I’ve been under the freelance water these last couple of weeks, doing a ton of writing and editing and a “special” project for one of the papers I write for. That’s all winding down early next week, but I haven’t spent too much time with my draft. In fact, today is one week since the last time I did any draft writing.
This morning, however, I wrote around 1500 words in about an hour, and thought, “gosh, if I did this every day, I’d have a complete draft in no time!”
So that is my new promise to myself. Write 1500 words a day. No matter what. I do feel a ton better about getting on with things. It helps me to honor other people’s work and demands if I am honoring my own.
But that got me thinking about promises to readers. As writers, we make tons of them. We often make them without realizing that’s what we’re doing.
I’ve talked before about making a promise to the reader in terms of point of view and tense. But you make a series of promises in scenes, too. Props that are introduced will need to be managed either within the scene, or before the end of the story. Sometimes–like with foreshadowing–the reader doesn’t even realize you’re making the promise if you do it well.
But these promises always start out as promises to ourselves as writers, the shorthand of our subconscious. So be mindful of these notes to yourself once you have a full draft. Sometimes, you give yourself something that’s better than what your conscious mind can do.
When you’re in the drafting stages, the best tack is to just write–do not think too hard about what your characters are doing or why they’re doing it. Just let them. Sometimes, you’ll make yourself promises too unwieldy or cliched or silly to keep. But don’t evaluate the writing while you’re doing it.
When I was in high school, in art class, when we did drawing from observation or blind contour drawing, the teachers encouraged us to just shut off our consciousness and draw.
It’s kind of like meditation. I’ve learned to do this while I’m writing, too. I think it’s what Fiona Cheong was trying to teach her highly resistant graduate students when I took her workshop. We began each class by meditating. Fiona would sound a gong, and we would start. The practice would end when she sounded it again. I loved it, but I think I was the only one.
In the scene (or parts of two scenes) I’m sharing today, the beer is a promise about a particular character’s behavior. You get to see this character two ways: one having had too much beer, and one sober and maternal.
Also, last week, I said that my narrator, Paige, is the guardian of these friends? I was wrong. This is her book. It will be her messy life.
I offer this to remind you that you have to stay flexible and keep your ego at bay as much as possible as you write and revise.
PUSS was Lauren’s idea, but most of the time, we felt relieved if she couldn’t show up. She recruited me after I ran into her at a showing of Run Lola Run at the Lisbun Arts World Theater. We were in the same Brownies troupe when we were kids, and I remembered her turning up her sleeves to hide a cigarette when we were eight.
She was always wild, and I was always intrigued in the way I was intrigued by a dead mouse in the bath tub. When she was ebullient, she was fun. She could be the perfect party host: sweet and accommodating and welcoming, all of it. Her mom hosted our troop in their basement, but refused to participate. She said Lauren had to do Brownies on her own, that she couldn’t be involved in all of her extra curriculars.
So, by the time we were thirteen, Lauren was sexually active and skipping girl scouts, but telling her mom she was going, expecting me to cover for her and getting her birth control from Planned Parenthood.
Part of me wondered how her parents didn’t know, or if they even cared.
Of course there was Leon, but Lauren seemed sad about him. She seemed to sprint toward promiscuity to erase the memory or something. The boys ranged in name and character from Greasy Gerry who was sixteen and Lauren said “hung like a horse,” which meant less than nothing to me at thirteen, to Serene Samuel who had large brown moles on his face, sensitive eyes and a brillo of hair that was the precise color of milk chocolate. Lauren said he demanded to touch her tits, and that it turned her on.
Even to my inexperienced ears, it sounded like she was putting on sex like she put on a winter coat, or a pair of leggings or ear muffs.
So it’s tourney time, and she’s slurping her 4th cocktail with that clumsy confidence that reminded me of junior high, and I am watching, watching her, tapping my toes against hope that she’ll meet a slow simmer and we won’t spend a day watching her smear her mascara.
Her phone buzzes. I see Leon’s name in her black touch screen. His digits flashing below it. She hits ignore. She turns it face down and eyes it, seeming to fear it, or to expect it to grow legs and hop up and touch her.
It buzzes again. She flips it over and stabs ignore. I can’t see that it’s Leon, but I know it is.
“I hate him.”
I wish I could ignore her. This is Lauren’s in-comment, it’s the comment she always makes that tricks me into expressing empathy. Once the empathy’s on the table, it’s supersonic to the Pity Lauren party ball. Whenever we get in neck deep and I’m an accessory to her bitching, I picture myself wearing a lovely, black, Victorian taffeta gown, an updo that rivals the best 60s bee hive, and a tall, lean, dashing dancing partner who I know nothing of and owe nothing to.
