number of inches as an equivalent piece of string, but able to flex in places along its length.

Someone call Princeton and the New York Times.


Every Delicious Byte

IT’S PART OF THE WRITING GAME that every word, every keystroke, feels important and deathless, at least for a while.

I don’t spend my days in a struggle to the death over every word, but there’s no doubt that’s how it feels for me sometimes. Writing can be less like Robert Browning’s “first, fine careless rapture” and more like carving words into stone with a rubber mallet. Thomas Mann said it well: “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than for other people.”

After struggling in the first place to wrestle them onto the page, it’s another struggle to cut these precious words and phrases, even when I know they have to go to make room for better things.

I had a good writing week–a couple of very productive writing days and a couple of so-so ones.  Most important, I made a significant change I’d been postponing for some time in my murder mystery.

I resisted doing the deed in part because it required some confusing restructuring and editing. I hate doing that stuff because the opportunities to mess things up are rife; I even color code at-risk passages so I know which ones still fit together before doing the dreaded cut-and-paste. At times I resort to actual cutting and pasting–I print out the pages and have at them with scissors and a glue stick.

This week, the result of all this meant cutting (and not re-pasting) about 2,000 words from my tale.

I  like to know a lot about my characters; I write biographies for them and fit the details into the narrative. This is helpful to me, but the reader doesn’t need it all. Some of the eliminated words were this kind of back-story, not really critical to the action of the book.  But most of it was good material that just didn’t work.

When Word tells you to the byte how many words you’ve written so far and you know how many words you need your book to be (65,000, give or take) it’s really tough to dump the equivalent of a full day’s work with one keystroke and feel good about it.

But when I was done, and I’d written new words, I did feel good about it. The new stuff I wrote was better than the words I’d cut. Much better. The resulting passages got into the action more quickly without leaving the reader confused. They’re good.

As usual, I was sorry I had waited so long, and agonized so hard, over changes that turned out to be for the best.

Alas, this is a lesson I’ve learned many times and so I have every confidence it won’t stick with me. The next time I am poised with scissors and glue stick (either literally or virtually)  the angst will be the same.

It’s not all time wasted.  At some level the “bad” passages are due a kind of respect. They have the right to stay if they can persuade me they are value added to my book.  And persuasion takes time.