February 5, 2008

NIBEM 5: "Maggievision"

Just finished a rousing round of Funny Cat Photos to help me wake up, and now I'm ready to resume my quest of yesterday.

My last entry ended with an explanation of my noble desire to help adolescents survive adolescence. Perhaps I overstated the case. I think that learning to accept ourselves and learning to appreciate the uniqueness of others is an essential part of growing up. There are painful lessons along the way but they are universal ones. Specifics differ but we all have the same types of experiences (even the "pretty" girls) , and if we work through them and achieve even a small amount of self-acceptance, well, as Martha Stewart would say, "It's a good thing."

So...I loved the RE and thought I might be able to write her story, or at least the "Maggie version" of her story. My friend Patty had encouraged me to take a writing class with Val Hobbs, a Santa Barbara young adult author. The date of the first class was looming and I hadn't written a word...hadn't even tried to write a word. Paul and I took an end of the summer trip, and sitting on a beach in Cambria, I started to write about Emelia. Actually, I started to write about Blanca, but a few weeks later she became Emelia...much to the confusion of my favorite first readers, Paul and Nora.

I had a character I liked and I soon discovered that I had a "voice." Emelia's words came out easily, at first, largely because I was recalling the voice of my much younger self . Emelia's facility with words and inclination toward mildly sarcastic observations and sefl-deprecating humor are very "Maggie." Boy, I thought, this writing stuff was going to be easy. Open my mind, think about my two years at Fairview Junior High, write down those uncomfortable memories and months later, a book is born. No.

A character and a voice are essential but what about plot? I didn't have one. Still don't. Plotting perplexes me. I know a good plot when I see it, but I've never seen a good one for Emelia. I've read books about plot, taken workshops about plot and even learned a new vocabulary while searching for a plot. Emelia's goals, motivations and conflicts have been written in charts, on a board covered with post-its and on random scraps of paper filed in my Emelia drawer. But I'm still not satisifed that I have a strong "story."

Throughout this struggle I've learned something significant. When I write I need to know the destination before the train leaves the station. Although in real life I'm more spontaneous, when it comes to writing I have to know where I'm headed. And while I enjoy creative day trips, I need the reassurance of a strong road map, a sturdy structure, to keep moving forward. The lack of a strong plot has certainly contributed to my obsessive rewriting of the chapters that are already completed. I also think it has contributed to severe procrastination, as well as an addictive need for critiques and validation by other writers. Relying too much on the opinions of others makes it hard to articulate my own, and undermines the confidence that writers need to progress. I think I may be entering a critique-free zone.

I've blamed a lot on plot, or more accurately, the lack thereof. But I'm realizing that there may be other issues as well. Writing about my writing has caused me to wonder how well I really know Emelia. I have written about RE but I think I need to know more about my fictionalized character. If Emelia is channeling my own teenage voice, maybe she is waiting for me to start listening. Maybe it's time to turn on the "Maggievision" and curl up with a few good adolescent reruns. But maybe just a few Funny Cat Photos, first.

1 comment:

Patty P said...

Good post, Maggie. I think your analysis is helpful but maybe you're barking up the wrong tree. It's good that you are channeling your own voice through Emilia but remember, she's fictional and you're not. Your plotting frustrations might stem from not wanting to put Emilia in any more conflict than you feel she's already in. It's hard to put ourselves in tough situations. Another thought is to put Emilia aside for now and start something new. I know you have a drawer full of clippings saved for this purpose!
I totally agree, it's hard to write when you don't have a destination. Try something new, give yourself a plot then try writing it. Maybe then you won't be so hard on yourself??