She knows how to trick me, because she knows I can’t not empathize. So I do, and in fewer than twenty seconds, I can see the racehorse of her misery’s tail end about half the way around the track. “He’s just so fucking lazy. He won’t get a fucking job, and he spends all our money. He ignores the kids, and he won’t help with housework…” In my taffeta gown, I am regal, beyond the ether. I weigh nothing. I rest my tiny hand on my partner’s wide shoulder and he touches my waist with such honor. I focus my gaze on the Grandfather clock that ticks seconds like a metronome in the corner of the gilded ballroom. “Mm hmm.” I intersperse.
“You won’t believe this, but he called me a whore the other day. He thinks I’m fucking my boss.” She does this when she thinks she’s losing your attention, she adds a spin that she perceives as extreme. I know this is not true because I have heard Leon say that the only reason he stays with Lauren is that he knows she can’t cheat on him. Not that she doesn’t want to, but she can’t. He says, “she doesn’t have time, and nobody would fuck her. She’s too much of a fat shrew.” I sweat in my fantasy. I twirl in the gown, but as it gaps at my chest, I can smell familiar tang of my sweat, and I realize as Lauren talks that I’ve forgotten deodorant. She prattles on, and I fish in my bag for the stick I keep in there.
“Excuse me, Lauren. I have to go to the bathroom.”
“No problem,” she says, looking lovingly into her last sip of candied apple.
We’re not even through the first giro, and Lauren’s already drunk, Leon’s already calling. We have five more giri, and I’ve got that heaviness in my gut that tells me we’re in for a drama fueled afternoon
In the bathroom, I look at myself in the mirror. My dyed red hair in a sloppy pony tail, looking like straw on the ends, puffy under my eyes, my skin looks drier, older. I sigh and concentrate on washing my hands. I think about my own wasted youth and worry about my looming thirty-fourth birthday. At least I can say I don’t have a child. Or children. I don’t want them.
And my current boyfriend is nice. He’s troubled. But nice. I do a lot of Jedi Mind Tricks on him. I suggest something that I want to do, and anywhere from 72 hours to three weeks later, it is his idea. This works out ridiculously well for me. I have always had a too-deep understanding of the fragility of the male ego.
His name is Chester. I know. Shhh. He’s sweet. He loves going down on me. Sounds shallow, maybe. But it’s his way of saying he loves me. It’s also his way of saying he’s sorry. Or that he thinks I’m sexy. I’ll take it. He’s a lot better than the last one whose mother was a suffocating banshee, whose ex girlfriends tried to poison my mind against him while pretending to be pals, and whose general love of ferrets turned our apartment into a cheese stinking pit of shit.
I am not great at relationships. Perhaps my barometer of Lauren and Leon’s is not to be trusted. Still. I can almost hear the tension building out there over the Aerosmith ballad. I’m afraid to go back. I do find it to be entertaining that no matter how long a pause in our conversation, Lauren remembers precisely the last thing she said, and can pick up without missing a beat. It is eerily narcissistic.
I’m not even back to the table properly when she’s started back in, “So you know how I’ve been putting in extra hours at work?”
“mmhmm.” I don’t.
“That’s why Leon thinks I’m fucking Chad. Chad’s gay. Besides, Leon spends all his free time with his bestie Noah. I swear to Christ they’re gay for each other.”
“I think Leon’s gay.”
Leon is one of the most hetero men I’ve ever met. He likes art, but only because he figured out young that arty girls with strange accessories are generally as hot as popular girls when they’re naked, and way more fun in the sack. Lauren has regaled me with tale after tale of his college girlfriends who were all stringy and purple haired.
So I’m watching her tend to them in that deft, mothering way, surprised that my friend who was so fucked up for so long, who wanted this motherhood thing so hard, but who did it on dishonest terms, has fallen into step with herself as a parent. I feel warm for a minute. Then she looks at me with this face I’ve only seen her make one other time, it was when I picked her up from a car accident. It was a pure version of her regular face, grateful and with the blinds open and the guard dismissed, a much prettier version of her regular face—like her blemishes disappear and she radiates light. She says, “Sometimes I hate watching you and Chester together. I’m jealous. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am.”
I tell her, “Don’t be. We’re just new. Thirty percent of the time, I wish I was still single. I would be if I didn’t like sex. It’s not good because it is natural. It’s good because we lie about it. We show off. We barely speak at home.”
Her face is back to normal and I wonder if I’ll ever see that other, nicer face again. “Anyway,” I say, “your kids are great. I’ve been thinking maybe I’m wrong to be so anti kid. Watching you with these guys. It’s elemental. It’s beautiful. I like how they smell.”
“We’re honest about this,” she says, “but me and Leon aren’t good. It’s not going well.” She whispers t hat last part. She says it with something that sounds like haughtiness, but that I know is shame and fear and helplessness. She knows she’s too proud to do the work of fixing it.
Her kids are in their beds, and we’re standing sentry in the hallway, waiting to make sure they’re out before we go downstairs and crack our own beers, get dealt in on Blackjack.