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Loosen the Leash

they rebel. Too tight a leash and they never get a chance to surprise you. One more little epiphany in my year of letting go (http://beyondthemargins NULL.com/2014/03/is-there-such-a-thing-as-the-perfect-start/) of control and seeing (http://beyondthemargins NULL.com/2014/06/paddling-blind/) what happens.

I wouldn’t be a writer (or a brooder) if I didn’t pause to belabor — I mean, appreciate — an unexpected lesson learned. So my thoughts went to other areas in my life, like my second novel underway and feedback I received on the first draft a few months ago.

Open it up a little. Breathe into it.

So much of the writing world’s instructive jargon sounds good in theory, and is probably terribly evocative for the one offering the advice. But to the recipient it can be…crickets. Like the golf lessons I took years ago, with all those obscure analogies and metaphors meant to help me perform what I couldn’t quite visualize (“make your arms organic…” “be like a clock face”). Me: *blink*.

Open it up a little. Breathe into it.

What does that even mean, really? Open what? Breathe how?

Instructive phrases like these work best when they lead to a visceral a-ha moment about what’s expected — one that’s meaningful to the recipient. A cognitive shortcut lending form to an amorphous process. A mental macro.

I spent the summer not writing much fiction, but reading a good bit of it. I paid particular attention to what worked well and why, but I also didn’t pay attention, just letting myself get lost in the hypnotic progression of words and scenes. Why is one book riveting, and one is not? Why one scene, but not the next? When was I so rapt I couldn’t even bother to think about the why?

What I observed in the especially effective writing is this: a natural unfolding. One gesture leads naturally and rivetingly to the next. The reader follows the character’s eyes, steps, and thoughts, in an essential progression of events. No rush to tell, explain, or summarize the significance of a thing, the big picture. Being in the moment, and trusting, as night to day, the next will lead to where it needs to be.

My takeaway: Let go of the strangleholdhold. On the structure, on the big picture, on the plot. Give the story more freedom to wander. Don’t be so rigid with structure, direction, goal. Amble more. Imagine a GoPro on the back of the dog, roaming the house. Imagine a GoPro on the back of my narrator, just telling the damn story.

It sounds foolish as I write this, and maybe it’s all organic arms and clock faces to you. But what it came down to for me was this: What’s the worst thing that can happen if you loosen up in your writing? You rein it back in. It’s not written on illuminated lambskin scrolls, after all. So what if 90 percent of the scene gets deleted later? I still remember a few favorite passages from my first novel that came from opening the throttle. They wouldn’t have come if I’d followed the outlined path, kept the story on its tight leash.

BTMCrickLoft (http://beyondthemargins NULL.com/btm/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/BTMCrickLoft1 NULL.jpg)While we were on vacation, crazy mornings dawned with the dog gallumphing up the stairs, galloping down the hall, jumping on the bed like her own personal people-love trampoline. She’d jump off and run back down the hall and I’d stand in the doorway of the bedroom, watching her curly bum tear back from whence she’d come.

“I’m watching you,” I’d grumble, all DeNiro-like, while she charged down the stairs to do God knows what.

Watch away, lady, her joyful back said. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

 

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